While wine has been traditionally paired with wedding meals since the Middle Ages, beverage quality was often an afterthought. In the past, instructions for caterers were simple: select a white, a red, and something tart with bubbles. Today, hand-picked wedding wines are a surging trend among newly-engaged oenophiles, especially those intent on sharing their passion with families and friends. According to the Wine Institute, a California-based advocacy association, US wine consumption soared to 893 million gallons in 2014. Coming in at an estimated 2.80 gallons per resident, this is the highest rate since the repeal of Prohibition.
Anticipate Rules & Expenses
Like buying a diamond ring or renting a reception venue, serving your own wedding wine requires some learning. This does not mean it has to be an overpriced indulgence. Ask about rules and regulations before you sign anything. The location of your reception can complicate personalized wine-serving plans, so research local and state alcohol laws first. Even if you’re compliant with liquor laws, serving wine outside at a hotel, restaurant, or winery may run afoul of venue policies.
Establishments that allow you to bring your own wine may charge a per-bottle corkage fee. When negotiating corkage fees, keep in mind that caterers and restaurant staff usually calculate a half a bottle per guest every two hours, although weather conditions can skew estimates. Anticipating a full bottle per guest for a four-hour reception isn’t unreasonable, but round your numbers up so you can provide bottles as extra gifts for your maid of honor, best man, parents, siblings, and helpful volunteers.
Pour What You Love
Most caterers match wines to the foods being served, but some couples find food matching secondary to sharing a personalized favorite wine among friends and family. When Katy Kaiser selected handpicked wines for her Seattle wedding last spring, her cost-effective strategy would have been buying direct from the winery where her husband was the assistant winemaker.
Instead, the couple chose wines from their personal wine collections. Their reasons were sentimental: “Serve wine that you love. One thing I see a lot during wedding planning is couples losing sight of what they want for their wedding and making compromises for the sake of what their parents want, what their extended families want, or what makes other people comfortable. Don’t feel obligated to present a varied, well-balanced wine menu if that’s not what’s important to you.”
Make Affordable Compromises & Plan Ahead
Most couples agree that the best part of researching wines is the tasting, although it’s best enjoyed when they have realistic estimates on quantities and expenses. If you can’t find an alternative to a rare or expensive vintage, consider buying three or four bottles to share with just your families and wedding party at the rehearsal dinner. Oenophiles with the luxury of planning time often discover delicious and affordable alternatives for guests, especially when narrowing the search to specific varietals months in advance.
Serve Wedding Wine According to Seasons
Much like a chef prepares seasonal meals, select a portion of your wine list based on when your wedding is held. Strong tannic reds taste wonderful by a fireplace in mid-December, but your guests will crave chilled rosés or lightly-oaked chardonnays while awaiting a thrown bouquet in late June.
To the Tasting Rooms
If you’re fortunate enough to live near winery tasting rooms, plan a trip on a weekday afternoon. Avoid visits during the late August-October harvest period when he most knowledgeable winery staff are usually out punching down pomace in grape must or racking young wine from barrel to barrel. Bring along a notebook and dress business casual to slightly professional. It’s not uncommon for sommeliers or buyers for store chains to make a stop at a winery tasting room, and dressing in a similar manner can make it easier for the tasting room staff to pull you aside to sample wines not found on the tasting room list. If you don’t have time to write down names and vintages, use the camera on your cellphone to record label details.
Keep your taste buds awake by insisting on small pours. Bring crackers to chew and cleanse your palate between samples. Some of the best wineries charge tasting fees of $20 or more per person, but they often reimburse these fees if you make an immediate transaction. If you intend to have the wine shipped to your home, verify that the winery can ship there. States that currently prohibit the direct shipping of wines include Utah, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky Delaware and Pennsylvania, but ask winery staff for specific information.
If you don’t live near a tasting room, local wine stores may host tasting events that can introduce you to new wines. If you don’t have a local wine shop nearby either, check current copies of wine magazines like Wine Spectator for the current reviews, and pay close attention to value-related columns, often listed as “best buys”. These articles usually mention quality wines with large distribution at affordable price points. Always check vintages (years) on retail bottles to verify that any advertised wine tasting notes match the year on labels. Buy a single bottle to sample before placing an order for several cases, preferably over a quiet dinner at home with just the two of you, and no plans other than addressing wedding invitations.
Which wines are you excited to serve at your wedding? How did you decide which to pair with the food and ambience? Leave your tips in the comments!