Need Wine for a Wedding? Just Keep It Simple
By James Molesworth, tasting coordinator
A few years ago, I was single. Now, here I am, getting married. Just like that, I've got a new lifestyle and a new set of responsibilities that seem to change daily. I seem so far removed from myself of a few years ago. Yet through all the change my life has undergone recently, nothing has caused quite as much stress as picking the wine for my wedding.
You would think someone who's been in the wine business for a while would have it easy. Au contraire, I think I've got too much information at my disposal. With all the wine I'm lucky enough to taste on the job and all the wine I drink for pleasure, I've got too many favorites. And for the wedding, the wine choice has to be something special. Not "1989 Haut-Brion" special, but something that has some meaning for my fiancee and me.
At my wedding there will be people who span the whole range of wine knowledge--from teetotalers to enthusiastic amateurs to fellow professionals--so you can see why this is going to be tricky. In fact, I'm willing to bet every wine buff who's ever gotten married has sweated over this choice. Pleasing everyone isn't easy.
The toughest part may be how to please my fiancee. I've seen her tastes move closer into line with my own. While she used to like straightforward, buttery, oaky Chardonnays, she now clamors for premier cru Burgundies. I think I may have created a monster.
Last but not least, expense is also an issue. With a band, flowers, the cost of the room and everything else that goes with a big wedding, the wine can quickly become an afterthought. My fiancee owns a catering company, and I've seen many of her clients cut back on the wine or food in favor of other things. To me, though, wine is just as important as the flowers and the band.
Pleasing myself, my fiancee, our guests--all without breaking the bank. That's a tall order. How did I come up with a solution? I simplified. I went back to the old days, when I was in retail and the restaurant trade. I'd be approached by customers who wanted just a "nice dry red" or a white "with nice flavor and no aftertaste." Those simple descriptions, which used to leave me wondering what they really meant, now seem to make sense. Keep it simple, and make sure it tastes good. After all, a wedding is about two people, not about whether the acidity of the white goes well with the sauce on the lobster.
So, for me, what has lots of flavor to please everyone, and lots of bang for the buck, too? Easy--Zinfandel. After Burgundy, my second-favorite wine is red Zinfandel. Ridge and Ravenswood dominate my--now it's 'our'--cellar. Sure, some of the guests might be surprised that the Zinfandel is a red, not a sweet blush wine. But I've got a feeling that after a sip, they'll get over it. And those who are in the know will appreciate it as well. The red will be the Ridge Zinfandel Sonoma Station 1996. Ridge, under the guidance of Paul Draper, has long been one of California's great wineries. Seems fitting enough to me.
For the white, I needed to pick something that gave a nod to my other passion, Burgundy. Though not a place where one finds a lot of moderately-priced gems, I got bailed out by the superlative 1996 vintage. In a vintage this good, the gulfs between village and premier cru and grand cru wines become smaller as the overall quality level of the wines goes up. I chose the 1996 village Chablis from Moreau, which fits the price bill to a T and also proves the quality of the vintage. Again, a few of the guests may still think of Chablis as the sweet stuff in the big bottle from Paul Masson, but after a sip, they'll get over it. And for those in the know, Moreau makes some fine Chablis. Besides, a little white Burgundy at a June wedding never hurt anyone.
Since the Champagne included with our wedding is Bollinger Brut Grande Annee 1988, we're all set. Tastewise, Bollinger is one of the most distinctive Champagne houses--and if James Bond drinks it, then it must be OK for a black-tie wedding. If you're not lucky enough to get a vintage brut Champagne, then a solid non-vintage brut from Pol Roger, Taittinger or Roederer is worth the premium over a nondescript sparkling wine. Think of it this way--how many times are you toasted by everyone you know on the occasion of your wedding? Go ahead and "pop" for the Champagne.
So with some simple, logical thought, any wine buff ought to be able to find something that satisfies every guest, from buddies to in-laws--and find it at a price that doesn't force you to cut the invite list in half. Just keep it simple, and make sure it tastes good.
This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from tasting coordinator James Molesworth. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. And for an archive of senior editor James Laube's columns, visit Laube on Wine.