What to Bring to a Cocktail Party

Don't show up empty-handed

Woman holding glass of wine over bread and cheese spread

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If you've been invited to dinner or a cocktail party, but haven't been asked to bring anything, you may still want to consider a gift. Presenting your host or hostess with a present shows your appreciation for the invitation and your sincere desire to contribute to the festivities. The gift of drink or food is almost always appreciated. Even if it does not match well with the theme or flavors of the gathering, your small donation is highly unlikely to have any negative impact on either of these factors. As the saying goes, the gift is in the giving.


Wine is the perfect gift for the host or hostess. Most people appreciate wine even if they don’t drink it on a regular basis. There's a certain joy when wine is presented, both for the giver and the receiver. At the dinner table, wine creates a topic of discussion. Guests can enjoy looking at the label, deciphering the language, and discussing the virtues (or faults) of the wine they are drinking. Don’t worry about trying to match the wine to what is being served for dinner. Give the host the option of serving the wine at the gathering or saving it for their own collection.

Trying to match a wine when you don't know what's for dinner is no easy accomplishment. Instead of trying to find the perfect wine to match everything, focus on the main entree, whether it is beef, duck, or something else. Otherwise, just bring something you know is good. If it doesn't match, they can save it for another occasion.

For white wine, a buttery California Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc from South America is a good choice. For a red wine option, fruity Pinot Noir from Oregon or California is excellent. It also matches nicely with duck. Cabernet Sauvignon is a safe choice. A Spanish Rioja pairs well with savory foods, especially if they have a spicy component such as sausage. For dessert consider a vintage Port, Orange Muscat, or Riesling Icewine.

No place to buy good wine in your neighborhood? Buy online at My Wines Direct, wine.com or Wine Library.

Sparkling Apple Cider

Sparkling cider remains unfamiliar to most Americans. Once a staple of early colonial life, hard cider became almost unknown until its revival in the late 1980s. Crafted by American microbreweries, most American hard cider has a distinctive beer-like quality. In fact, producing sparkling cider is closer in nature to winemaking. French producers still try to maintain this wine-like character. Their ciders have less alcohol content, less sweetness, and have a bubbly champagne texture. The cider bottles closely resemble wine bottles with champagne corks. The complex fruity flavors and high acid content make them a wonderful complement to many family meals.


A loaf of bread has been a traditional gift for thousands of years. The most basic of foods, good bread is a joy to experience. If you’re not a baker, search for a good artisan bakery in your area. Since there's a good chance your host may have bread all ready to serve with dinner, choose a loaf with unique characteristics that can be eaten as an appetizer or as a complement to the meal. Olive bread is a party favorite. Other suggestions might be sourdough, ciabatta, raisin-walnut, cheese bread, or focaccia.


Artisan cheeses are as complex and varied as wine. Like wine, the guests will gather around to sample the gift and discuss it in detail. It makes a wonderful appetizer for the party or can be used as a dessert course. You may want to accompany your gift with a simple loaf of crusty bread or some gourmet crackers.

As for your particular choice of cheese, the possibilities are endless. If you have a party of cheese lovers, try to select cheeses that are complex in nature and in limited supply or only available during certain times of the year. For novices, choose a simpler cheese such as an aged cheddar or Petit Basque.​