If you're anything like the rest of us in the First World, you've spent many panicked minutes scanning the shelves of a liquor store before heading to a party. Choosing the right booze is one of those etiquette skills most of us never learn, leaving us the loser who always shows up with a bottle of Korbel.
So to help guide you on the path to superlative wine selection, we spoke to award-winning master sommelier Larry Stone. Stone is hosting an über-upscale, five-course wine dinner at the Fontainebleau's Gotham Steak tonight, and we took advantage of his appearance to avail ourselves of his vast vino knowledge. Get his two cents on the perfect wines for specific occasions -- from popping the question to buying your boss' good favor to meeting the parents -- after the jump.
First dinner with your significant other's parents.
The dreaded first meeting. It's crucial to impress the people who could make your life a living hell for the next 30 years or so -- if you decide to put a ring on it. Planning ahead is a must in this stress-inducing situation.
"That depends upon the taste preference of the parents. It would be most appropriate to get some very good but not too ostentatious wine that would impress your potential in-laws due to its sensitivity to their palates," Stone explains. "My dad was most impressed with Madeira. My mother with Riesling. But my future in-laws were totally put out by the idea of wine. It simply was too highfalutin for them. But since they knew I liked wine, I brought some delicious but not too expensive wines that I thought they might like too. And when they asked me what the wines cost, I didn't look too extravagant -- I tried to keep it under $20 for them. And they did like the wines and also appreciated that I didn't 'waste' money on them. But don't forget to impress other members of your potential future family. My wife's brother was definitely interested in wines, so I made sure he got to try some very good ones. I still exchange sake and wines with him."
Bridal shower for your lifelong frenemy.
Oh, the frenemy, perhaps the most complicated of female friendships. And no matter how much she might make your blood boil, you have to make a showing at her celebration -- fake smile and all.
"Hmm... isn't this a question for a woman sommelier? Ask Sara Floyd, Alpana Singh, or Virginia Philip. I would say in that situation, the only decent thing is to bring a 'wow' bottle -- but why would you go to a rival's bridal shower unless you were a glutton for punishment?"
Well, Larry, because we're women.
High school reunion.
High school reunions -- those epic occasions where you're reminded just how far you haven't come in the past couple of decades. Nothing like throwback prom queens to make you feel insecure all over again. So you've gotta come strong, prepared, and probably a bit sauced.
"What kind of high school did you go to? And what kind of statement do you want to make with the wine?" Stone asks. "Most high school reunions are more of a beer-and-cocktail kind of situation. However, I wouldn't hesitate to bring a wine like the Prisoner or Faust to such an event. These are reasonable and very drinkable wines. Plus they have great label art. The latter is especially great if you married your high school sweetheart."
You love this chick. And the last thing you want is to send her running for the hills because you brought a bottle of two-buck Chuck for one of the biggest moments of your couplehood. For this occasion, make it count. You can cheap out after she's legally bound to you.
"What does your potential fiancée like?" Stone says. "I was lucky -- mine loved champagne and Barolo. So we started with champagne, and when she consented, we progressed to a really great bottle of Barolo. Choose the wine well, because a honeymoon to Piedmont, Napa, or Burgundy (or Madeira, the Mosel, Reims, Wachau, etc.) is definitely rewarding. I speak from experience. Most wine regions are not only beautiful but they also come with exquisite dining and lodging opportunities."
Holiday or birthday gift for the boss.
Even if you have an Office Space-style disregard for authority, you should still be concerned with your boss' good favor. After all, a happy supervisor can make your life a whole lot easier -- and facilitate a raise much quicker. But don't be an obvious ass-kisser. Subtlety is key.
"The main thing to consider, apart from what the boss has revealed as a preferred region, is that you can't buy too expensive a wine nor too cheap a wine either," Stone says. "If you go overboard, no matter how sincere your appreciation of your employer, it could be interpreted that you are earning too much or have an agenda. As with your in-laws, bring something intelligent that is suited to the personality and taste of the one on the receiving end. If you don't know those preferences and it is a white-collar kind of business, you can't go wrong with those gold-plated trophies of business entertainment such as Napa Cabernet, Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, white and red Burgundy, Willamette Valley Pinot, and Sonoma Coast Pinot. I would avoid, in this context, champagne. It might seem too frilly rather than business-like. In a more artistic field, even better would be other less collectible wines, like those from Trousseau, Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Gamay, Zinfandel, Barbera, Nerello Mascalese, Falanghina, Albarino, Carinena, or Tempranillo. Something a bit different and unexpected."
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Tonight's Cellar 1954 Wine & Dinner Series will feature Napa Valley's Quintessa wines, handpicked by Stone and paired with a five-course menu prepared by chef de cuisine Derrick Roberts. Swanky! Tickets cost $200 per person, excluding tax and gratuity, and dinner begins 7:30 p.m. in Gotham Steak's private dining room. Dress to impress. Reservations are required. Call 305-674-4706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.