Brides' magazines fill the newsstands and supermarket racks, offering everything imaginable to make a wedding unique and special. In between a seemingly infinite number of glossy ads are articles aimed at making the ceremonial marriage rite run more smoothly, look classier and adhere to a budget. Browsing through these magazines makes me realize the endless decisions that must be made when planning a wedding can drive a person to cancellation.
Choosing wines for your reception shouldn't be the hardest part of planning a wedding party, but some brides' magazines say intimidated brides feel it is. Don't buy in to your feeling of being overwhelmed. The decisions should be easy — and inexpensive.
Since you can buy wine in bulk, bringing your own wine to the party can result in signi- ficant savings. Caterers and event venues normally offer a limited list of wines available from them, but you should inquire about purchasing the alcohol separately so you can get what you want and have more control over costs and quality. Outside wine might incur a "corkage fee" from the caterer or venue, but weigh the difference in cost as well as enjoyment. Remember that corkage fees are meant to cover the overhead costs a caterer incurs with servers setting up and pouring wine, but they also are an infamous gouging area and are highly negotiable.
Choosing the wine should be fun. If you're hosting a sit-down dinner, the decision is pretty simple. You need two wines: one white and one red. Some varietal wines — wines made from one type of grape — pair perfectly with food and some don't. Choose sauvignon blanc over chardonnay, since the lighter, more acidic sauvignon blanc melds better, especially with seafood. For reds, select a merlot. It's lighter in body than a cabernet sauvignon and appeals to wine drinkers of all levels.
For stand-up receptions, go for variety. Offer at least two reds and two whites, and make sure they appeal to a wide range of tastes; choose wines with smooth flavor that don't require food to ease the acidity or tannins. Good white choices include Australian or California chardonnay, dry Washington state riesling, or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Red wines that appeal to a range of palates include Australian shiraz, American merlot, Oregon pinot noir or a juicy, friendly California blend like Jest Red from Belvedere.
For the wedding cake toast, definitely go for a sweeter sparkling wine rather than a brut. The sweetness of the cake will render a dry brut helpless and flat. Look for sparklers that say "Extra Dry" or "Demi Sec" on the label. Suggestions: Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee, Moet & Chandon White Star and Banfi Rosa Regale.
To determine how much to buy, remember there are approximately five glasses in each still wine bottle and about six in a sparkling wine bottle. On average, people will consume about one glass of wine per hour with dinner. The same formula applies to the reception, but the amount of wine you need can depend on what other beverage options you offer and what is going on, since people sitting at a table normally drink more than those who are dancing or being entertained in some other way.
A nice detail for the party (and a good memento for attendants) are wine bottles customized with the newlyweds' names on the lable. Formerly an online gimmick, local places are beginning to offer the service, enabling you to taste the wine before you buy it so you won't be disappointed on your big day. You wouldn't want bad wine to define your marriage — or the party.
— Taylor Eason, the former wine critic at Creative Loafing newspapers, blogs about all things alcohol at tayloreason.com.