Wine is an integral part of any wedding celebration in our western culture. It also represents one of the biggest variable costs in the overall wedding budget and can provide quite the source of anxiety. I've been helping some clients source their wedding wines this year, so here are my top tips on what to pick, and how much to cater for!
1. STRIKE A BALANCE ON COST
I know that feeling where you want everything to be perfect but that shouldn’t translate into needing to spend loads per bottle. This is the easiest crowd you’ve ever catered to, the vibes will be high and this joyful experiential frame will translate into everything tasting that bit better. On the other hand, I advise against scrimping on your wine quality. It may be worth paying the venue's corkage fee so you can select your own wine rather than selecting the cheapest offering from your venue, bearing in mind on trade wine prices are routinely marked up x2 or x3. Cheap wine will absolutely reveal its true colours after 2 glasses and start to feel undrinkable, just when you want the wine to flow!
On the other hand, don’t succumb to pressure to spend a fortune. A higher price does not always equal better quality, due to the global context in which wine is produced. So don't fall into the trap of trading up in price thinking it will automatically be better. If you can spend £10 /bottle (retail) you are already in a great budget for getting something fantastic if you stay open minded about regions. Choose wisely by getting advice from a trusted merchant and take your time with it.
2. DITCH CHAMPAGNE IN FAVOUR OF CREMANT (but no Prosecco, sorry)
Why spend a fortune on Champagne when you can get a perfectly delicious cremant for half the price? I’ve noticed a few people feel like they should have Champagne and that it’s somehow cheap not to. This is nonsense. Cremant from Alsace, Bourgogne, Loire or Limoux is made in the same way as Champagne, often from identical grape varieties. Honestly, the price of Champagne is as much to do with "Brand Champagne" than the inherent quality versus a good Cremant. In addition, Champagne always has searingly high acidity, while these styles are likely to have slightly less high acidity. Generally Cremant is a little softer than Champagne which can start to taste very dry and austere after a few glasses. The less aggressive profile of a good Cremant will be much appreciated by your guests. It is infinitely better to have a good quality Cremant, than a cheap Champagne. Use what you save on the Champagne to get something better for your still wines.
This advice does not extend to Prosecco. Unless you’re getting married in Northern Italy and can find a beautiful high quality DOCG Prosecco, Asolo Prosecco or Cartizze I’d avoid the chemically pear drop plonk that sadly gets imported here.
If you're not a fan of Prosecco and getting married in Italy, look into Franciacorta and Trentodoc, with very high-quality regions for traditional method (i.e. Champagne style, not Prosecco style).
3. GOOD GLASSWARE
Good glassware is like the Royal Albert Hall for music - it will amplify the wine’s inherent quality and elevate the drinking experience - and also make your photos look extra elegant. Beware the horrendous pub goblet. Don't overlook to check this detail.
4. PRIME YOUR GUESTS
Consider printing the wine list on your menu, or on a separate menu. A few lines about the wine or why you chose it (perhaps you visited the region as a couple etc) will help prime your guests for what to notice, and predispose them to enjoying the wine by letting them know your choices are considered and it's not just the cheapest plonk on the menu. Little details like this will help keep your guests engaged and feeling spoilt, and also provides a table talking point.
5. CHOOSE EASY-DRINKING
Don’t go super specific or unique. This is not the place for super trendy wine or something really specific you fell in love with on holiday. Choose 'easy-drinking' styles because you need the wine to be versatile across the various chapters of your wedding and crowd-pleasing.
So I'm afraid no buttery Chardonnay or punchy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc even if these are usually your favourites.
For whites, specifically this means: not too oaky, buttery or full bodied. Avoid off-dry as many people dislike it and it may become cloying. This will discount some Californian Chardonnays, Vouvray, (unless specifically noted as dry but don’t forget Vouvray Sparkling (posh Cremant de Loire) as a great option for your fizz) some German Rieslings, Alsace Pinot Gris. Avoid something super floral - so no Muscat, Torrontes or Gewurtztraminer. Not too high acid - so no Vinho Verde, Furmint, Assyrtiko, or still English wine. Not too herbaceous - so no Bacchus or the classic style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
For reds, avoid high tannins. Careful with many Northern Italian and Tuscan reds which often need food to resolve the tannins. Crowd-pleasers like Rioja and Argentinian Malbec always go down well and can be great value. Also lighter styles like Grenache, Gamay (Beaujolais) and Pinot Noir though quality can be harder to find at the cheap end. (Check out ones from Germany's Pfalz and Baden for great value Pinot Noir).
