Liquids: Wedding Wines

It’s wedding season, and I’m on a mission. No, not to find a bride (one is enough, thank you), but to challenge every couple I encounter to pour wines at their weddings that are worth remembering. Wines that actually say something about who they are, what they like to drink, and how much they respect their guests.

This last point, of course, is a declaration of war on all my friends and relatives who have made me suffer through flutes of fermented apple juice in lieu of champagne, or vanilla (chardonnay) and chocolate (merlot) wine choices at those torturous five-hour receptions. And I’m not talking about a few bad weddings—which, in my book, means weddings with bad wine. I’m talking about practically all of them.

I was that guy in high school and college who was every girl’s best friend. Every girl I liked instantly pegged me as too sweet to do that with (“You’re like the brother I never had!”) and I became the safe rent-a-date for weddings. I’ve been to hundreds of them (I’m not kidding). And I can count on one hand the ones at which the wines were memorable.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you and enjoying yourself at the next wedding. Whether you’re getting hitched sometime soon or know a couple that is, please do whatever you can to put a delicious, respectable glass of wine into the hands of each and every guest.

Charles and Laurie Abelson Dannison wish they could have. Last summer they hosted a beautiful wedding at a Boston hotel (thankfully, I wasn’t invited). Because the hotel has a catering division—which plans hundreds of weddings a year—they chose their options from a package that included the wines to be served. “We didn’t have many choices—they only gave us eight or ten,” Charles says. “We couldn’t upgrade either,” says Laurie. “It was a package, so we took what they gave us.”

What else could they have done? They could have pulled what I did at my big, fat, Italian wedding: I told my hotel’s catering director that I would take all 264 of my guests someplace that would accommodate my simple request for wines that cost more than $3 per bottle wholesale (which is the average price of most of the plonk I see at wedding after wedding). I’m not suggesting that I wanted to spend a fortune; I would have loved to serve three-buck wines if they were any good. My point is that I wanted inexpensive wines of quality—such as the fabulous champagnes from Spain and Italy that begin at around $8 retail (which means the venue is paying about $6 wholesale), or the dozens of terrific values from Chile, Argentina, Spain, even California, all starting around $10.

The problem is that most people on the business end of the wedding don’t care, and the poor bride and groom have enough to worry about, what with the special menus they have to arrange for Aunt Filomena, Uncle Peppino, and cousin Carmella’s three allergic kids. Whether or not a venue will respect your wine request separates the wedding hall wheat from the wedding factory chaff. Once I made it clear that I would take my $20,000 dinner party someplace else, well, let’s just say corks started popping and I got what I wanted.

Of course, for a heck of a lot less aggravation, you could just hire a wedding planner or caterer and have your every whim indulged. My wife and I wish we’d had the likes of Holly Safford, president of the Catered Affair in Hingham, on our side during those heady months leading up to the quickest day of our lives. “These [wedding reception] packages exist to take the terror and anxiety out of making these decisions,” say Safford. But she objects to waiving all of your rights to make decisions. “When you buy the package, you get someone else’s vision. A wedding should be your personal expression.”

When it comes to wine, Safford is practical. “I think that you do not want to necessarily—unless Dad is an investment banker or you’re known for your wines—spend a lot of money on wine,” she says. “With an open bar and champagne and nice wine with dinner, you’ve given people a fab experience.”

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Making your big day memorable for you and your guests? What better way than to give a bottle of your favorite vino as a wedding favor? Though I’m regretfully unable to attend your wedding, I hope you’ll raise a glass and think of me.