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Buying Wine For a Wedding – How Much do you Need?

The Wedding Day is a very special day for the bride and groom, and their families. It is one of the most’  seriously regarded rituals or ceremonies in most cultures. Needless to say, everyone wants everything to be perfect. From every little thread on the wedding gown, to every bit of piping on the cake. Some couples spend months and months just planning everything. Unfortunately, many times, the wine is left for the last minute. Good wine can contribute greatly to the reception, so some serious thought should be put into the task of buying wine for a wedding.

Before buying wine for a wedding, you need to do a little homework.

  • What food are they serving?
  • What are the personal tastes of the bride and groom?
  • How many people will be attending?
  • Will the caterer allow you to buy your own wine (sometimes they don’t)?
  • What is the budget?

Once you have a rough idea, you can start. As a rule, most professional wedding planners advocate buying an equal amount of red and white wine, if for no other reason than to not disappoint half of your guests. A good compromise is a well-crafted dry rosé. They are nice, crisp and refreshing, but stout enough to support a good meal.

If you don’t know much about wine, now is a great time to learn. Go out and taste a lot, and ask questions. Local wineries can be a treasure-trove of information, and most are happy to help. Some basic guidelines are:

  • If I were in doubt, I would go with a Sauvignon Blanc. It is a very versatile middle-of-the-road white that goes well with chicken, fish, other seafood, eggs, vegetables and salads. I have a personal fondness for California wines, and you be hard pressed to find a better Sauvignon Blanc than the 2007 Geyser Peak. Another good bet is New Zealands 2007 Matua Valley Marlborough. They are both a bargain at around $12.00 a bottle. Pinot Gris (or Grigio if you’re Italian) is another good choice. They are usually snappy and full of flavor. Two of my favorites are the 2007 Noblio Regional Collection East Coast Pinot Gris from New Zealand, and the 2006 Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Gris from Oregon. These are between $13.00-$18.00, and are outstanding for that price range. Even though Chardonnay is the most popular wine in the U.S., I would be careful with this one. The buttery-toasty palate of a good chardonnay can overpower food, and doesn’t really have enough of a refreshing feel for spring or summer, when most weddings take place. If you feel lucky, try a bottle of 2007 Valley Of The Moon Russian River Valley, or a 2006 Beringer Stanly Ranch Carneros Chardonnay. They are a bit more expensive at around $20.00 a bottle, but they are also a bit crisper than your average chardonnay.
  • For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular in the U. S., and for good reason. Cabernets are built for heavy-duty meals. If there’s beef around, especially grilled or roasted, or anything with spicy red sauces, then this is the wine. It can be a bit pricey, but two really good bargains are the 2005 Charles Krug Peter Mondavi Family Yountville Napa Valley (sometimes I wonder if the price of the wine is not associated with how long the names on the label are), and Three Thieves The Show, at around $20.00 each. Both are very rich, and have more complexity than much more expensive Cabernets. If your not sure about the food, Pinot Noir is more versatile. Three of my favorites are the 2006 Belle Valleé Willamette Valley Whole Cluster Pinot Noir (there’s those long names again-$16.00 per bottle) from Oregon, the 2006 Sebastini Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($18.00), and the 2005 Domaine de la Croix Jacquelete Mercurey ($23.00) from the legendary wineries at Burgundy. They are all silky-smooth with soft tannins.
  • Blushes, pinks and rosés occupy the grey middle ground between reds and white. These will make buying wine for a wedding a bit trickier. You might think that they would be a good compromise between red and white, but you’d be wrong. Most pink wines are on the sweet side, too much for most foods. But there are some cheeses that work well with them, and of course there are exceptions. Dry rosés lack the sweetness of the zinfandels, and blushes. They are good with salads, poultry, tuna, salmon, and even grilled steaks. They can also be be quite refreshing , making them a good choice for any time of the day, in warm or cool weather. I really like the 2007 Frog’s Leap La Grenouille Rouganté Napa Valley, the 2006 Mas de Gourgonneir Rose ($16.00) from Provence, France, and the 2007 Beckman Vineyards Purisima Mountain Vineyard Ynez Grenache Rosé ($18.00)

For the toast, genuine French champagne is the traditional beverage, but personally, I prefer a good California champagne, and a finely crafted Italian Prosecco is as good as it gets, in my opinion. Try a few different champagnes and other sparkling wines, and pick what you like. If you want to impress, go for the real stuff. If you want flavor, buy what you like. If you go for a demi-sec champagne or sparking wine, it can serve double-duty. Demi-sec is right between brut, or very dry, and very sweet. This will go great with almost any cake. If you want a separate wine for the cake, I will warn you ahead of time: I have sampled just about everything out there, and there is no wine that pairs well with chocolate cake. Coffee even comes up short. Just like Oreo cookies, it’s almost impossible to eat it without a glass of milk. For all other cakes, any good medium sweet sparkling wine will do the trick. I would stick with pink champagnes unless the cake has a lot of fruit, like strawberries or peaches. In that case, go for a drier white.

Don’t neglect the glassware. This is serious occasion, so Dixie cups, styrofoam and plastic are out. Make sure there are plenty of sparkling clean wine goblets available. Don’t get any with designs on them, because everyone will want to enjoy the clarity and color of the wines. Have a separate goblet for reds, and whites, for every guest. Make them slightly different, so the guests can tell them apart. And, you will need champagne flutes for the toast. These need to be glass as well, but consider them a write-off, because at many weddings, after the toast, everyone throws their flutes into the fire place, or the bride and groom drink one toast, and then wrap the flutes in a towel…and stomp on them! Either way, plan on not getting the flutes back.

When calculating how much wine to buy, figure on 5 to 6 glasses per bottle, and 3 glasses for each guest. You can throw in a few extra bottles if your budget allows, just to be safe. Many wine stores and wineries will give you a price break on wine by the case. And, if the bottles are unopened, and have not been refrigerated, most retailers will take the unopened ones back. Or, you can keep the extras, and give them away as gifts later, or just keep them and enjoy them.

These are just guidelines. Everyone’s taste is different, but these are good places to start. I can’t stress enough how important it is to go out and sample a lot of wines ahead of time. Go to wine tastings, and talk to local wineries. You need to know what you are buying. Otherwise, you can get some unpleasant surprises. There is no real trick to buying wine for a wedding. It is just a little learning, a little field work, and some common-sense.

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