6. DON'T OVERLOOK ROSÉ
Rosé can feel inherently celebratory and can be a great option for your reception. Plus it looks wonderfully pretty in pictures AND it's generally very easy-drinking. Pick a nice dry pale Rosé to keep everyone happy. Consider IGP / Vin de Pays Rosés to avoid the Provence mark up you sometimes find, and also consider Spanish and Italian rosés which you can increasingly find in a fashionably pale and bone-dry style.
7. SUPER SIZE IT!
Consider large formats! Nothing shouts party like a magnum or jeroboam. So simple yet so effective at getting people over-excited. Consider a few large formats for your reception, especially if you’ll have staff walking around topping guests up for maximum louche vibes. Talk to your merchant about sourcing large formats and if you're in the UK, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. USE THE 60:40 RATIO RULE FOR WHITE:RED
Start with the assumption of 60:40 White to Red wine. Then adjust accordingly. Perhaps if you are serving a particularly white wine friendly main (fish or seafood), you might up it to 70:30. But even on a hot day, if you're serving Beef Wellington or similar, people will reliably reach for the red.
And now for the 64 million dollar question...
HOW MUCH WINE DO YOU NEED AT A WEDDING?
Depending on your glassware, assume five glasses/wine per bottle. You may get six glasses of fizz from one bottle especially if you've got small flutes or particularly shallow coupes.
At a minimum assume:
2-3 glasses per hour/per person for your reception.
Three-quarters of a bottle of wine per person at dinner.
1-2 glasses wine after-dinner (plus spirits, beers - see below)
For every big drinker you’ll have a driver or a more abstemious guest so it’s fine to base your numbers somewhere in the middle and don’t stress about those extra-boozy guests who you know will get through more - it should all balance out.
- Will you be doing a champagne toast for speeches? That needs to be its own additional allowance as that will be poured regardless of whether people ask for it, or even drink it.
- Weather: All being well, is it likely to be very hot? People will drink more at your reception if so, so make sure you have some appetising soft drinks options readily available and visible so guests can quench their thirst on that rather than your fine Cremant!
- Do you have an after-dinner cocktail? People are more likely to move onto spirits for your after party especially if you get them started on a cocktail. By the way, I highly recommend a batch of Espresso Martinis to perk everyone up after dinner.
Moving people to spirits can be a good move as spirits are easier to manage quantities-wise. Bottles of spirits are easier to buy on a sale or return basis (see below), because they do not need chilling, plus tonic, coke, ginger beer etc is cheap to stock up well on.
BE SMART ABOUT OVER-CATERING
There's nothing that'll give you wedding anxiety more than the nightmare of the bar running dry. So, unfortunately, you'll need to over cater but you can be smart about it:
Discuss buying on a sale or return basis with your supplier which will allow you to over-cater to some extent and have some back up cases of wine to crack open if needed.
Bear in mind it’s unlikely you can return wine bottles once they’ve been in an ice bucket or even just in the fridge as the condensation once taken out can damage the labels. Make sure you're clear on the policy.
In terms of over-catering, do so on spirits, mixers and sparkling wine. Better to be left with just these behind the bar, than a specific red, white or rosé. 'Oh dear, we only have bubbly left' said no-one, ever. Also, if you can't return leftovers after your wedding, spirits will last for, literally, years and make good gifts. Sparkling is also the most versatile if you end up with loads left over - great for turning up at dinner parties or gifting. Aside from the red, it will also keep the longest (rosé ideally needs to be drunk in the year after the vintage and your white is likely only going to have a few years in it, tops). Plus you can also enjoy it as a 'Champagne cocktail' to ring the changes.
Consider the worst case scenario:
How much you over-egg the pudding in terms of quantities will also depend on your wedding format. Are you getting married in a wood in the middle of nowhere with no kick-out time and no possible way of topping up? You better over cater by some way I’m afraid. Are you getting married in the middle of a city at a venue where there is a firm kick out time, and with the possibility of, in the immortal words of R. Kelly, ‘after the party, it’s the hotel lobby’. Then you maybe don’t need to be so punchy.