Ladies and gentlemen, a polite reminder. The quintessential dinner party dilemma is not whether to risk veering from Mapquest directions, but what to take as a host/hostess gift. If you regularly arrive at the door without a small token of thanks, such as a bottle of wine, you need to stop reading this and immediately subscribe to the Emily Post Institute's Twitter account (no kidding). As for the rest of us, don't those 750 milliliters feel a little overdone?
Enter the half bottle. Splits, as they are known in industry speak, typically cost half as much as a full bottle – obvious, we know – but it means your $15 goes twice as far. Plus half bottles are clearly a gift. If you wanted to contribute to the inebriation level of the evening, you would have brought a full bottle, right? And many great dessert wines are sold in 375s, so your hosts can open the bottle at the end of the meal as a digestif, or should they prefer, stash the bottle away for re-gifting – which, in case you missed it, is particularly fashionable during a recession. Our first-gifting wine picks follow.
10. 2007 Red Mountain Ice Wine, Kiona Vineyards, Washington $22.99
Could there be a better way to break the ice with new friends than outright saying so as you hand over an ice wine? Seriously, don't do that. These dessert wines are made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vine, so you get a more concentrated flavor, sort of like sorbet versus juice. This one from Kiona in Eastern Washington is made from Chenin Blanc grapes. K&L Wine Merchants, 1400 Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 464-9463.
9. 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Husch Vineyards, California $7.50
Half bottles also happen to be the perfect game-prize size. Use this citrusy Husch Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc to quell any urges other party guests may harbor for late night board games. The first person to guess where Philo, California is located (no iPhones allowed) wins this citrusy wine. Midnight Trivial Pursuit game foiled again. Bob's Market, 1650 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 452-2493.
8. NV Manzanilla Sherry, La Cigarrera, Spain $16
La Cigarrera refers to the Spanish ladies who peddled cigarettes back in the day in Sanlúcar, the small Spanish port town where Columbus, and later Magellan, set sail. Magellan reportedly spent more on sherry than on firearms, not a particularly wise idea in the 16th century pirate-infested seas era, although it's hard to go wrong with a party boat filled with fortified wine (wines amped up with hard alcohol). Palate Food & Wine Retail Shop, 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale (818) 662-9463.
With such festive holiday names involving heaven and hell, the gift card names you can dream up are virtually endless. That alone makes the special order worth it. Lodi Vineyards, Order directly through the winery by calling (888) 707-WINE or emailing the vineyard (375 ml bottles are not listed on the website currently but are available).
6. Brut Réserve Grand Cru, Paul Bara, France $29.99
This is a butter-someone-up Champagne for your boss, or someone whom you'd like to be your boss. You can toss out oenophile terms like “cult following” and “grand cru,” plus the small winery has a 150 year pedigree. Depending on your boss, you'll either sound utterly brilliant, or like a pretentious heel. Best, perhaps, to simply hand over the bottle. Wine Expo, 2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-4428.
5. 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Canalicchio di Sopra, Italy $29.99
Same as #6, only if your boss is more the meatballs and big Tuscan Sangiovese type.
Wine House, 2311 Cotner Ave., (800) 626-9463.
4. 2006 Vin de Paille Sacrerouge, Tablas Creek, California, $36 (normally $45)
This inky Mourvedre-based sweet wine from organic grapes by Tablas Creek in Paso Robles has two party-worthy things going for it. First, it's on sale (never pay full price on first-time dinner hosts). Second, Tablas Creek is a fun Saturday detour with its organic vineyard tours and wine tastings.Tablas Creek, 9339 Adelaida Rd., Paso Robles (Tasting Room is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), or order online.
3. 2005 Château Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur, France $12.99
Those “did you see my 2005 Bordeaux collection out in the garage?” types, will love this, and it's only $13 (don't tell them that). If you need idle party chatter fodder, read Food & Wine's interview with Robert Parker about the 2005 vintage. Du Vine Wine and Spirits, 540 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 855-1161.
2. 2007 Chalone July Muscat, Graff Family Vineyards, California, $16
This muscat is produced by the Woodward/Graff Wine Foundation, so it's sort of like giving one of those “donation has been made in your honor” cards, only drinkable. The nonprofit Monterey County winery uses net proceeds to fund scholarships in wine, food and culinary arts study. It's distributed in Los Angeles sporadically, so keep an eye out, or just order directly from the winery. Half a case should get you through the end of the holiday dinner party season. Order directly from Woodward/Graff in Sonoma by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (707) 935-2100.
1. YOUR NAME HERE, Los Angeles, California
That good old “there's nothing better than homemade” adage may not apply quite as well to wine as meatloaf, but even bad homemade wine is a party conversation starter. Among home wine making kits, the one from Crushpad is good and has dropped in price to $80 (it was $120), although of course the custom-crush company is hoping you'll spend another couple hundred dollars ordering a case of whatever you concoct. We suggest taking the six 375 ml blending bottles, tinkering around with a blend, pouring it back in the bottles, and slapping your own printer label on them. Preferably something that says “drink now” as self-blended wine will last only one day before oxidizing. Option two: start from scratch with wine making equipment and a class from Culver City Home Brew Supply. For information on wine making equipment and classes, call (310) 397 – 3453 or email email@example.com. Order Fusebox wine kits directly from Crushpad.