Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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My Best Friend's Wedding Wine
by Jonathon Alsop
October 2000

As you might imagine, couples have tried over the years to hire me to consult with them about wine for their wedding. Even though I might take the money and run in another context, I can't quite bring myself to do this to a bride and bridegroom, or two grooms or two brides for that matter.

First of all, it's typically not very challenging, as the consultation goes something like this: I ask, "So what's your favorite white wine?" The happy couple responds in unison, "Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay!" Since I understand that the psychological maelstrom of a wedding is the worst possible time to try new things, I respond, "All right then, I recommend Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay for the white. Now what's your favorite red wine?"

It's all over -- in my mind, at any rate -- before you know it. If the couple wants something cheaper that K-J at about $13, it's safe to recommend J. Lohr Chardonnay for about $8. If they want something "special," it's Arrowood Chardonnay for $25 plus. If they want something "different" or "interesting," I say, "Oh no you don't." Unless you’re an insurance adjuster or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, I don't believe it's possible to get paid for saying no.

I'm not shy about the fact that the best wine I ever had at a wedding was my own because I followed this formula scrupulously: I served my favorite white (Callaway "Calla-Lees" Chardonnay), my favorite red (Rosenblum Zinfandel), and my favorite sparkler (Chateau St. Jean Brut) at the time. Not too surprisingly, I was in heaven, and everyone else seemed just fine too.

Second-best wine wedding was my best friend's wedding this September in the Harvard Forest out in western Mass. It was a triumph of integrating food and wine with friends and family to create a real occasion, and I confess I had only a small hand in it, storing some of the wine in my cellar and saying encouraging things like, "Just get it! You know you want it!" every chance I got.

Father of the groom, a wine lover and collector, has a friend in the wine business in California, so he brought in a load of custom-labeled chardonnay and pinot noir that really hit the spot for all. There were two main red wines, Columbia Crest Merlot and Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, that were real crowd-pleasers, full of lush round fruit flavors and soft cushy tannins, chewy and chocolatey.

Best of all was the sparkling wine, Schramsberg Blanc de Noir, a gorgeous pale-rose Californian that's the groom's favorite sparkler, now the bride's too I bet.

Tips For Buying Wine For Your Own Wedding

Use a wine retailer you know and love.
Right in the midst of a wedding is not the time for getting to know new people, so this tip applies to the band, the caterer, and the florist too. You'll get a good price and good service, and you'll have someone to talk to if anything goes wrong.

Get plenty of wine, because you can always take it back.
Get this straight beforehand, and most shops will take back whatever you don't use so long as the label isn't messed up or the foil capsule hasn't been removed. Besides, it's nice to have a stash of leftover wedding wine as a momento.

Half white, half red, and a few bottles of pink wine, just in case.
You do the math, but if you estimate 3 glasses per guest and 5 glasses per bottle, you'll have wine left over in addition to the pink wine.

Unless Champagne is your favorite white wine, keep it for "the toast."
My experience is that people in crowds get goofy when they actually drink sparkling wine, which is why I had it as a distinct wine at my own wedding, but you shouldn't have it at yours. Save it for "the toast," estimate 1 glass per person and 6 glasses per bottle, since Champagne flutes can be stingy, and you'll have some left over.

Always taste everything.
From beginning to end, always taste any wine you're going to buy, even if it's an old favorite. When you're on the verge of buying three or five or ten cases of wine, you can afford to open one or two to make sure you're going to be happy with it, which is the whole point anyway.

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