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Wine For Wedding Receptions

Updated on July 13, 2011

You’ve been working on your wedding plans for months, and you’ve got almost everything in order. The menu is planned, the invitations are sent out, the cakes have been chosen, and the decorations are ordered. You are down to the final details, one of which is the wine selection for your reception.

While you enjoy a glass of wine here and there, you are by no means a wine expert and have no clue what the preference would be at your big event. You’ve thought about offering a variety to make it simple, but this simply doesn’t fit into the budget. How do you choose what wine to serve at your reception?

The first thing you have to realize is that there will be no clear preference among 200 guests; because everyone’s taste in wine varies, you’ll have to keep in mind the adage, “you can’t please everyone all of the time; you can only please some people some of the time”. Start by thinking about what kind of wine you like to drink. After all, it’s your party, and you should drink what you want to!

Beyond that, there are several ways to handle picking out wine for your wedding reception, and there are also several ways to make sure that your reception offers a spark of originality with your wine choices without costing a fortune.

Where to Get It (and Save)

Where are you holding your wedding reception? Chances are, you’ve rented out a country club, reception hall, or other full-service facility. Make sure that the facility you secure allows you to bring in your own beverages – if you are forced to use “house” wines, you will pay a lot more money, and you may not even like the chosen wines. Instead, pick your own wines and buy by the case, since most retail stores and wine boutiques will offer discounts on case sales.

Also keep in mind that there are champagnes and there are other sparkling wines. The only difference is that the liquid cannot be called champagne unless it was bottled in the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it is the same thing. Therefore, there is no need to pay extra for something that says “champagne” on the bottle, since few individuals will have a direct view of the bottle anyway.

How Many Wine Choices

When it comes to weddings, you clearly have to have a sparkling wine for the toast. Aside from this, it is really your choice as to how many different wines you will have available for your guests to choose among. However, the best recommendation is to keep it to a minimum. This makes service simpler for the bartender and decisions easier for revelers. In most cases, you’ll want to have at least one white wine, since not everyone likes red wine, and you can also consider having a second white option. You should, however, probably have at least two red wines. Red wine is the more popular choice, but the developed taste for such runs along a lengthy spectrum, so you’ll want to choose two reds with very different tastes to help please more of the crowd.

At a maximum, between sparkling, white, and red wines, you should keep the number of choices to a maximum of six, controlling the time it takes for the guest to choose one and the bartender to find the right one to pour. Traditionally, the most popular wines to choose for such occasions are a chardonnay for the white and a Chianti (or sangiovese) and merlot or perhaps a cabernet sauvignon for the reds. However, these are such common choices that you may want to consider something a bit different to be unique.

What Are the Choices?

There are so many different grapes to choose from that the list is too long to publish in one article, but suffice it to say that you can choose almost anything besides a merlot or a chardonnay and be original. There are also some very interesting blends available now as the foreign market is beginning to experiment and find some excellent combinations.

In white varietals, you’ll find

  • sauvignon blanc,
  • pinot gris,
  • pinot grigio,
  • chenin blanc,
  • albariño,
  • Riesling,
  • white Bordeaux,
  • white zinfandel,
  • torrontes,
  • pinot blanc,
  • vouvray,
  • Semillon,
  • verdelho,
  • and more.

As far as reds go, you can choose among

  • cabernet sauvignon (Bordeaux),
  • malbec,
  • pinot noir,
  • granache,
  • tempranillo,
  • zinfandel,
  • syrah (shiraz),
  • petite sirah,
  • rioja,
  • Chianti (sangiovese),
  • barbera,
  • cabernet franc,
  • merlot, etc.

In terms of your champagne or bubbly, you can find dry wines or sweet wines. Look at prosecco, lambrusco, muscatel, brut, and blanc.

Food Pairing Options

Are you having a sit-down dinner at your reception, or will it be buffet style? If you are going to serve dishes with salad, main course, and dessert, you may want to choose your wines to pair well with the cuisine of the evening. If one of your options is steak, you definitely need a good red wine to pair with it. Typically, very bold, spicy wines with lots of tannin and heavy dark fruits and berries work well with red meats. Try something like a tempranillo from Spain or a granache from Argentina or Chile. You may also want to stick with a more traditional cabernet sauvignon for this purpose.

