We've all wanted to do it. You didn't drop perfectly good money a decent bottle of plonk you could find only to have your hosts let it languish, ignored, to be guzzled without you.
However, most of us refrain. We restrain ourselves. We understand that the bottle of wine was the very least we could do, considering someone has opened their home to us and undertaken the expense, trouble and clean-up of serving us a meal. Plus, we've all seen the Seinfeld episode where George's parents reclaim the marble rye - and no one wants to go down as that guy.
Or maybe we try to be philosophical. In some cultures, after all, it's considered kind of gauche to presume to bring a wine, when obviously the host will have planned the meal with wine pairing in mind. (I don't know any of these people - but allegedly there are millions in the world who turn down free liquor.) Maybe they had plenty of wine already and just didn't get to yours. Maybe they have some awesome cellar and just regarded your bottle as a contribution.
And then there's this person, who wrote into the New York Times' Florence Fabricant for etiquette advice:
I hosted a potluck dinner for a group of seven graduate school classmates
(they are in their early-mid twenties). My husband and I provided snacks, light fare and wine. Most of the guests brought some form of alcohol (beer or wine). We opened the first wine that was brought in, but this was not a very drinking crowd, and by the end of the night we had finished just that bottle and some beers. After I was done cleaning up, my husband told me that as she was leaving, one of the wives took back the unopened bottle she and her husband brought. What?!?! Is this the new normal potluck etiquette, that you take back what you brought if it's not eaten? Or is this as outrageous as it seemed to me?
FloFab concurs - but recommends chilling out. Obviously, she's right, but I feel for both parties involved. Because as a host, it's gratifying to know you have a free bottle of wine waiting for you - and the pain of having that stripped away is not to be dismissed.
Even dicier, in my opinion, is the issue of desserts. When you bring a cake or pie to someone's house, and there's some leftover, who gets it? Everyone wants it. Normally, common sense prevails, and the cake is divided so everyone can enjoy - both laborer and host. Occasionally, however, one runs across a glutton of such monumental greed that all social mores are thrown out the window. I refer, of course, to certain hippie neighbors. The scene? A block party several years ago. The sweet? A bundt cake. A weird one, I grant you - it may or may not have involved pistachio pudding mix and a swirl of chocolate syrup. The baker? Yours truly. Anyway. The cake was contributed, sampled, and, it must be said, didn't exactly fly off the table. The collective of neighbors, who descended in full force, contributed nothing save their infectious love of life and lack of judgmentalism. And when the party broke up, and the cake was sitting there, largely untouched, I offered them a slice. I believe my exact words were, "would you like to bring a piece of this home? It's too much for me to eat." One of them interpreted this as an invitation to silently pick the whole thing up and carry it into their wind-chime bedecked house. It - and my plate - were never seen again.
Occasionally, there's something no one wants. "You take it!" "No, I couldn't - you take it!" The host is invariably stuck with these things: mountains of brown rice casserole or experimental cookies that molder in the back of the fridge until you can bear it no more. And in the spirit of full disclosure, this might be a good time to publicly apologize to Anna Holmes for sticking her with that vat of banana pudding last summer. It was a coward's out - and, in its own way, as bad as reclaiming the wine.
Dear FloFab: My Guests Took Back Their Wine [NYT]