Is it Rude to Not Serve Wine Brought by my Guests? | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Is it Rude to Not Serve Wine Brought by my Guests?

Is it Rude to Not Serve Wine Brought by my Guests?

L’chaim answers this and other reader questions

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Clearing though my email bag at year’s end to answer some of your questions about kosher wines and distilled spirits. If you have a question, from the simple to the seriously technical, feel free to email me at and I will try to answer either directly, or here in this space.

Q: I went to purchase some recent vintage chardonnay at a wine store and noticed that there seemed to be a big difference in the height of the wine in the bottles. Should I be concerned about this variation in the height of the wine level in these new bottles of wine?

A: Ullage, from the from the French ouillage, is the unfilled space inside the top of a bottle of wine, and is there to allow both for the sometimes mildly inconsistent filling of the bottles and as a precaution to allow for the expansion of the wine in the bottle in case temperature changes necessitate a little wiggle room. The term ullage refers specifically to the empty space in the neck of the bottle between wine and cork, but when measuring the level of the wine in the neck of the bottle one refers to its “fill level.”

Unless you have some clear reason to suspect that the wines have been subjected to dramatic temperature fluctuations, then no—all things being equal—you probably have nothing to worry about by the variation you describe in the wine’s fill level and ullage.

In older wines, discussions about fill-levels and ullage come up all the time since a wine's fill level will fall, and the ullage will increase, as it undergoes significant ageing.

In a young or new wine, any particular fill level in the neck of the bottle shouldn’t cause concern. Wildly inconsistent fill-levels—provided the wine is still well within the neck, as you describe— point more to issues during bottling than to storage, unless there are signs of leakage or extreme discoloration. If the fill level were below the neck, or worse yet, below the “shoulder” where the bottle begins to taper in towards the neck, then concern is warranted.

Asking the retailer about the variation in fill level will usually prevent temp-damaged bottles from being sold. If the purveyor reassures you, it is probably fine. A decent wine shop will be honest because they want repeat customers, not a one-time quick sale that will never be repeated.

Q: If I’m having a dinner party and have already selected wines to pair with the food, is it rude to not serve wines brought unbidden by guests? Does it make any difference if the wine they brought wouldn’t pair well with the menu?

A: No, strictly speaking, it is not rude—though a gesture of gratitude and a word of thanks will probably help smooth over the moment. After all, a gift is a gift, and once given belongs entirely to the giftee. Guests ought to check with their hosts before bringing something intended to be consumed at that meal—makes no difference if its wine, salad, or dessert.

That said, in my experience guests and hosts are not always so perfectly synced. So a certain savoir faire is required to avoid awkwardness. You can either open it anyway, along with whatever wines you’ve already planned, or take it graciously while indicating that you look forward to drinking it at a future meal.

Q: What’s good this week?

A: Jerusalem Wineries, Marselan, Gerstein Special Edition, 2014 ($20): Originally a Languedoc hybrid of cabernet and grenache used often in Rhône blends, the Marselan grape has started showing real promise in parts of Israel. The grapes used in this Marselan were grown in the Shomron area. This fine example is soft, with mild tannins, offering wild brambly aromas and flavors, with some cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, black pepper, vanilla, anise, notes of fresh sage and a subtle whiff of tobacco. The finish is both fruity and savory, if a bit subdued. Highly enjoyable.


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