Is there seafood or fish on the menu? If so, the white you choose should be picked to pair with this meal. Try something like a smooth, un-oaked pinot gris or even a light, crisp Riesling for the occasion. If you wish to have a red wine that will also pair well with the seafood, try a mild red zinfandel or a light and fruity pinot noir. Chicken works well with medium-bodied, lightly oaked malbec or syrah, as well as with sauvignon blanc (especially from the Marlborough region of New Zealand) and chenin blanc on the white side.

If you are not having this sort of meal and are hosting with a buffet dinner, you may want to consider a medium-bodied white, a light fruity red, and a full-bodied red with heavy oak and tannins. This will give a wide variety of choice to your guests with the fewest possible wines. For the white, you should consider perhaps a pinot blanc or something intriguing like a white Bordeaux from France. For your fruity red, try something like a Spanish rioja or a pinot noir, which has become a favorite grape in the United States since the release of the movie Sideways. For the full-bodied red, you can choose from a number of grapes, but to be individualistic, try something like a barbera from Argentina or a spicy syrah. If you really want to stand out, make your bubbly a rosé, like a rosé lambrusco.

Budgeting Your Wine

Now, you have to know how much of each wine to have on hand for your reception. There is a great way to calculate a reasonable amount of wine to make sure that you don’t run out and don’t end up with 100 bottles on hand after the event. Of course, you should always overestimate, so be sure that you like the wines that you choose!

How many adults will there be at your reception? How long is your reception going to last? Take the number of adult guests and multiply that by the number of hours your reception will last. Multiply again by two. That gives you the number of glasses you would need to fill for every guest to consume one glass of wine every half hour. Now, take this number and divide by five (you can pour about 5-6 glasses of wine from a typical bottle). That tells you how many bottles total you need.

Let’s put that formula to use. You are having 100 guests at your reception, which will last three hours. That’s 300, times two, meaning 600 glasses. Divide that by five, and you will need 120 bottles of wine. You will most likely go through more red wine than white wine, so you may want to divide this up as 30 bottles of white and 45 bottles of each red.

To cover yourself and make sure you don’t run out you should order 5-10 extra bottles of each. In this example, that would work out to about 140-150 bottles total. Again, this is why you do not want to pay for the house wines at any particular location but want to choose your own and bring them in yourself. You are looking at 12 cases of wine for a reception with 100 adults, which can be quite costly if you don’t pick them carefully and work out a case purchase discount.

Final Thoughts

If you are likely to have several children at your reception, you don’t want them to fill left out. If you can spare the expense, you can purchase non-alcoholic champagne for the toast, but that is quite a sum of money to spend on something without any alcoholic content. Instead, try sparkling apple cider for the children, as well as for any adult who chooses not to drink. Martinelli’s Sparkling apple cider is fabulous chilled and extremely inexpensive to purchase.

When it comes to planning your wedding, you have a lot of details to work out and a number of hefty expenses to cover. Choosing your wine for the event need not be difficult, time consuming, or expensive, if you know what to look for and where to find it.

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    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 4 years ago from Miami Florida

      Hello ms. Julie Ann. I like your article. You know many brands. congratulations.

    • profile image

      CanadianGroom 6 years ago

      I think the bottle calculator in the article is very high. You will almost always be buying a bottle a person by this method which is a lot unless your from a family or binge drinkers. IMHO

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Great article. I like the way your information is organized and how easy it is for the reader to understand. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

    • Dao Hoa profile image

      Dao Hoa 8 years ago

      This is a good one for me too. My oldest son will get marry next year!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      You're most welcome dawei888 - add a bottle or ten spare just in case on sale or return!

    • dawei888 profile image

      dawei888 8 years ago

      Thanks for writing this hub, Julie-Ann. My friend is getting married later this year. Thanks for your formula to calculate how many bottles he'll need. I'll pass this hub along. Thanks, Dawei888

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Good advice. I'm usually happy if there is a red on the table, I'm not too picky about that :)

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      I don't drink wine but I like the notion of spending less time wondering what your guests will like and serving what you like.