Yay or Chardon-nay?

For those of us who aren't skilled in the cooking/baking/candlestick-making department, a bottle of wine may seem like an obvious choice for a hostess gift. For starters, it's great in a pinch—you can pick it up on the way to the party, no sweat. But more importantly, it's something we'd be happy to receive for ourselves: Who doesn't love having an extra bottle lying around for the occasional weeknight wind-down? That said, showing up to a dinner party with a bottle of wine can cause quite the etiquette conundrum for your host. Here's how to avoid any awkwardness, whether you're attending the party or hosting it.

For the Guest

Unless your host has explicitly asked you to bring a bottle of wine to his dinner party, it's likely that he has already selected wines that will pair nicely with the meal. While most hosts would not view your bringing wine as an affront to their dinner-party-throwing abilities, it's best to make it clear that your wine is intended as a "thank you," rather than something that's to be served with the dinner they've thoughtfully planned and prepared. To ensure that your bottle is received as such, hand it to the host and say something like, "Thank you for having me! Hope you can enjoy this soon."

For the Host

Your main priority as a host is to make your guests feel at ease from the moment they step into your home. If your guest shows up with a bottle of wine and doesn't offer any instruction, it's best to say thank you, and then ask if she'd like you to serve it with dinner. This way, your guest has an opportunity to confirm that it is a hostess gift and that the wine, at your discretion, can either be uncorked that evening or stowed away as you please. Should your guest not be schooled in proper wine etiquette and request that you serve her bottle with dinner, accept it graciously, offer it to your guests as an option during the meal (whether it pairs nicely with the salmon or not), and give no indication that your guest has acted improperly. The most well-mannered people never point out the poor manners of others.

Bringing a thoughtful hostess gift and having pitch-perfect table manners make for a gracious guest. But the best guests of all know the most important party trick in the book: When to leave. Here, an etiquette expert offers a simple solution for knowing when it's time to hit the road.