Reception hall? Check. Guest list? Check. Relatives driving you batty? Naturally. With wedding plans well under way, don't forget the wine to complement your carefully-planned meal, put guests in a celebratory mood, and help anxious mothers relax. Here are our top tips for choosing good-value wines you and your guests will love.
1. Sound out your caterer. Before heading out to the wine store to buy in bulk, find out whether you're allowed to bring in your own wines first. Many hotels, restaurants, and other reception sites require you to buy from their list, or they may charge a corkage fee to BYOB.
2. Choose a red, white, and bubbly. A celebratory sparkling wine is a must-have for toasts to the bride and groom (as well as a good aperitif while reception guests wait for your arrival). Inexpensive Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, or a mid-priced American bubbly will help stretch your budget; if you've got your heart set on the real thing-Champagne-choose one you love, so you and your spouse can toast with a new bottle for years to come.
At dinner, give guests a choice of red and white, even if the entrée obviously calls for one or the other. Chardonnay, slightly-sweet Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel appeal to a wide range of palates.
3. Do a test-taste. The fun begins: get together with your caterer and a few trusted advisors and sample several wine brands with the food. Here are some of our favorite value wine brands, with approximate retail prices.
• Bubbly: ($11), Chateau Ste. Michelle ($12), Freixenet Cava ($12), Fantinel Prosecco ($13)
• White: Yellow Tail Riesling ($7), Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($13), Barefoot Pinot Grigio ($7), Graffigna Pinot Grigio ($13), Turning Leaf Chardonnay ($8), Natura Chardonnay ($11)
• Red: Columbia Crest Merlot ($10), Casillero Del Diablo Merlot ($11), Rosenblum Zinfandel ($12), Frances Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel ($14), Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon ($10), Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
4. Let thy cup overflow: Running out of wine at the reception is tres gauche. A good rule of thumb is half a bottle per guest per two hours for an evening reception (less for morning and afternoon, when people tend to sip a smaller amount).
5. Nail down the returns policy. Make sure your wine source takes back unopened wine before buying. Some will let you return unopened bottles, while others only accept full case returns.
6. Coach your caterer on serving tips. Stretch your wine budget further by asking servers to pour generous half-glasses (guests can't swirl full glasses properly, anyway), and to ask if they'd like refills instead of automatically pouring. At toast-time, instruct your caterer to pour half glasses of bubbly, since many people only take a sip or two and then switch back to their drink of choice. Finally, make the waitstaff aware of your retailer's returns policy so they open bottles judiciously, but remind them not to skimp-after all, this is the celebration of your lifetime.
Gretchen Roberts, founder and editor of Vinobite.com, is at the upper end of the Millennial generation, old enough to have a decade of wine-drinking under her belt but young enough to know that wine is about three important things: finding a great bottle at a good value, vicariously exploring the world, and having fun with friends. Roberts writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast, MyRecipes.com, Cooking Light, and Slashfood.com.