Wine Anxiety Disorder

by Mark R. Vogel

            Have you ever been invited to someone’s house for dinner or a party and you decide to bring some wine?  Have you then been perplexed as to what wine to bring?  Some individuals will just bring what they like and not torture themselves with all the neurotic permutations:  I hope they like it.  What if they don’t?  Maybe I should have bought the more expensive one.  I don’t want to look cheap.  What if it’s no good?  I don’t want to look like I don’t know anything about wine, etc., etc., etc.  The non-worrywarts realize that it’s nearly impossible to select a wine that everyone will like and that flawlessly complements everything being served.  As long as it’s not rotgut they’ve fulfilled their social obligation and if someone else doesn’t think so, we’ll that’s their problem. 

            There you go.  If you suffer from “Bringing-the-Wine-Anxiety-Disorder,” there’s your answer.  I just cured you.  What?   You’re STILL feeling anxious?  Good Lord, you’re really a case.  We’re going to have to go through this step by step, aren’t we?  Alright.  Lay down on the couch.  No, I don’t want to hear about your childhood experiences with wine.  We don’t have time for that.  The managed care company only allows one session for wine anxiety so pay attention or else you’ll have to become a beer drinker. 

            For starters, let’s review the aforementioned incontrovertible reality:  It’s nearly impossible to select a wine that everyone will like and that flawlessly complements everything being served.”  The first step in reducing anxiety is accepting that perfection is unachievable.  Nor is it necessary to have a good wine experience.  With these more realistic goals in mind, let’s proceed.

            There are two general approaches to selecting the wine for your social event.  You can endeavor to match it to the food/event, or you can endeavor to match it to the people.  Let’s start with the food.  Most wine-bringing events will either be a formal dinner, a barbeque, or just a straightforward party.

A party is probably the easiest event to bring wine for.  A party may or may not have food and even if it does it will inevitably be snacks and/or hors d’oeuvres.  Food is secondary or inconsequential to a party so wrangling with wine-food pairing is not required.  Moreover, depending on the party, all people may care about is that you brought an alcoholic beverage.  Grab a few bottles of your favorite inexpensive wine and you’re good to go.  Red, white, doesn’t matter.

A barbeque is the middle ground between a party and a sit-down dinner.  Here the food plays a larger role but in a picnic type atmosphere.  Indeed, many a barbeque is a hybrid party in disguise.  Barbeques are almost always enjoyed outdoors in warm weather.  Thus, light, fruity wines that are usually served chilled are apropos.  Lighter whites such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, red or white sangria, rosé, Beaujolais, and dare I say it, White Zinfandel, are all good choices for the backyard grill-fest. 

            Finally that brings us to the formal dinner party.  Here the food and wine take center stage.  I strongly recommend you query your host as to what is being served and/or the kind of wine they like.  You don’t want to bring a Cabernet Sauvignon to a shrimp scampi dinner.  Being cognizant of the main course, even an amateur can make a sensible wine decision.  At the very least, follow the red-meat/red-wine, white-meat/white wine rule.  There are plenty of exceptions but you can’t go wrong with this basic axiom.  There are ways you can go better, but you can’t go wrong.  For example, any dry white wine you bring for the sole oreganta will go better than any red.  Conversely, any dry red will pair better with the rib roast than any white.   If you wish to take it a step further, endeavor to match the heaviness of the wine with the heaviness of the dish.  A tomato based pasta will be perfect with a medium bodied red like Chianti.  But I’d go with a stout Bordeaux or Syrah for the rack of lamb.  Your wine retailer is also a good resource.  Tell him what’s for dinner and solicit his suggestions. 

            If you don’t know what your host is serving or for some personal reasons feel uncomfortable asking them, you’re then left to your own devices.  You could of course bring a bottle of each, red and white.  In the movie “Jaws” Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus), shows up somewhat unexpectedly for dinner at police chief Brody’s house (Roy Scheider).  Unaware of the main course he takes the shotgun approach and brings a red and a white.  Brody immediately opens the red.  Hooper endeavors to inform him that he might want to let the wine breath but realizes it’s pointless as Brody irreverently fills his water glass with a soon-to-be-chugged beer-like serving of wine.  And that brings us to the second method of selecting wine:  based on the people and not the food. 

            On the surface it might seem like a daunting task to match the wine with the people.  After all there is great variability in taste and wine expertise, not to mention individual idiosyncrasies.  However, consider the following.  If the folks you’re sharing a meal with are not that serious about wine, or are unabashed quaffers like Chief Brody, then any anxiety you harbor about your wine choice is unwarranted.  The average Joe or over-imbiber isn’t going to care that your California Chardonnay is too oaky for the oysters and chastise you for not opting for the Chablis instead.  Conversely, if your host is savvy about wine then he or she will probably be happy to inform you of what they’re serving to facilitate your choice, give you specific recommendations, or provide the wine themselves. 

            The bottom line is life’s too short to get in a twist about whether the Smiths like your Oregon Pinot Noir.  You’re not expected to be a sommelier.  It is the thought that counts and even more important is enjoying the people you are dining and socializing with.  Time’s up.  You’re cured.



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