Wines for the Wedding: How (and How Much) to Choose

We get asked a lot of questions about alcohol and weddings -- from whether to have a cash bar (depends on your budget and your guests' expectations but is best to avoid) to who should give the champagne toast (the best man, and sometimes the maid of honor; the host or hostess may wish to give a toast, too).

One of our favorite topics is selecting wines for a wedding. What could be more special? You'll be remembering your choices for years to come. Depending on where you live, the variety of wines you have to choose from is either vast and perhaps daunting or less generous and more accessible. You may or may not have the option of choosing wines for your wedding, depending on your caterer or banquet hall manager. But if you do plan to play sommelier for your wedding reception, we're here to help.

First, we must admit that it's impossible to give wine-picking advice that will work for everyone. Which wines you choose for your wedding and how much you order depends on many factors specific to your wedding, such as the number of guests and their ages, the food you'll be serving, the time of the reception, your budget, the length of the reception and whether there will be dancing, the type of meal and service (sit-down, buffet, hors d'oeuvres only, etc.), and so on and so on. That said, here are seven quick tips to help bring out your inner sommelier.

1.Know your audience: Think of your guest list as you make your wine decisions. Will everyone drink wine? Will they drink both white and red? Or will the younger crowd (especially the men) opt for beer instead? Knowing whether or not you're serving a wine-loving crowd will help you determine how much time to spend choosing, how finicky you must be and how much wine to get.

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2.Stick to the basics: Unless you know your guests will enjoy your creative selection of wines, stick with what people know and love best -- a white such as Chardonnay or a Chardonnay-based wine and a red such as Merlot. If you prefer to veer just a little bit off the beaten path, try a light, food-friendly white such as Sauvignon Blanc and a red Zinfandel.

3.Pick a bubbly: A wedding is all about celebration, and so is champagne. So be sure you have enough on hand to have at least one reception toast. Get the best you can afford -- after all, you'll be toasting your future marital success with it. If you're worried about affordability, here's a money-saving tip: Have the waiters fill the glasses only halfway. As they're pouring, the bubbles will fill to the brim anyway, then settle down, leaving a half-full glass. The truth is that not everyone loves champagne, so offering several sips at first is more than enough for most of your guests. Those who want more can get refills later. Not a big champagne fan? Sparkling cider will also be a hit with most any crowd -- and you can enjoy it to.

4.Make choosing fun: Selecting wines and champagne for your wedding should be fun. Throw a wine-tasting party and invite the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Or have a family-only tasting fete. Decide how much you want to spend first, then choose several bottles all in the same price range. Put them in brown bags and number them, then taste away. You'll know which one's the winner because it will be the first bottle finished!

5.Remember, too much is just enough: When it comes to wedding wine, it's better to have too much than too little. Your average wine bottle will yield four to six glasses. We suggest allowing for half a bottle per person, even if that sounds like a lot. Some guests will drink that much; most won't. But since you can't determine ahead of time which wine they'll drink -- white, red or champagne -- you want to be sure you have plenty of each.

6.Limit automatic refills: Ask your waiters not to refill wine glasses, especially toward the end of the reception, without asking guests if they would like some more first. That way, you'll limit wasted wine sitting untouched on tables.

7.Choose the right supplier: Look around for a liquor merchant who will allow you to return unopened bottles (and don't let the waiters open all the bottles at once early in the party!). If you can't find one, there are plenty of other uses for leftover wine and champagne: as party favors for special guests, to start a wine cellar in your new home, to save for your first anniversary bash ... and many anniversary celebrations after that.

Don't miss more expert wedding advice here:
Tips on Reception Toasts

Do you have a question for the Wedding Women? Ask them your own questions of their message board, and get more of their advice here

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