We've all been there, hopefully: that moment in the adult world when we're invited to dinner by another grown-up. Specifically a grown-up we're not close enough with to have the understanding that grabbing a case of Shiner and showing up "whenever" is appropriate.
Societal custom dictates the invited guest brings a bottle of wine to the gathering, but figuring out how to choose a proper wine to go with a meal you have no input in preparing and will be sharing with people you don't know is like learning all the rules to chess in 15 minutes.
Wine can be intimidating, sure. But Paul Botamer, sommelier and wine director at Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton, say we can relax a little. All those conventions of Champagne with appetizers, red with beef, white with fish, etc. aren't as important as we've been suckered into believing. "Those rules are antiquated and aren't hard and fast," Botamer assures us.
The other good news is you're not expected to break the bank on a bottle if you're not inclined to make uninformed splurges. Expensive doesn't always equal better. "If given the choice between an interesting bottle of wine and a fashionable one, I choose the interesting one. I can't taste fashion," Botamer says.
Not only are there countless bottles of interesting $20 wines to be presented and enjoyed at dinner, we got a list of personal faves from a pair of local sommeliers.
James Tidwell, beverage manager and master sommelier of The Four Seasons Resort and Club, suggests that arriving with a sparkling wine in tow is always a good option.
"There is no better way to get a party started than with some carbon dioxide," he says. "You get eight people in a room who don't know each other that well and a glass of sparkling wine gets everyone happy and talking."
His suggestions are Raventos Blanc Cava, the Spanish version of Champagne. New Mexico based Gruet Winery has several sparking wine options for under $20 that Tidwell calls "delicious." He also suggests the Tasmanian Jansz Brut, which he calls "beautifully crisp and clean and appley."
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Botamar assures us it's OK to bring whatever you like to drink regardless. If you like reds over whites, he suggests Vina Robles Cabernet. If you like white over red, Botamer recommends his personal go-to, Pichot-Vouvray.
The key, both Tidwell and Botamer say, is to find a good wine shop with a knowledgeable staff.
"Wine is about relationships. You want a store where you feel comfortable talking to someone," Tidwell says. "Wherever that is, go there."