There seems to be a popular assumption that large parties such as weddings are not going to serve decent wine. I can understand this, as I've been to more than my share of events where cocktails or beer have been my drink of choice. Truly, though, it does not have to be this way.
Last year, I co-wrote a piece with Gary Vaynerchuk (a social media guru who launched his career with WineLibrary.com) on how to choose wine for a wedding. Sadly, the website that commissioned it closed down, so it has yet to be published. But some great tips came out of it.
First, you want to taste before making a big purchase. This can actually be a fun activity to share with your mate, friends or relatives. Still, the menu should be your starting point.
People may not pay as much attention to wine and food pairings at big events as much as they will during intimate dinners, but since you are going to have wine anyway, you might as well make a selection that matches the menu. Usually, this does not include very popular grapes such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, as most, at least those made in California, are not terribly food-friendly.
Let's say wine and food pairing is not your thing. Find someone you trust, be it a wine salesperson, sommelier or friend who is knowledgeable. Make sure to let them know how much you want to spend and stick to it. On average, I figure about a bottle per person, but know your crowd. Maybe they are beer drinkers. If I were throwing a bash I'd be sure to make it a 1-to-1 ratio, as a lot of my people are big wine drinkers.
If you can't find anyone to help you, try reading wine reviews for selections in your price range. Get a few bottles and taste them first to see if your palate is similar to that of the critic. This is very important. If you find that you disagree with one, try someone else.
It's not a good idea to have the caterer choose and supply your wines. After all, you pay a caterer for the food experience, not the wine experience.
Weddings can actually be an opportunity for people to try new things. I helped friends in Seattle choose wine for a wedding that happened over the weekend, and several people commented on how much they enjoyed a white wine from Greece that was served with the first course.
If you buy the cliche that your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life, you really need to pay attention to the wine selection. Chances are you will be drinking it as well, and since it is your wedding, no one should enjoy it more than you and your beloved. If there is one part of the planning process that can be a stress reliever, this is it. So don't leave it to the last minute. Instead, taste along the way.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.