Which wines do you bring as hostess gifts?
Wine is probably one of the most-appreciated hostess gifts, but I know little about wine and have trouble picking out an appropriate bottle for a gift. Which wines do you bring as hostess gifts? What if you don't know the hosts' wine preferences? What if your budget is small- better to bring an inexpensive bottle or steer clear of wine altogether? Interested in reading hounds' views on this.
You don't need to know a ton about wine to bring wine. This is an opportunity for you to learn a bit and explore, while leaning on recommendations. I personally like going into a wine store and playing a bit dumb. Let the sales person sell you on a bottle, describing it to you etc... you can do this for a few and then take a stab at one. No hostess should be insulted or offended with a random bottle, as wine is a personal taste. Some people love $20 bottles, while others might think a $6 is ideal for their palate.
I will concur with budnball as well, if you do want to avoid traditional vino - going the fun route with an ice wine/port could be unique.
Another gift idea that I have been using for a few years is dessert wines. Ice wines, Muscats, sweet Rieslings (I before E) all make great gifts. I would stay away from Sauternes and Ports tho as they are too deep a pool to jump into and get way more expensive. $20-30 will get some really tasty 375ml bottles.
Regardless of your budget . . .
If your host/hostess is seriously "into" wine -- and if you are not -- the best advice I can give is to do one of two things: EITHER avoid wine altogether and go with something nice for the kitchen, such as Bill's suggestion of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or other "foodie" items for creating something delicious; OR (if they aren't that serious about cooking), seek out a specialized, top-quality wine merchant (like Chambers St. in Manhattan) and ask them for a recommendation for an "unusual" wine in a price range you are comfortable with.
Never bring something to compliment the meal you are attending, and never expect the host or hostess to open up your wine then and there . . .
As I have a fairly large cellar, which is now overflowing, I choose a wine that I like, and usually one, that the host/hostess might never have tried, or even heard of. Some of that will depend on the host/hostess.
If my host/hostess is French, and collects Bdx., then I will go with a US Bdx-blend, like an Insignia, or similar. I do not try to impress them with what they collect, but open up some other possibilities.
Enjoy, and give openly,
If your host/hostess is very knowledgeable about wines, bring olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Seriously - I have a couple of oenophile friends and apart from champagne for a birthday or something I don't bring wine.
If the person enjoys wines for what they are (something nice to drink and share), bring something that's pleasant to drink. There are *lakes* of quaffable wines available in the $15-30 range, so if you have a wine shop that you frequent, ask for a suggestion. Your host/hostess will be okay with this unless they're label-chasers.
And if you're still worried about wines, bring flowers.