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The 9 Rules of picking wines for weddings and big parties

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By Elin McCoy, Bloomberg

WHY ARE wines served at most weddings so bad? At the last one I attended, I ditched both the red and white and sipped a watery cocktail instead. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Choosing wines for a wedding — or any big party, for that matter — is about more than finding labels you like for a reasonable price. It’s about having a firm plan and principles, such as these nine below, per wine directors and sommeliers.

1. GO FOR DELICIOUSNESS, NOT FAMOUS REGIONS OR LABELS
“Cocktail bar wines are where you can save money,” says William Carroll, beverage director at Westchester County’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which hosts three to five weddings a week. He chooses racy, thirst-quenching whites and fruity, easy drinking reds with up-front flavor.

Instead of pricier Sancerre, he suggests smoky, aromatic Domaine de Reuilly Blanc Les Pierres Plates ($21), an organic sauvignon blanc from the eastern Loire valley, an area that’s left behind its former status as the poor man’s Sancerre.

For reds, Carroll singles out the lush, fruit-driven 2016 Wyatt pinot noir ($15), from California’s central coast.




Gramercy Tavern sommelier Katie Venezia, who just got engaged, says she’ll look to such regions as Spain or Italy, or underrated regions of the US such as the Finger Lakes for the best quality-to-price ratio.

2. PICK WINES TO PLEASE A LOT OF PALATES, NOT JUST YOUR OWN
“People run into trouble when personal taste rules,” adds Carroll. In other words, put on your hospitality hat and decide what’s best for your guests.

He and others advocated for highly versatile crowdpleaser wines, with sparkling, red, white, and rosé examples at the bar during the reception, whites and reds that match the lunch or dinner menu, and a sparkling wine for a toast.

3. SPLURGE WHERE PEOPLE WILL NOTICE — ON THE BIG DINNER RED AND WHITE.
Chris Dunaway, the new beverage director at Aspen’s the Little Nell, advocates serving both a light-bodied and a full-bodied red, as well as a white.

Dinner is the time to pull out a wine with bottle age. Blue Hill’s Carroll comes through with a top example for the price: earthy, spicy, complex 2011 Bodega Hermanos Pecina Senorio de P. Pecina Reserva Rioja ($30).

For a white, many push a lightly oaked chardonnay from Burgundy, such as Camille Giroud Bourgogne Blanc ($25).

4. YES, YOU SHOULD SERVE ROSÉ
“Rosé at a wedding is a no-brainer,” says master sommelier Carlton McCoy (no relation), former wine director at Aspen’s Little Nell. “It’s a perfect low-octane replacement for a cocktail.”

It’s also festive and summery, popular yet moderately priced. During weddings at Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley, estate sommelier Monica Zanotti has waiters pass glasses of chilled rosé just as the ceremony ends. Her local picks — light, savory Azur rosé from Napa ($36 a bottle retail) and Flowers Vineyards rosé of pinot noir from Sonoma ($32) — are pretty expensive but guaranteed to please.

The best value-for-quality recommendation comes from Carroll: 2017 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rosé ($10) from France’s bargain region, the Languedoc.

5. CHOOSE A SPARKLING ALTERNATIVE TO CHAMPAGNE
“The choice of bubbles is all about your budget,” says McCoy, who believes less expensive cava, cremant, and domestic fizz beat serving low-end Champagne.

Meadowood regularly pours Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($41), a lush Napa classic, but Carroll’s pick, Caves Bohigas Cava Brut Reserva ($14 a bottle), is a way-better bargain. Ditto Porpiglia’s suggestion, the crisp, refreshing, citrus-y Conquilla Brut Cava ($13). I’d add the always terrific organic Raventos i Blanc Rosé de Nit ($22).

6. DON’T SERVE BRUT CHAMPAGNE WITH DESSERT
No one actually complains about drinking dry Champagne with wedding cake, but the two are a real mismatch. The sweetness of the cake makes the fizz taste sour and acidic. Instead, serve a sweet sparkling wine, such as California’s Chandon Sweet Star ($16).

7. CONSIDER FORMALITY, SEASON, AND LOCATION
I’ve been to weddings out on a beach, as well as ones where the groom wore white tie and tails and Krug Grande Cuvée was poured freely. Hot weather dictates more whites and rosés than reds, while a fun beach wedding calls for something casual, such as serving cans of wine in a big tub of ice.

Good bets: Sofia Brut Blanc de Blancs mini ($18 for four 187 ml cans); Vinny, a bubbly white blend from the Finger Lakes, made by Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at New York’s NoMad ($20 for four 250 ml cans); and Scribe Winery’s UnaLou rosé ($40 for four 375 ml cans).

8. OPT FOR LARGE-FORMAT BOTTLES
“Nothing says party like big bottles of wine,” says Patuszak, who served all the wines at his wedding in the Finger Lakes from magnums or jeroboams (the equivalent of six bottles). They look celebratory, even if the wine isn’t expensive.

His rosé pour was pale pink, strawberry-scented Domaine de Triennes from southern France. The estate’s owners are Burgundy stars Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Double magnums (3L, the equivalent of four bottles) of the 2018 can be had for about $70. The Azur, recommended above, comes in 3L bottles for $155.

And, hey, big bottles are also great for Instagram shots.

9. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH WINE
The worst scenario is not having enough. No big surprise there. To calculate what you’ll need, consider how long you’ll be pouring, the food, and how many guests and how much they usually drink. Will most be wine-loving friends? Or relatives who nurse one glass for hours? At one wedding at Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley, estate sommelier Monica Zanotti found that about half the people were non-drinkers, something that’s becoming more common.

Nick Porpiglia, who oversees food and beverage outlets at Brooklyn’s hip Wythe hotel, a bastion of natural wine, estimates anywhere from two glasses to a bottle per person. The consensus among my informants was three glasses per person if the event includes a cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing.

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