Wed your whistle
Choosing wines for a conjugal feast
by David Marglin
Maybe it's the time of year, or maybe it's a sign of my
advancing age, but it seems that everyone I know has just gotten married or is
planning to in the next few months. And some of these folks looked to me for advice on what to
serve at their weddings. This year's big wedding season is starting to wind
down, but if you've set a date, I'll tell you what I've told my friends:
whether it's a wedding, an anniversary bash, or any other big party, just try
to keep it simple.
Rule # 1: make it sparkle. You know you need to serve some
but you do not need to bust a move and buy the real stuff from the
region of France, which will set you back at least $20 a bottle even
with your volume discount. (And bear in mind, sometimes caterers or facilities
will charge retail prices or higher, with little or no case discount for wines
they furnish. You always do better buying your own if possible, even if there
is a pour charge.) A tremendous number of great sparkling wines are made in the
US, including Roederer Estate, Argyle, Mumm's of Napa, Domaine Chandon, and
Schramsberg. Any of these would work fine for toasting. Most people will not
see the bottle, and few will care whether it's "real" Champagne, so long as it
sparkles and tastes good.
Rule #2: easy does it. When the toasts are over, you'll need something
to serve with the meal. Unless you are a gourmet or really wealthy (in which
case you're not likely to rely solely on my advice anyway), choose wines that
are easy to drink.
Ordinarily, I recommend interesting, unusual, complex wines,
so you can learn and expand your palate. But at big parties, you want
well-balanced wines that won't rub folks the wrong way. Just as you want to
play recognizable tunes that will get people up and dancing, so you want to
serve wines that will get them down and drinking. For white wines, chardonnays
will usually do the job; for reds, try cabernets, merlots, or maybe a shiraz or
a red zinfandel. But nothing too aggressive or bold -- your guests should be
drinking, not thinking.
Rule #3: pair thee well. Think about what wines will go well with the
food you're planning to serve. It's helpful to have the advice and confidence a
wine merchant or other expert can provide, but it's your party, so taste a
bunch of choices and pick the combinations that are pleasing to you. If you've
followed Rule #2, the wines you will be considering should be easy to pair with
your main courses anyway.
Rule #4: don't run out. How much wine should you purchase? At most
weddings or big parties, the people of wine-drinking age will average two
glasses apiece. Figure on six glasses to a bottle of still wine. The problem
is, you don't know whether your guests will prefer red or white, so I recommend
having enough to serve each person two glasses of either (meaning you will have
some left over, but that never hurt anyone, right?). If you have 100 drinkers,
you'll need about 34 bottles (or about three cases) of red wine, and the same
amount of white. You will get closer to eight glasses to a bottle of sparkling
wine, so do the math accordingly, figuring that most people will switch to
still wines after the toasts. Repeat after me: too much is better than too
If you're going to be attending one of these parties instead of throwing one,
I've got a rule for you too: never tell the hosts you do not like the wine. If
a bottle is corked or off, ask your server to get another one, pronto -- and to
tell the manager you had a bad bottle (where there is one, there are likely to
be more). But other than that, just try both the white and the red, and
determine which one you like better (and which one works better with the food).
Look, this is a party, not a wine-appreciation dinner.
The following are some good safe wines, available in Massachusetts, that would
work well at my wedding (now all I need is to find someone who wants to marry
1998 Hogue Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley Washington ($7.99). Light and
refreshing, like a cold apple tart. Yes, it is chenin blanc and not chardonnay,
but it is such a versatile wine, so poised, with an appealing sweetness. Worth
a try -- with grilled fish or chicken.
1997 Monterra Merlot Monterey ($9.99). Serious wine -- mainly a fruit
bomb, with cherries and berries. Works best with the red meats.
1998 Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Bin 109 Paso Robles ($10.99). Fruity
and approachable, light yet full-bodied, this wine is completely plummy. Would
go well with steak, chicken in a dark sauce, or salmon with some zest.
1998 Waterbrook Chardonnay Columbia Valley Washington ($10.99). Woo-hoo!
This is stellar chard for the dollars. Minimal
fine with salmon or a nice
grilled swordfish -- even chicken Kiev. Lovely tropical-fruit notes.
1998 Saint-Veran Les Deux Moulins Maison Louis Latour ($10.99). Another
chardonnay, crisp and apple-y. A touch green, but with clean, fresh, and
unassuming flavor. Enough mineral
qualities to stand up to big fish, or even
red meat that is lightly sauced.
1998 J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($10.99). Deep, lush, dark
ruby wine, with black currant and plenty of
oak. Previously hard to find
outside the winery or restaurants, this wine is a real score in stores. Try it
with steak, prime rib, the big meats.
1999 Hess Select Chardonnay California ($11.99). Clean and mellow --
unfolds nicely into apple and pear territory, without too much
1998 Hedges Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington
($12.99). Fifty-four percent Merlot -- smoky and comfortable, with lots of
black fruit. It's mellow and full, with a very long finish.
David Marglin can be reached at email@example.com.
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