- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

I recently was invited to a seated dinner at the home of a prominent Washington couple and took care to bring along a nice bottle of wine, attractively wrapped, as a gift for the hosts. After arriving, however, I noticed that no one else had brought wine, although I did see that several other guests had placed petite packages on the table in the front hall.

Was it a faux pas to arrive with wine? Should I have brought something else instead?

A: You could have committed a real faux pas with a gift of wine if it turned out that your hosts abstain from alcohol for religious or other reasons. If you know your hosts like wine, however, it generally is quite acceptable to offer it, although you always should be mindful to suggest they lay your offering away for another day so they don’t presume you expect them to open it for consumption there and then. Their menu has been planned already, and they no doubt have selected the proper wines to accompany each course. (Note that a good champagne, properly chilled, might be a welcome exception: just the right thing during pre-dinner cocktails.)

That being said, you also should be aware that guests are not expected to bring gifts (wine or otherwise) to business-related meals, embassy banquets and the like.

The practice also seems to have faded as far as dinners in many of the top private homes are concerned. In any event, it may be more discreet not to arrive bottle in hand, especially if you are not that well-acquainted with the hosts. (If you discover later that they are noted oenophiles, you can always have a Chateau Talbot 1972 or other fine vintage delivered the following day along with a handwritten note of thanks — a beau geste that will be much appreciated.)

Finally, some thoughtful guests prefer to bring their dinner hosts fancy-wrapped little gifts instead of wine. These may include fine chocolates, candied fruits, scented candles and the like or perhaps a book you know will be appreciated.

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or send e-mail to civilities@washington times.com.

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