What wine to bring to dinner… when you don’t know what’s for dinner.

Gift Bag 33a

Conversation Starter Wine

Esoteric is the route I typically take. For one thing, you really appear like you know what you are doing. Plus, no one really knows much about it, so the little you can learn about it already places you in an advantage. Finally, it’s fun to shake things up. Life’s too damn short, and there are countless varietals to explore.

Go for versatile food wines:
2008 Silene Cesanese (Lazio, IT $20) — A stunning wine that boasts black tea, red cherries, dark forest flowers and wet leaves.

2008 Arndorfer Gruner Veltliner (Kamptal, AU $19) — Bright, citrussy and only a hint of spice, this is repeatedly a huge crowd pleaser!

2007 Le Due Terre Refosco & Schioppetino blend (Friuli, IT $47) — My new favorite wine. Pricey, yes. Impressive for any wine savvy host, undoubtedly. Complex and intriguing, this wine defines the coveted, unexplainable trait: terroir.

Or, when in doubt, Pinot.

The general public has a remarkable amount of awe for this varietal–at any price. It is easy to remember, everyone knows it and it has managed to be generally understood as the wine that people who ‘really know’ wine drink.  It’s true. A large number of connoisseurs would love nothing more than to slug down premier and grand cru Burgundy all day long. But as we cannot afford it, believe it or not, Pinot Noir is hardly where we put our money. It is often overpriced, overproduced and overrated. They are delicate grapes that are given steroids called OAK and suffocate beneath the wooden pressure. That said, some winemakers have managed to find a harmonious balance of fruit, earth and minerality for this noble grape. They are exceptional and worthy of hype. Here are a few that really bring back the purity in Pinot:

2009 Brooks Runaway Red Pinot Noir (Willamette, OR $23)
2009 The Crooner Pinot Noir (Potter Valley, CA $29)
2009 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir (Willamette, OR $20)
2008 IBY Zweigelt (Horitschon, Austria $19—okay, not Pinot, but basically…)

What to Avoid:

Unless you know these are Silver Oak fanatics who would pair rich reds even with Tilapia, try and keep away from the massive, extracted fruit bombs if you don’t know what their serving, because if it’s not Filet Mignon, it may not be able to survive the heavy handed oak treatment.

About Ashley Hausman


Originally from Wisconsin, Ashley moved to Colorado to hike and climb mountains as soon as she had a B.A. in hand. Quickly she learned, she needed to find a career. So she went back to grad school to get her PhD in English & American Literature, beginning with a Masters at New York University. A few long papers, a thesis and a masters degree later, she found wine was not only an incredible way to enhance Derridean studies, but it had its own story to tell: of regions, soils, cultures and farming. While Woolf still had her heart, Burgundy was creeping in… She decided to postpone the PhD and go for the plunge. Now, she manages Little’s Wine & Spirits near the University of Denver. She orders by day, sips and tells all in her blog by night, and runs private wine parties in between in addition to giving advice on cellar building, wine vacations and food pairing. It’s a passion that grows only more complex with every passing vintage.