WINES FOR WEDDINGS – How to choose the best while staying on budget

In biblical times it would seem that, at weddings at any rate, good wines would be served first and lesser ones later on, presumably when guests were no longer able to tell the difference. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, the master reprimanded the servant for serving the better wine after a poorer one had been served, unaware that Jesus had saved the day when the host’s wine had been exhausted. The lesson here is a valid one in that your guests will, subconsciously, anticipate your wedding reception by the first sip of their welcome drink, traditionally, a sparkling wine, so make sure it’s the best you can afford. Whatever you serve, insist that the wine is poured in front of the guests out of a generously heaped ice bucket and not, as we see so often, dozens of already poured glasses warm and fizz-less. Realistically, most young couples will be working to a tight budget putting wines like Vintage Champagne out of reach but don’t despair, a bit of leg work can still provide your guests with a memorable first drink.

Have fun choosing your wines

You need to decide your budget but, perhaps more importantly, you need to choose wines your guests are likely to enjoy. You could always ask your friends round and have a tasting of potential wedding wines. I have been asked to these occasions before and they have turned out to be hugely enjoyable. Feedback from your friends will be invaluable and give them a great talking point when the big day arrives. Your guest will be appreciative if you have taken the trouble to provide the best you can.

Budget allowing, consider Champagne

Champagne gives you several options; non-vintage, vintage (where a year is shown on the label), and pink. Vintage and pink are the more expensive options. Taste at least three different producers within your budget, it should be easy to tell them apart.

Cava may be inexpensive but there is plenty of scope to find hidden gems

Cava, from Spain, is made in exactly the same way as Champagne but is significantly cheaper. I have recently tasted a selection of pink Cavas which offer stunning value for money. Some of these are under 10€ a bottle and come in very upmarket bottles. Serving ice cold, pink cava will delight your guests and won’t break the bank! Try as many as you can before deciding.

Prosecco

Made in Italy from the Glera grape. Unlike Champagne and Cava, Prosecco, highly fashionable at the moment in UK, is made in bulk in pressurised steel tanks. Its fashionable status, if not necessarily its quality, makes this the sparkling wine of choice for many. We will be dedicating our September column to Prosecco and why this sparkling wine is turning out to be hugely successful in the UK.

What about Sherry?

Fino or Manzanilla, well-chilled from a traditional copita is hard to beat. Not only will a great bottle of Manzanilla or Fino come at around 6€ but, as every wine geek will be happy to tell you, it’s as good as wine gets and easily matches a good vintage Champagne. Fino or Manzanilla simply ooze tradition and would satisfy even the most demanding of wine connoisseurs. After all, what better way to kick off your reception than with one of the great wines of the world whilst leaving most of your wine budget intact!

Wines with the meal

Generally, the next wine would be white and would have been matched to go with the first dish. In my fantasy wedding, our hosts would have chosen something quite simple, perhaps some Scottish smoked salmon and Sanlucar Langoustines accompanied with a crisp, delicious Muscadet Sur Lie. A seriously good Muscadet will come in at around £10 or less and with the salmon and langoustines would be one the great food matches of all time. If Muscadet is not your style, try some of the excellent Spanish whites from Rueda. Again, try several as you will be amazed at the difference in quality between them. Marqués de Riscal makes a dependable Sauvignon Blanc from the area but you may find equally good ones at more affordable prices.

The main dish

Here, the main wine would almost certainly be red. Perhaps the main course is a dish with heavier flavours than the starter where a red would be appropriate. Choosing a red is relatively simple. There are literary hundreds of quality wines out at every price point imaginable. Again, try as many wines as you can, perhaps compare one or two from Rioja against Ribera del Duero. If price is no object, there are some utterly delicious wines from Bordeaux which even casual drinkers will enjoy. Other wines you may consider could include Chianti (see July’s 2017 edition), Australian or other New World locations.

The Cake

So what to serve with the cake? Try not to serve dry Champagne or Cava, it simply does not go with cake. It will spoil both the cake, which will taste too sweet and the sparkling wine, which will taste tart and acidic. A friend of mine, a fellow wine geek, served Asti Spumante with the cake at his daughter’s wedding. Some guests were surprised as generally, my friend is known as being fastidious with his wines and Asti has a rather down-market image. How right he was. Asti Spumante or the superior, slightly fizzy Moscato D’Asti are made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Asti region of Italy. The wines are blessed with floral scents, grape flavours and beautiful delicate smell of white peaches. It’s low in alcohol and its sweet flavour goes admirably with wedding cake and it won’t break even the most stretched budgets!

The Watergate scandal

A wine writer, who shall remain nameless, suggests that if your budget doesn’t stretch to fine wine at your wedding, you should ensure, at least, that the happy couple should have proper wine at this important day even if it means covering the bottle with a napkin, thereby keeping it a secret!

Perhaps the most famous example of this sort of shenanigan is linked to President Richard Nixon’s love of Chateau Margaux. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Watergate reporters, state in their book, The Final Days, that when Nixon entertained congressmen aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia, he served them a £6 Chianti and instructed the stewards to fill his glass from a bottle of 1966 Chateau Margaux wrapped in a towel. Nixon was subsequently impeached.