I remember the first time I met a girl I was seeing's parents, and it wasn't good (in hindsight). I believe I must've been 16 at the time, and I didn't quite have a grip on how to keep my identity while still portraying myself as someone that wasn't nearly as hormone/heartbreak-driven as I was (am).
I remember excelling throughout the day and how fluid my cannonballs were, how easy and simple it was to compliment the floral arrangements or ask about the obvious discussion pieces (pool, home, grill, season). Then I sat down, and while no one told me, in hindsight I think I revealed myself. Improper manners, reaching over, absolute ignorance to what I should have been doing. "I'll take the EEPPA. Oh, um, yeah I meant I'll have an IPA.." I brought meat.
Fast forward and I'm 25 collecting my breath and waiting outside a knocked door with a large brown paper bag in hand. It's a barbecue once more (this time on a roof deck in Seattle) and I'm going to kill it. My secret, Pike Place Wine.
Let's backtrack. So what do we know? We know barbecue, we know potential in-laws, we know everyone is of age and we know it's during the daytime and early evening. Let's take that forward. We could all use some social lubricant, and we know we'll likely be having red meat (dogs, ribs, burgers), and we also know we won't be doing much roughhousing or pool jumping. Boom, that's it, we're good to go.
Any Wine Shop worth its weight in grapes and has clerks that can take that information, a little about your palette, and should be able to tailor a bottle for that occasion specifically. I'm a Riesling guy, and I know that from doing this before, but Rieslings don't always pair especially well with red meat (although they're great in the summer). Again, might not seem like it, but that's a huge victory. What would have been gone in the course of a day becomes a reason your name might come up favorably on a later date. Part of winning people over is repeated positive association, and a bottle of wine is a perfect sneak attack.
Let's return to the problem though, what do I contribute to the meal? Well, let's ask the staff. Immediately I'm pointed to a $20 Rosé that doesn't take itself too seriously, pairs well with reds and has been moving quickly. Everyone's happy, and with a 13% ABV, everyone's a little bit nicer too.
So there I am, I have a bottle as a gesture of thanks for the invitation (and the chow) and a bottle to say, "Hey, I'm dating your daughter, and despite our matching tats, she's in good hands."
Dinner went well, passed with flying colors. Her father had a taste for whiskey which I learned after making a Mac 12 joke (trust the classics). We killed the Rosé and we killed that awkward space where you're worrying if it's the right move to worry about whether her parents are worried about you being with her in the first place. It was a good day, and maybe that's because my first impression was the right impression.
Bonus Tip: If you're taking your partner out to a nice dinner but are worried about the cost of a bottle, check the menu out beforehand and bring your own. A corkage fee is usually a pittance compared to the markup on a bottle.