Although people get hitched year-round, bride magazines bloom on supermarket racks in the spring and summer. Filling their pages, in between the infinite glossy ads, are articles designed to make the ceremonious marriage rite run smoother, classier and sometimes cheaper. With so many damned decisions to make, I realize why brides sometimes scream, "Forget it!" If you're to believe the headlines, the wine choices sometimes cause stress, but it doesn't need to be this way.
Caterers and halls normally offer limited (and frankly, quite average) wine selections, so your best move is to inquire about outside purchasing. Since you'll be buying in bulk, bringing in your own wine can represent a significant cost savings. Although this might incur a dreaded "corkage fee," weigh the cost difference as well as the enjoyment difference. Remember that corkage fees cover the overhead costs a caterer sustains during the wine service ritual, but they are also an infamous gouging area -- and highly negotiable.
Choosing the wine is where the fun begins. If you're hosting a sit-down dinner, it's pretty simple. Two wines: one white, one red. Some varietals 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 a wider array of drinkers.
For stand-up receptions, choose variety. Offer at least two reds and two whites, and make sure they appeal to a range of tastes, with smooth flavors that don't require food to ease the acidity or tannins. Good white choices: Australian or California chardonnay, dry Riesling, or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Reds: Australian shiraz, American merlot, Oregon pinot noir or a juicy, friendly California blend.
For the wedding cake toast, serve a sweeter sparkling wine rather than a pungent brut. The sweetness of the cake will turn a dry brut helpless and flat. Look for sparklers that say "Extra Dry" or "Demi Sec" on the label. Suggestions: Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée, Moet et Chandon White Star or Banfi Rosa Regale -- the one with a pink, romantic color.
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, people on average will consume about one glass of wine per hour (but this certainly depends on the party-heartiness of the guest list). And count on two glasses per person during a reception if it's wine and beer only, one glass less if you're serving other alcoholic beverages. But all these calculations depend on how much activity you have going on -- bored people will probably drink more to dull the pain. And you really don't want to throw that party.
BV Coastal 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon California Smooth tannins and elegant with ripe raspberry, smoky tobacco, sweet dark chocolate and flowery roses. Easy to drink and an excellent value. Sw = 1. $11. ****
Blackstone 2005 Riesling Monterey (California) Refreshing and not too sweet, with peaches, apricots and a minerally, limey aftertaste. Sw = 4. $10. ***
Meridian 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast (California) Light, soft and fruity with sour apple, honeydew melon near the rind and tart lemon. A crowd pleaser. Sw = 2. $10. ***
St. Francis 2004 Chardonnay Sonoma County (California) Like high quality, creamy butter on a piece of toast. Spicy with white pepper, cloves and balanced with ripe tangerine. Sw = 3. $14. *** 1/2
Hess Select 2004 Chardonnay California In a striking contrast to the St. Francis chardonnay, this smells and tastes of burnt toast slathered in cheap margarine. Hess is often on wedding lists -- stay away from this one. Sw = 3. $10. *
Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star (*) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.
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