For your big day, you’ll want the wine to be perfect, just like everything else. How do we choose versatile, crowd-pleasing wines for a big, fun party like a wedding?
Just like all large celebrations with diverse menus (hors d'oeuvres and perhaps a buffet or seated dinner), weddings call for ‘feast friendly wines’.
What makes a wine ‘feast friendly’?
There are entire books that explore the topic of pairing wines with food. If you really want to nerd out, my favorite is ‘What to Drink with What You Eat’ by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. For today, we’ll keep it simple.
The challenges of a wedding feast are a bit different than a single entrée dinner. There are lots of different meats, spices, veggies, sauces, perhaps even desserts, on the table at once. This means that we have to toss aside some classic pairing techniques such as ‘matching palate weights’ and ‘if it grows together, it goes together’. This leaves us with a few good rules of thumb that we can still lean on:
1) Feast wines have great acidity
Generally we’re going to look for a wine with elevated acidity. If your food is more acidic than you’re wine, the wine will seem flabby and lame, and we do not want that. Wines with firm acidity help to clear the palate with each sip, getting you ready for that next bite of deliciousness.
2) Feast wines are low to moderate in tannin
Big, tannic Cabs and Syrahs are amazing with a grilled steak, the tannins cutting through the marbled fat and the char on the outside of the steak. However, these tannins will overwhelm lighter proteins like chicken, and all of the lighter veggie sides and hors d'oeuvres won’t stand a chance. Let’s find something with lower tannin for your Big Day.
3) Feast wines are lower in alcohol
Alcohol does a lot of important things in a wine, but for our purposes in choosing a wine to feast with, alcohol adds weight and body to a wine. Again, this is great if we’re matching a Napa Cab with a hearty chunk of steak or a Barolo with a creamy bowl of mushroom risotto, but between passed hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, and entrees, we’ve got lots of variety to match to perhaps two table wines, a red and a white. For a feast, it’s important that the wine does not overwhelm anything on the table, which is why we’re fans of lower alcohol wines for a wedding.
Now that we’ve got our ground rules, let get on to those recommendations!
Sauvignon Blanc – A highly aromatic grape with firm acidity. You’ll see bright citrus on the nose, distinctive stony minerality, and racy acidity on the palate. Since you’re buying for a crowd, you might want to avoid the old world classics from Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. These wines are wonderful, but can get expensive when you’re buying large quantities. I’d suggest checking out Sauvignon Blancs from Chile, Washington State or the central coast of California, as these can provide more value if well chosen. These new world regions are a bit warmer than the cool Loire Valley, so they will show some light tropicality that you won’t see in the old world examples.
Chablis – This is Chardonnay from the very northern stretch of Burgundy, actually closer to Champagne than the Cote d’Or. You can see the similarities between Chablis and Champagne immediately. Chardonnay from Chablis is tart, nervy wine, with lovely acidity and minerality. Except for the very highest end Grand Cru bottlings, Chablis does not see new oak barrels, so that buttery toastiness in Napa Chardonnay and other white Burgundies will be absent (this is good, since oak can be pleasant but is very hard to pair with food). If you can’t find a Chablis that suits your palate or your price point, consider an unoaked Chardonnay from the new world.
Pinot Noir – The Pinot Noir grape can create classic, versatile feasting wines. You’ll typically see bright aromas of red raspberries, cherries, cranberries, with notes of earthiness giving the wine a solid foundation. For a wedding, I would suggest a new world Pinot from the Willamette Valley, Central Coast of California, or New Zealand. Value is a bit easier to find in new world Pinot Noir, and the riper, more fruit-forward style of these wines will surely be a crowd pleaser. I’d avoid any Pinot that tips the scale above 14.0% alcohol for feasting, this may be an indication of a richer style less likely to play nice with the meal.
Zinfandel – Another versatile food wine, Zinfandel will usually show a riper, jammier fruit profile than Pinot. Ripe blackberries, raspberry liqueur, black pepper, and some light impressions of earth and oak will be common features in these wines. Zinfandel is low in tannin, smooth and friendly, making it a sure crowd pleaser at the table. Zins can get very ripe, and can sometimes be vinified into 15.5%-16.0% ABV juggernauts, so be on the lookout for more restrained representations. Look for a Zinfandel in a lighter style, something in the range of 13.5%-14.5% alcohol.
No wedding is complete without a little bit of bubbly. Champagne can get pretty expensive, so let’s focus on the other sparklers of the world. If you want to get deep into choosing your sparkler, check out our primer on all things Sparkling Wine. But, spoiler alert, it’s tough to find better value in traditional method sparkling wine than in Spain. If you need to spend $10 or less per bottle, there are respectable Cavas that fit the bill. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are ‘Reserve’ bottlings of Cava in the market for less than $20 that let you experience an alternative to the toasty, biscuit-y goodness of aged Champagne at a compelling value.
ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re going to serve sparkling wine with your wedding cake, buy a case of a sweeter sparkler for this portion of the wedding (something labeled ‘Dry’, ‘Sec’, or ‘Demi Sec’). You’ll need the sweetness to match up to the cake, otherwise your Brut from earlier in the evening will taste like lemon fizzy water. A lighter Moscato d’Asti could work here as well.
How much to buy?
Lots of ways to look at this, since your guest may also be drinking beer and spirits, but as a simple rule of thumb, 2.5 glasses per person is about right. This also makes the math easier. Divide the number of guests by 2, and buy that many bottles of wine rounded up to the nearest case. For example = 160 guests / 2 = 80 bottles...7 cases of wine (84 bottles).
75% of this should be split across your red and white, with a slight bias towards white (which people tend to order more as an aperitif). The last 25% should be your sparkling wines, especially if you’re planning a bubbly toast.
Let us know if you have any questions, we’re happy to help!
Bringing in your own wines to your wedding?
If you’d be interested in choosing our feast friendly Eight Sides wines, please contact us about our discounts available for weddings.