Weighing which bottles to bring, when you’re off to a dinner party, means asking genuinely meaningful questions. Choosing this Pomerol-style blend over that Gewürztraminer expresses not just a sense of the food you’ll be eating but of the kind of night you intend to have—whether you want to dazzle yourself or your hosts with a wine you’ve been dying to try, or just relax, somehow, and not worry about it too much.

I was closer to the latter mood a few nights ago, getting ready for dinner at the home of our five-year-old’s friend, Caden. Caden’s parents are new acquaintances and immensely appealing people; this would be our first dinner together, and I’d offered to bring the food in addition to the wine. So I had baked a cake for the joint birthday of my five-year-old and Caden’s one-year-old little sister, and I’d grabbed a cotechino sausage from my refrigerator, made from a pig I’d bought whole from a local farmer. I’d prepared a pot of farro, too—Caden’s parents were making appetizers and a salad—and when we got to their house I had to cook the sausage and heat the farro. A cotechino is a big sausage, the kind you slice crossways for multiple people, so you boil it a long time to cook it. While it was boiling, I opened a Dr. Loosen Spätlese Riesling and wished I hadn’t. It’s an excellent, affordable wine, but I was in a new home, working in somebody else’s kitchen, and I worried that the wine was too distinctive, calling attention.

The sausage took forever to cook, and this, too, was embarrassing: They’d wanted an early night, and we’d arrived late, and now the food was slow to the table. But they were gracious about it, and when at last the cotechino was done I sliced it and set the slices on a platter with cornichons and radishes and radish greens, and put out a pot of mustard, and opened the best Viognier I’ve had to date: Domaine Georges Vernay 2005 Viognier Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, “Le Pied de Samson.” So much brighter and crisper than new-world Viogniers, which can be lovely but which also tend toward powerfully floral aromas and a lot of body, this was a cool, clean, soothing wine, a beautiful wine, and I sensed that the others could tell, and also that the night was going to be all right after all.

See more articles