How to Choose the Right Wine for Your Reception

These tips from Urban Grape help you party with the panache

Hadley Douglas strolls the inventory at The Urban Grape/Photo by Stephanie Piscatelli

Hadley Douglas strolls the inventory at The Urban Grape. /Photo by Stephanie Piscatelli Provided

Somewhere between your intro as man and wife and the last dance, chances are there will be a toast or two. Yes, wine is definitely a guest of honor at your big day celebration, so choose your fermented friends wisely.

We tapped wine guru Hadley Douglas, co-owner of concierge-style liquor store The Urban Grape for a few ideas on how to choose the right vintages for your reception.

Choose budget, palate, and food-friendly wines that pair nicely with all aspects of your menu.

Switching what you’re serving between the reception and dinner will drive the cost of your event up, according to Douglas. And don’t give them the world of wine, just a vineyard or two. “Most people have too many choices at the bar,” she says. “We like to recommend one bubbly, one red, and two whites.”

Your wines need to hold up all night, just like you do.

“You need a red wine that you can enjoy from the reception to dinner to dancing. It should be medium bodied, round, and juicy,” Douglas explains, suggesting a Grenache blend. She also warns against reds with too much tannin. “They are hard to drink over a long period of time because they make your mouth dry after a while.” For whites, she chooses a lighter bodied, un-oaked, bright-style wine such as Gruner Veltliner, Vermentino, or warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. “And stay away from Pinot Grigio. It’s boring!” Instead, offer an oaked, heavier-bodied wine like a West Coast Chardonnay.

Don’t be afraid of screw caps.

Screw cap wines will never be corked, so you don’t risk pouring an off wine to your guests. Screw cap wines are also a budget-conscious couple’s friend. “The serving staff can open the bottles as needed instead of having to pre-open a lot of bottles with a corkscrew before service,” Douglas explains. “This saves you money over the course of the night, especially if you have multiple bars.”

When possible, order your wine from a wine store because they can save you a ton of money.

“Not only can stores look for deals from the distributors for you, but most stores usually give discounts for larger orders,” Douglas says. “Caterers and hotels mark the price of the wine up so much that it can eat up a ton of your budget quickly.” If your reception site has a must-use wine list, look for lesser-known vintages, varietals, or regions to save money.

Serve your bubbles throughout the night from the bar.

Champagne all night? Yes please. “It creates a lot of waste if you do a toast with just sparkling wine because a lot of people don’t like bubbly,” Douglas warns. “We say, just let them toast you with whatever is in their glass.” If you want to stave off a hefty bar bill, instead go for a drier Prosecco or a richer-style cava. For the Francophiles, try a Blanquette de Limoux instead of a champagne.

Let them eat cake. Just not with sparkling wine.

“Sparkling wine and wedding cake is a terrible pairing!” Douglas says. “We suggest having a fun punch or cocktail served instead. Ask your local bartender for a great punch recipe to pair with your dessert.”

Protect your leftovers.

Douglas suggests putting bottles of white wine in clear plastic sleeves before you put them on ice. “That way, if you have extra and want to return it to the wine store, the labels won’t be damaged,” she explains. Most wine stores will take back any leftover wine as long as the labels are still in good condition.

Douglas’s most important rule? Put lots of thought into your wines, even ask an expert for help, but in the end don’t overthink it. Cheers to that.

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