Off the air, Chopped host Ted Allen likes to relax with Rufus Pink, his Maine Coon cat. Here, he gives his opinions on the etiquette of holiday wine and the bottles he loves to give and get.
Q: What’s your pet peeve about host and hostess gift wines?
A: A host gift should do more than just contribute your percentage of alcohol to the evening. I don’t mean to be critical of anyone, but we can all go to a grocery store and pick up any of the bottles there. Making a side journey to a great wine shop is definitely a little more creative. This wonderful wine shop in my neighborhood recently turned me onto this slightly frizzante white from Hungary, of all places. I’d never had a Hungarian wine before. And if I’d been going to a dinner party thrown by a Hungarian American, it would have been even better.
Q:If you’re hosting a holiday dinner, do you feel required to open bottles that people bring?
A: Bear in mind that this is a gift; the host is under no obligation to serve it. But I often open what people bring—though, once in a while, one of my friends who really knows wine will bring over a bottle and press it into my hands and say, “Put this away and drink it later. You’ve got 50 people here; no one is going to notice how nice this wine is.”
Q: What’s your advice for wine with holiday meals?
A: People hew to tradition during the holidays. Like me—I’m not going to make a Moroccan, cinnamon-spiced turkey with preserved lemons for a holiday dinner; I insist on having turkey and sage stuffing and gravy, because that’s what I want. That means that wine is a great place to branch out. Why not drink a Grenache or a Rhône blend, or three different Pinot Noirs? It’s a way to broaden people’s horizons and give a little bit of a theme to the dinner.
Q: What about holiday gifts—what’s your strategy?
A: I think it’s a fantastic gift to go to a wine shop and get someone six bottles of wine with specific food pairings for each one. This is my long-standing holiday gift to my sister. I write the pairings on little tags and hang them around the necks of the bottles. So when they look at these bottles of wine later, they’ll say, “Oh, hey, we’re making hamburgers and here’s this nice, hearty Zinfandel. Let’s crack it open.” And then my sister can call me and argue with me about whether I was right. OK, she doesn’t really.
Q: If you’re at a dinner and the wine is flawed, should you say anything?
A: I’ll tell you a sad story. One time I was at a friend’s house, down in the basement, and he showed me all these crates of amazing Bordeaux. I remember thinking, Wow, I hope he got a good deal on them. Then I remember also thinking, Wow, it’s really hot in here. A little later he came over to a dinner party at our house and brought a jeroboam of this beautiful wine, and we opened it, and it was brown and utterly ruined. What do you do? Do you sneak into another room and open a different bottle? That sounds like something I would do, if only to avoid confrontation! We ended up talking about it, but even then no one could bring himself to say, “Bob, all that wine is worthless now.”
Q: What if you’re the guest, though, and the wine is flawed?
A: There are feelings at risk here; if it’s your boss, do you want to risk offending your boss? I’m inclined to be polite—most of the time—so I’d probably tell a little white lie about it, or just try to avoid the subject.
Q: What has been your strangest wine experience?
A: It was when they made a music video to go along with the opening theme song for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. They spent a ton of money: We closed the Brooklyn Bridge, we had troupes of dancers, we had a helicopter camera, we had cops and bikers and kids in school buses. And my moment in the video was to saber a bottle of Champagne and then pour it into a fountain of glasses so it would cascade down. There was all this pressure and money riding on this, and all these people and all these cameras pointing at me, and I failed, like, five times. But finally the cork went flying, the wine came gushing out, I got it into the top glass, I looked into the camera and grinned, and that was it. Cut and print.