The Perfect Drinks Menu

Find the perfect wine and champagne for toasting and feasting with this simple guide.

the perfect drinks menu

Think of your wedding reception as the ultimate dinner party. One way to enhance your guests' gustatory experience is to pay special attention to the wine you select for the occasion. Work with your caterer or banquet manager to choose good labels. (If the venue you've booked requires you to "bring in" your own booze, the proprietor of your local wine store can guide you in the selection process.) But before you begin, be sure to consider these tips:

1. Stay within your budget. Limit your choices to one type of white, one type of red and a champagne or sparkling wine for the toast. Many quality wines sell for well under $15 a bottle. French champagne is pricey (even the least expensive ones range from $25 to $30 per bottle), so consider an affordable sparkling wine instead. Try cava (from Spain) and prosecco (from Italy)—many of these tasty sparklers cost as little as $8 per bottle.

2. Start sipping now. How do you know which wines to pick? Many local liquor stores host free tastings, which are a great way to sample and learn about different varietals. When it comes to making a final decision, keep your guests' tastes in mind. Chardonnay and merlot are the safest choices, because they're what most people know. Sara Richelson, wine director at The Greene Grape, a Brooklyn, New York, wine store, suggests a more creative strategy. "A crisp, clean white with a bit of fruit, like a sauvignon blanc, is always a crowd-pleaser," she says. "And lots of our couples are placing bulk orders for Côtes du Rhone, a delicious, medium-bodied red."

3. Consult the menu. Your wine selections should reflect and complement your wedding feast. The rule of thumb is that white wine goes with fish and poultry, while red wine accompanies lamb, beef and rich, hearty pasta dishes. According to Bruce Yung, sommelier at the New York City restaurants davidburke & donatella and David Burke at Bloomingdale's, a pinot noir from either California or Oregon is the most versatile wine for entrée-pairing. "It's lighter and fruitier than most red wines," he says, "and can easily complement certain fish or lean meat dishes."

If your menu has an ethnic twist, consider wines that are traditionally served with those particular foods. So, if you're having sushi during the cocktail hour, serve it with sake, suggests Rajat Parr, managing wine director at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Orange County, California. "I'd pair wines from Tuscany with Italian cuisine," he says. "A Spanish grenache complements a menu featuring Mexican or Southwestern influences."

4. Check your calendar. For a summer wedding, especially if it's to take place outdoors, order an extra case of white wine—your guests will drink more of it because it's lighter and typically served chilled. Strawberry-pink rosé wines, served chilled, are also popular for spring and summer weddings. Red wine, warm, rich and sexy, is always correct for winter weddings. Ditto for buttery, full-bodied white wines—say, a white Bordeaux or a California chardonnay.

A Matter of Taste

When it comes to affordable but delicious wines, Bridal Guide staffers sure know how to pick 'em. Here are three of our favorites:

Gallo Family Vineyards, Sonoma Reserve 2004 Pinot Noir, $12.99
"This red has a nice aroma, with a smooth, complex taste."
—Monica Forrestall, Home Design Editor

Charles Shaw Chardonnay, about $2 to $4 (really!)
"Light and slightly sweet. I usually prefer pinot grigio, but this chardonnay is great."
—Morgan Jennings, Assistant Art Director

Mionetto Prosecco Brut, $11
"Fresh and crisp, with the most lovely, delicate bubbles. I served it at a party recently and everyone raved about it."
—Alison Rowe, Assistant Fashion & Beauty Editor