Bottom Line/Personal: Do you ever get panicked when you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner and you’re told to bring the wine…and you have no idea what to bring?

I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m talking to Amy Dixon. Amy is the former buyer and fine wine expert at Stew Leonard’s wine stores, one of the top 10 retailers for wine in the country. She is currently managing a portfolio of fine wine collectors at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien, Connecticut.

Amy lost 98% of her eyesight in 2007. Now, in addition to being a wine expert, she is a paratriathlete on Team USA, and she’s also on the watch list for their cycling team. You can learn more about Amy and all of her cycling and wine expertise at Welcome, Amy.

Amy Dixon: Thanks for having me.

Bottom Line : Many years ago, we were invited to dinner at a friend’s house, and he was a real “winey.” I knew nothing, and I went to the wine store, and we were in the middle of nowhere and at a loss. I finally asked the wine realtor, “What do you sell a lot of?” And he said, “I sell a lot of that box over there.”

Dixon: Oh dear.

Bottom Line: So then I went to the labels and the prices and went right in the middle. What should I have done instead?

Dixon: I tell people if you know that the person is a big collector of Italian wines or California wines, that gives you a great route to go. But if you’re going to somebody’s house who either you’ve never met or they’re having a casual dinner party and you’re in charge of just bringing something, I always suggest that champagne or sparkling wine is a great go-to.

Why? Because most people like it. Two, it’s a cause for celebration. Any time you open a bottle of sparkling wine, it’s always going to be a great event, I don’t care what you’re doing. And then three, worst-case scenario, they can regift it.

Bottom Line: That’s such great advice and so unique. I was worried about reds and whites. No, go totally out of the box. Champagne.

Dixon: Champagne, sparkling wine. You’re never going to go wrong with that, because again, if people don’t like sparkling wine, they can regift it and it makes them look good, and it’s always a celebratory kind of thing.

However, if you’re in charge of bringing wine for a specific meal, say they’re cooking on Friday night and having a bunch of hors d’oeuvres, here are a couple of wines that are always safe to bring—one, for a red wine, is always going to be Pinot Noir. Why Pinot Noir? Because it goes with just about everything you can throw at it cuisine-wise. It has good acidity, and it’s a balanced wine. It’s not too much oak…it tends to be medium bodied to lighter bodied, so it’s not going to be obtrusive for any one meal.

For a white wine, same rule applies. You want something sort of light, that doesn’t have too much oak, that’s sort of on the crisp side, that’s going to be versatile and has good acidity. So when in doubt, bring a wine that has good balance.

Bottom Line: The bottom line on what to bring to somebody’s house when you have to bring them a bottle of wine? Well, forget about red and white. Go for a Champagne or a sparkling wine. That way, it’s always a celebration.

That said, if you have to specifically bring something for the meal, if it’s a red, bring a Pinot Noir. It’s light and it’s fruity and it’s very balanced. And if it’s a white, think of a Sauvignon Blanc—similarly light and a little bit fruity. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line Publications.

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