Advice sought on wine/dinner party

Looking for some advice for a wine/dinner party. I am planning on hosting 4 couples, including my wife and me.

The main goal is to drink some really good wine, special occasion kind of wine. I was thinking each couple would bring a bottle of wine and a food item that pairs well with it.

I would like to give some direction or theme to the wine choices, but want to ensure that we don’t end up with 4 bottles of cabernet and a bunch of red meat.

I am also struggling with how to quantify “a really good bottle”. I have done many of these things where we ask guests to bring the best under $20 bottle of wine they can find, but it seems kind of rude to say bring the best bottle you have costing over $xxx. And of course cost is not necessarily indicative of quality.


I’m looking for ideas on themes that would encompass multiple varietals.
How to specify “a really good bottle”?
Is one bottle per couple enough to give 8 people a reasonable pour?

Any other comments or suggestions are welcome.


  1. I would stick with a France theme and do Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone (Preferably something like CdP, Cote Rotie, Hermitage).
  2. I would lay out the expectations and have everyone agree on the budget. Assign each region as listed above and have each couple get the best bottle they can in the given price range.
  3. Yes. It should give each person a little over 3 oz, which is enough to sample and enjoy.

how well do you know the other wine collectors?
I have experienced both a $$$ requirement and a request to bring a special bottle.
why don’t you just ask for “really good wine, special occasion kind of wine”?
8 people on one bottle is fine, as long as the people are experienced pourers

Rob–A lot really depends on who your guests are, what their knowledge of wine is, etc. For some people, Veuve Cliquot would be a “really good, special occasion” bottle of Champagne. Around these parts, most people kind of disparage VC.

My suggestion is to divide up the meal into apps., side dishes, entrees, desserts. Have people choose a food category, and then run their food/wine selections by you.

In terms of wine, unless your friends are very wine geeky, it may be helpful to suggest a price range IF you want to use price as a rough indicator of quality (of course, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to quality, but that’s another matter). But understand that the more criteria you put on the wine selections, the more you may alienate your potential guests.


I’ve always found that assigning courses helps. If each couple is to provide an appropriate pairing with their course, you shouldn’t end up with cabernet and seafood.

Courses usually helps with logistics and timing also of getting everything on the table.

I find it hard to dictate too much when having a dinner party. (don’t ask my wife…)
Unless your guests are all pretty good at bringing a course that would travel well, be easy to finish in someone else’s kitchen I’d avoid planning that kind of party.

Good luck

Especially if you’re new at this and your friends are as well, just go into it with good intentions. There always seems to be the one person/couple that doesn’t get it and might bring a cheap everyday wine. Those folks just need to quietly not make the list if this happens a couple of times at the beginning.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a finite dollar amount. Just keep in mind that if that’s out of your guests’ normal price range they might also be reaching and you could end up with many poor selections that simply meet the price point. At least those folks are trying, however, so give them extra credit.

The best way is to just find your wine-educated peers and stick with them, they will never disappoint you especially if they hang around here! [cheers.gif]

Mel has a good point about the food as well. Many folks host revolving groups so every couple is required/has an opportunity to host and the host does all the food to avoid the travel issues.

Good point, Mel. I usually only do the courses with other food and wine geeks that are used to prepping at home and finishing in a different kitchen.

Something I have done ask folks to bring wine to pair with a certain dish or course that I am making. Not specific wines, but a region or varietal.

Just ask what the others are bringing food wise, or assign it, and YOU provide all the wine pairings.
This works for me. Most of my friends by their wine at Kroger.

I have to agree with Mel. The concept of a high-end potluck is quite challenging. For a high-end dinner, I would suggest either cooking it all yourself (or hiring a chef for the night) and then requesting certain wines to go with the courses (Grand Cru Burgundy, 1st-growth Bordeaux, etc.). Potlucks are common around LA, but they tend to be fairly casual affairs. It is difficult to bring something very fancy without the kitchen becoming a disaster of everyone trying to finish/reheat their dishes.

Echoing what others have written, unless you know and can trust the guests to bring wines of the appropriate quality, you’re either going to need to (a) provide the wines yourself to ensure that you have the kind of quality you want, or have you plus whatever subset of your guests you can trust to bring the right kinds of wines combine to do it, or (b) just be at peace with the wines being whatever people are going to bring, for better or for worse.

