Wedding wines that sparkle

Sat, Feb 25, 2012, 00:00

Make sure you buy something decent for your guests to drink – this is your special day, writes JOHN WILSON

AS THE MARRIAGE season starts in earnest, a few words of advice on what to drink on the day. It may seem blindingly obvious but do make sure you buy something decent to drink – this is your special day. Bad wine, whatever the price, will not add anything to the occasion. Your guests will certainly notice the difference. When choosing your wine, remember that you are buying for a large group of guests with very disparate tastes. This is not the time to roll out something weird and wonderful, unless you have a very sophisticated group of friends and relations. For all categories of wine – sparkling, white and red – I would suggest going for something light, fruity and easy to drink. A white that is too crisp and dry might set teeth on edge, and a brawny big tannic red won’t go down well with some either.

Good Champagne is one of the world’s great aperitifs; bad Champagne one of the worst. On an empty stomach, your guests will notice any imperfection. It might be better to offer a cocktail based on sparkling wine before the meal. Buck’s Fizz and Kir Royale are the best known, but there are plenty more. Don’t waste good Champagne on it though; an inexpensive sparkler will do fine. I would, however, avoid anything too alcoholic.

It is difficult to recommend specific wines without knowing the menu. However, there are plenty of all-purpose wines that will cover most dishes. For fresh fruity white wines, Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio are the most popular, but a light un-oaked Chardonnay has more body and fruit, and might be a better choice. If your guests will be consuming the wine throughout the day, avoid anything with more than 13 per cent alcohol. For a red wine, try to steer clear of anything too big (preferably 13.5 per cent or under), too tannic or too oaky. Something smooth and fruity, such as New World Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir, a Beaujolais, a Languedoc, Valpolicella, or young Rioja would fit the bill.

If the reception is in a hotel, your choice of wine may be limited. Ask for a bottle of each wine to try at home before making any decision. Some hotels have good function lists, others not. At one stage, I know that many hotels could be persuaded to drop corkage charges completely. As business has improved slightly, few are prepared to do this now. However, the price you pay for corkage varies greatly. If you do want to bring your own wine, find out about corkage before you sign up, and be prepared to haggle a little too. Several hotels I called do not allow you to bring wine in; others charge €10 to €15 per bottle.

If you can bring your own wine, the options are much wider. Buying your wine locally does offer a number of advantages; you can taste before you buy in the comfort of your own home, and you should be able to return any unused bottles after the event. Most retailers offer quantity discounts, and glasses for the event if you need them. However, duty on wine is still lower in the UK, and substantially lower in France, so you could still make the booze cruise or a trip to Northern Ireland. It is not difficult to do a little preliminary research over the internet on prices of well-known brands (see panel), although little-known names from a warehouse in France is a little more tricky. Remember to factor in the cost of travel as well.

You are permitted to bring in any amount of wine for personal consumption. As far as I know, Customs won’t question 120 bottles per person; for larger quantities, you might be asked to provide evidence. In addition to the Majestic Wine Warehouse (in panel, right), friends have recommended Normandie Warehouse and Wine Beer Supermarket in Roscof and Cherbourg to me. I have never made the trip.

For a self-cater event, much depends on how thirsty your guests are. You can expect to serve two to three glasses of sparkling wine per person, allowing six glasses per bottle, and roughly a half bottle of wine per person, with a 50/50 split between red and white. Lastly, as many guests will not be drinking, make sure you have plenty of soft drinks too. Sparkling water gets very boring after a few glasses, so an alcohol-free cocktail will go down very well.

WEDDING CHOICES

Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne NV, 12%, €16.99-€26.33Light and refreshing with hints of brioche and good ripe pear fruits, this is a very tasty Champagne. I am not sure it is genuinely half-price, but it certainly is great value at €25. Stockists: Widely available, including Tesco and a few others at €25.

Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay 2011, Southeast Australia, 12.7%, €4.76-€9.05There is a little oak, but this is a very reliable attractive Chardonnay with plump pear and apple fruits, and a dry finish. The Jacob’s Creek sparkling would also be great to start things off. Stockists: Widely available from the various multiples and other off-licences.

Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Southeast Australia, 13.5%, €5.99-€11.69Ripe, smooth, easy dark fruits, some vanilla too, and no rough tannins on the finish. Stockists: Widely available from the various multiples and other off-licences.

I compared four wines, one generic, three branded, that are widely available throughout the country, in Northern Ireland, and in some warehouses in France. The Mâcon-Villages from Majestic is a different and possibly slightly better wine.

Tesco Greystones Tesco Newry Majestic Cherbourg

Jacob’s Creek

Classic Chardonnay €9.05 €5.66 €4.76

Macon-Villages €6.99 €4.17 €4.76

Wolf Blass Yellow Label

Cabernet Sauvignon €11.69 €8.48 €5.95

Taittinger Champagne €25 €16.99 €26.23