The autumn season is rapidly approaching, a time for weddings and other celebratory events. A friend of mine married recently, and he asked me to help him select wines for his wedding. Even though he doesn’t know much about wines, at least he knew enough not to let the wedding caterer select the wines. In my opinion, the one big mistake so many people make when hosting a special occasion celebration--be it a wedding, anniversary, birthday party, religious celebration, and so forth--is to let the caterer select the beverages for the occasion.
One of the caterer’s major aims is to make a profit; with rare exceptions, the caterer will provide the least expensive plonk he can buy. Some of the worst wines I’ve ever experienced were supplied by caterers. My worst experience occurred a few years ago at a friend’s daughter’s wedding. The wine was so awful that neither my spouse nor I could drink it. Even the beer was terrible. I wound up drinking scotch (not a good one) and water with my dinner.
When my youngest daughter married some years ago, fortunately, I remembered to look at the caterer’s wine glasses. They were so small and chintzy that I would have been embarrassed to use them at my daughter’s wedding. I not only provided the wine, but I also rented some decent wine glasses--not a big expense considering other wedding expenses.
In short, I strongly recommend that the host or hostess take charge of choosing the beverages when hosting events. The first choice to make, when hosting a wedding or other celebratory event, is to select a sparkling wine for an opening toast--and perhaps as an aperitif. I say “sparkling wine” rather than Champagne because any decent Champagne is likely to be too expensive to use--unless the celebration is for a small number of people (25 or fewer). I recommend using either Roederer Estate Brut, an excellent California Brut owned by Champagne Louis Roederer that retails for a reasonable $22 a bottle--or for a bubbly less expensive--a good Spanish cava, such as Codorniu, which costs about $11 or $12.
Also, particularly at a wedding, I would ask the caterer NOT to pour the sparkling wine half an hour or more before guests are seated for the toast. How often have you sipped a warm, lifeless toast, with bubbles dissipated, on these occasions? The bubbly should be poured after the guests are seated, when it is still cold and fresh.
If the occasion is a wedding, and you want a sparkling wine on hand when the wedding cake is cut, I would highly recommend a sweet bubbly with the cake, such as Martini & Rossi Asti (formerly called Asti Spumante), which costs about $13 a bottle. Dry sparkling wines are just too dry with wedding cake!
Now let’s get to the white and red wines to choose for the dinner. I am presuming that one wants the wines to be good, but not expensive. At large events, such as weddings, an expensive wine would be wasted on many of the guests. But you would want the wine to be good enough so that they will enjoy it.
White Wine Recommendations
A number of very good dry white wines are available for less than $20 a bottle retail, mainly from France and Italy. In France I would recommend a simple white Burgundy from the Macon region. A vintage-dated Mâcon-Villages from a reliable producer such as Louis Jadot or Joseph Drouhin would be fine; they both would cost about $14 a bottle. A slightly better wine would be a St. Veran from Mâcon; Joseph Drouhin’s St. Veran is $19.
For even less money, you might want to try a dry white from Languedoc in southern France, Picpoul de Pinet. This lively white will cost you $9 or $10 a bottle, a great value. And it’s more exotic because most of your guests probably have never heard of it.
Another great French white wine would be Muscadet from the Atlantic Ocean end of the Loire Valley. Many good Muscadets are available in the $10 to $15 range.
A bit of a splurge, a very good French wine from Chablis would be an excellent choice; buy the basic Chablis, not the Premier Cru or Grand Cru (too expensive). I am currently enjoying the superb 2012 Chablis from Louis Michel, an outstanding producer. It’s priced in the $25 to $30 range.
Three very good Italian whites under $20 I recommend are Vermentino (Tuscany); Verdicchio (Marche); and Falanghina (Campania). Most Vermentinos range from $12 to $16; Verdicchios are in the $10 to $18 range; and Falanghinas are about $14 to $19. Villa Bucci, a particularly fine Verdicchio, sells for $18 to $20.
An amazingly fine value in Italian dry whites is Soave--probably because many people still do not realize how improved this wine now is. You can buy a top Soave producer’s wine, such as Gini, Pieropan, Inama, Pra, or Suavia for $14 to $17. For me, a great value.
Three other white wines I recommend are Grüner Veltliners from Austria, Moschofileros from Greece, and Albariños from Spain.
Red Wine Recommendations
My list of red wines is a bit shorter than that of whites because I believe that it’s more difficult to find really good inexpensive, everyday red wines that suit everyone’s tastes. But they do exist. From France, I have two choices, Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône reds.
I would avoid choosing Beaujolais from the large producers. Instead, look for the Beaujolais of an excellent small producer such as Jean-Paul Brun. His Beaujolais, Domaine des Terres Dorees, made from old vines, will cost you $15 to $18, but it is superb; true Beaujolais.
A bit less expensive would be a red Côtes du Rhône-Villages, about $12 to $17. It’s a dry, reliable wine that is consistently good, and will pair well with most entrées.
Among Italian red wines, I also have two choices, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Barbera. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, from the grape variety of the same name, is the real bargain. You can buy this wine for under $10; even a fine producer like Masciarelli costs about $9. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a solid, everyday red, and a fine value.
A step up would be the dry, fruity Barberas from Piedmont. The two major Barberas are Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba. The Barberas from the Asti zone tend to be leaner and a bit lighter; I generally prefer the Asti Barberas to those from Alba, but they are both delicious, and go well with all types of food. Their flavors are reminiscent of tart cherries. Some Barberas that are oak-aged can be a bit expensive. I prefer the simpler Barberas not aged in oak that sell in the $15 to $20 range. Vietti is a fine producer of both Asti and Alba Barberas.
You may also want to consider Riojas from Spain or Portuguese reds (a particularly good value).
By the way, my friend chose a Verdicchio and a Barbera for his wedding. And he received lots of compliments on the wines. As for my daughter’s wedding, a friend very generously supplied an excellent Champagne, and I chose a Mâcon-Villages and a Vietti Barbera d’Asti as the wines. The wines received rave notices. I also put a magnum of Perrier-Jouët La Belle Epoque Champagne on my daughter’s wedding table. After all, she’s my daughter….