Unless they ask you for guidance, you’re going to be in a tough spot trying to nudge them to bring the “right” wines. Even if you feel comfortable using a $ minimum (which I wouldn’t be, but of course it depends on the specific people and your relationship with them), that still doesn’t mean you won’t end up with Rombauer or Mollydooker or Stag’s Leap Artemis – in fact, those are probably some of the likeliest outcomes, I would guess. (And if that’s what you want, then that’s certainly fine, but I was taking the implication that you want wines of more of a serious wine enthusiast type.)

For me, I always just choose option (a). I, plus whichever of the guests I can count on to bring the kind of wine that would be appropriate, provide the wines. Maybe others bring a dish to share, a dessert, cheese, or whatever.

I’m planning a very similar ordeal with a few other couples. Our plan is to cook everything ourselves and pick the wine we want to serve. We are then asking people only to make a set donation. They don’t have to bring anything but their appetite. We eat with this group often and do sometimes do potlucks. But for something “special” and kind of specific I would do it yourself…that is if you have the time and wherewithal.

Another alternative on this if you are close friends with these couples is to make this a rotating dinner where the host supplies all food and wine. This month it’s your turn, next month couple #2 hosts, etc.

That will be fine so far as the size of the pours, but it won’t be enough wine. For a lengthy dinner, you can usually figure on a bottle per person, and sometimes a little more, depending on the crowd.

We do something similar to this. Depends how well you know your group, and whether you’re comfortable setting a payment amount. In our group (up to 7 couples), two of us (who are the wine geeks) pick the theme and buy the wines. Everyone brings a dish. Since the group is well acquainted, there’s usually a series of calls/emails among attendees to ask what others are bringing. As a result, we typically end up with a decent balance of food. That said, we typically do our tasting first then eat afterward, so matching wine with courses isn’t really an issue.
Our “rule” is that the tab will be around $40/couple for 6 wines; so a wine budget of $240. We actually get by with a bottle of each, making for about 2 ounce tasting pours. As noted above, that’s not enough wine for the evening, but there are always a few of us who bring a bottle or two of something else to open after the tasting.
Of course in reading my notes above, I now realize I just turned your wine dinner into a wine tasting, so apologies for that bit of interference.
If you truly want a more paced dinner with wines paired to courses, and some control of the wine quality, I think you have to make very specific assignments, do it all yourself, or resign yourself to whatever choices people make in what food and wine they bring.
Realizing I’ve typed much and added little, I bid you good day…

This sort of thing can be done and be fun but the main prerequisite is to accept beforehand that you’re there to enjoy each other’s company as well as the wine and realize that someone will bring some wine and/or food item that wasn’t what you would have liked. C’est la vie. I have one friend who consistently brings Chateauneuf to my parties (knowing that it’s one of my least favorite regions) and he still gets invited back. Once you’ve ceded control over the menu by asking for others to bring food and wine you’ve also ceded any right to complain. Unless of course you’re really good friends and you just want to give them a hard time :slight_smile:.

What I’d do is something along the following lines:

Ask the couples to sign up for:

A main course with meat and a red wine
An appetizer with fish or poultry and a white wine or lighter red (e.g., Burgundy and duck)
A dessert and a sweet wine
Hors d’oeuvres and a sparkling wine
A side dish with either a white or a red (the side dish can be served with either the main or the appetizer).

Guests get first pick in order of response - as host you supply whatever course no one else requested.

As John mentions, 4 bottles for 8 people is light, so tell them beforehand that you will open more than one bottle. Aside from filling out the evening that gives you free reign to supplement wines brought for the other courses.


Charging a fee to get in is pretty lame in my book, after all you are inviting them to dinner. If they really are friends, and enjoy your company, then they should return the favor.
1/2 bottle per person is not nearly enough especially with people I hang out with.
If you insist on them bringing wine, you should provide the “special” pairing wines and ask them to bring a special bottle as well. Maybe tell each couple to bring a different type of wine (light/big red, white, dessert, etc.) and if they don’t fit your theme then those are the go to bottles after the tasting wines are gone (which won’t be long!).
A dinner party means you are cooking, a potluck means everybody brings a dish. I like the control/flow of providing what I want to serve, both food and wine.
And remember have fun, it’s only grape juice!!

Thank you for the responses. I like the idea of hiring a chef to do the cooking. I will just coordinate with the others to make sure the wines are of appropriate quality and variety, then work with the chef to plan some appetizers around them for a pre-dinner tasting. I will use my own wines for the main entree.

No offense to Rob, because I think what he’s planning is fine. But “inviting them to dinner” included them bringing a dish and a bottle of wine. Among friends, I dont think agreeing on one person doing it all, and everyone else contributing (at least to cover the cost for higher end wine) is that much of a stretch. But I may be in the minority.