Alibi V.13 No.25 • June 17-23, 2004 

Bottoms Up

Wedding Wine Bliss

Taking the pain out of picking wines

Although people get hitched all year 'round, brides' magazines bloom on supermarket racks in the spring. Filling their pages, in between the infinite glossy ads, are articles designed to make the ceremonious marriage rite run smoother, classier and sometimes cheaper. I'm not married—nor planning to be—but browsing through these mags makes me realize that the endless wedding decisions can drive you to cancellation. The wine choice shouldn't be the hardest, but, if you're to believe what you read, some intimidated brides feel it is. Ignore the overwhelmed feeling ... it should be fun, easy and inexpensive.

Since you'll be buying in bulk, bringing your own wine to the party can be a significant cost savings. Caterers and halls offer a limited list of available wines, but inquire about outside purchasing. Although this might incur the dreaded "corkage fee," weigh the cost difference as well as the enjoyment difference. Remember that corkage fees cover the overhead costs a caterer incurs with servers setting up and pouring the wine, but corkage fees are also an infamous gouging area and highly negotiable.

Then the fun begins: choosing the wine. If you're hosting a sit-down dinner, it's pretty simple. Two wines: one white, one red. Some varietal wines—wines made from one type of grape—pair perfectly with food and some don't. Choose Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay, since the lighter, more acidic Sauvignon Blanc melds better, especially with seafood. For reds, select a Merlot. It's lighter in body than a Cabernet Sauvignon and appeals to wine drinkers of all levels.

For stand-up receptions, go for variety. Offer at least two reds and two whites, and make sure they are "drinkable" to appeal to a wide range of tastes. By drinkable, I mean smooth flavor that doesn't require food to ease the acidity or tannins. Good white choices: Australian or California Chardonnay, dry Washington State Riesling, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Reds: Australian Shiraz, American Merlot, Oregon Pinot Noir or a juicy, friendly California blend like Jest Red from Belvedere.

For the wedding cake toast, definitely go for a sweeter sparkling wine rather than a brut. The sweetness of the cake will render a dry brut helpless and flat. Look for sparklers that say "Extra Dry" or "Demi Sec" on the label. Suggestions: Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee, Moet et Chandon White Star and Banfi Rose Regale.

To determine how much to buy, remember there are approximately five glasses in each still wine bottle and about six in a sparkling. With dinner, on average, people will consume about one glass of wine per hour. If you're having a reception, it depends on the other beverage options you have, but people still will consume about one glass per hour. I suppose this depends on how much activity you have going on ... bored people normally drink more to dull the pain.

A cool party gift is customized wine bottles, featuring the newly marrieds' names on the label. Although formerly an online gimmick, local places are popping up, enabling you to taste the wine before you buy. Opt for the local option. You certainly wouldn't want bad wine to define your marriage—or the party for that matter.