Cheers to You

Choosing the right wine for your reception means finding a vintage that can live up to the occasion.

Few brides—and grooms-to-be have a sommelier’s credentials. Luckily, it’s not a prerequisite for selecting wedding wines. Leave that to the pros. While wine experts have differing personal preferences for specific varietals and pairings, all agree that you don’t need to spend a lot of money or make complex choices to give your guests a deliciously memorable sipping experience.

“The music and the food are probably the two things people will talk about most at your wedding,” says Bruno Marini, general manager of The Federalist at XV Beacon Hotel in Boston. “And wine can really enhance the way guests experience the food.”

But it shouldn’t become a distraction. “You’re not looking to challenge your guests or trying to educate them,” says Peter Rait, general manager of Boston’s Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. The focus should be on enjoying the event.

Exploring Options
Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay tend to be the standard red and white table wines, but that doesn’t mean they are the best—and they are hardly the only options. When it comes to reds, “Many people prefer drinking merlot or pinot noir, which can be softer and more elegant,” says Marini. Shiraz, or Syrah, is another popular red-wine choice because it “matches up well with many foods,” says Rait.

If you are a die-hard cabernet fan, Rait suggests looking for wines from South America for the best values. “You’ll be in great shape with a good Chilean cab,” he says. But avoid cabernets and bordeaux that are too young (ask your local wine expert when prime drinking time is), as the tannins may be overwhelming.

When it comes to whites, chardonnay—especially the less expensive bottles—“has a tendency to be heavy and oaky,” Marini says. “You may want something lighter and crisper.”

Geoffrey Fallon, sommelier at Les Zygomates in Boston, recommends sampling muscadet (such as a 2003 Marcel Martin) and checking out the wide spectrum of Italian whites, which he says can offer “great acidity and great value.”

For a chardonnay that pairs well with foods, Marini likes bottles from Selby, which he describes as soft, elegant and creamy, but not too buttery. If you’re serving desserts other than wedding cake (which pairs best, naturally, with Champagne and other sparkling wines), consider offering guests a port or a late—harvest Riesling.

“You don’t want to get too eclectic,” says Fallon. “The nuances may get lost in the large audience.” Instead, he suggests, opt for widely liked wines that pair well with food, such as young, fruit-forward reds and whites with nice, crisp acidity.

How much is enough? The number of bottles of wine you plan for depends on whether you’re having a full bar or just serving wine and beer, says Fallon of Les Zygomates. With a full bar, expect to go through about 50 bottles of wine for every 100 guests. If it’s wine and beer only, up the count to at least 100 bottles per 100 guests.

You don’t need to spend excessively to serve the good stuff. There are quite tasty wines at reasonable prices ($10-$20 per bottle retail; $25-$45 per bottle from a restaurant). Ask for advice, and be up-front about your budget.

Ask and Receive
Check out a few options before going with the house red and white by default—taste them to make sure you like them. When you attend a tasting, Rait says, request that the bottles be opened when you arrive (not hours before so they have a chance to breathe all day). The point of this exercise is that you want wines that are ready to be poured and consumed as soon as they are open.

Let the catering manager or the sommelier at your reception site know if you have any specific preferences for wine service. And if there is a wine you love but it doesn’t appear on the list at your reception site or your caterer’s menu, ask if you can order it. “Even though [The Federalist has] an enormous wine list, we often get requests like that,” Marini says. “And we can usually make it happen.”