Let's start by acknowledging that there's no such thing as the 'right wine'. Whatever wine you choose is the right wine for you. Because, at the end of the day, your wedding is a celebration of your love and union; nobody gets to judge which wine you offer your guests.
So how do you choose the wines that will help you and your guests celebrate your special day?
HOW MUCH WINE DO YOU NEED?
It all depends on how many hours you'll be hosting your guests...and what you know about their drinking habits.
1.5 glasses per guest per hour is a good baseline.
Some will drink more, some will drink less. Always round up - so 1.5 x 6 hours = 9 glasses. A standard bottle of wine (750ml) gives you 5 reasonable glasses of wine. Rounded up = 2 bottles per person over 6 hours.
Half red and half white wine is always a good bet. If it's a summer wedding, make sure to include a healthy helping of rosé, and slide the scales in the favour of white wines.
You'll need sparkling for, at least, the toast. A standard 750ml bottle will fill 6 champagne flutes to a reasonable level. And that's all you really need...unless your speeches are long and numerous, or your friends are bubbly monsters who will stick to sparkling for most of the evening. Divide your guests by 6 e.g. 100 guests/6 glasses = 16.6 that should be rounded up to 17 bottles of sparkling wine. If you have a number of lengthy speeches, increase this to 2 glasses per person; e.g. 100/6x2 = 34 bottles when rounded up. Don't forget people other than your guests that may be included during the toast e.g. your wedding planner, photographer, videographer, caterer, makeup artist, etc.
CONSIDER THE SEASON
Winter weddings lean towards comforting bigger bodied red and white wines. Think oak and body. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinotage for the reds. Chardonnay with some oak and barrel aged white blends. And if you've over-catered, these wines are well worth cellaring.
Summer weddings says rosé, white wines and lighter reds. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends, unoaked Chardonnay, and pretty Rhône white blends with some vibrant acidity. Rosés in all it's shapes and forms. Grenache, Cinsault, and lighter bodied Syrahs.
And then there are the in-betweens; the wines that suit all seasons but are particularly suited to the changing seasons of Spring and Autumn: Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blends.
Where there's red wine, there has to be the option of white wine, and vice versa. Where there's a divisive wine, one must offer a safer alternative e.g. Sauvignon Blanc is a love it or hate it wine that should be offset with another option such as an unoaked Chardonnay; oaked Chardonnays are equally yay or nay; and not everyone wants a heavy tannic wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Think of alternatives in terms of their opposites:
• white vs red
• heavy vs light - i.e. tannin/body/alcohol
• high acidity vs moderate acidity
If you're wanting to reduce the number of options, opt for the middle ground:
• I can't imagine anyone being offended by a good quality, lighter bodied Syrah and an unoaked Chardonnay
Aperitif: an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite
There's always some time between the ceremony and the reception. This is the perfect moment for a signature wedding cocktail or gin bar. But some guests will always prefer beer and wine.
In terms of wine, lead your guests with something lighter that won't interfere with their palate, isn't too high in alcohol, and gets them in the mood for the upcoming festivities.
Now is a good time for more unusual options such as Light Reds (Grenache, Cinsault, or carbonic maceration Pinotage), Orange Wines, or light bodied white wines.
The moment everyone looks forward to at weddings - and the official signal that the formalities have concluded. Sparklings are a must as there really isn't any other wine style that is quite as festive. If you know that your friends love sparklings and will indulge all evening long, make sure that you have plenty. Sparkling wines pair well with a wide range of foods...so this will work with most menus. But, by and large, the average guest won't consume more than a glass. In fact, half a glass is plenty for some of us! Fill those flutes, make the toast, clink the coupes - most people will finish their glass of bubbly and settle into their beverage of choice for the evening.
Champagne or Cap Classique?
This depends on you and your budget. There are beautiful South African Cap Classique wines that rival those from Champagne. If you're partial to the French bubbly, go ahead. But do not feel any pressure to choose champagne over a local traditional method sparkling based solely on perception. Don't discount non traditional method wines such as Prosecco or those made by carbon injection - these can be lighter and more refreshing in the heat of summer.
The world acknowledges that supporting local is the most sustainable option. If you're exchanging vows in South Africa, why not celebrate with a local wine that tells the story of your wedding (and is, potentially, a novel experience for guests visiting from outside the country). Local is very lekker and we are spoiled for choice in this country!
You're likely to have multiple courses (at least a starter, main, and dessert). Here's where you could possibly influence your guests. Lead them by choosing the wine that pairs well with each course. For example:
Fish OR SEAFOOD:
Fish and seafood will pair wonderfully with an Albariño which is still fairly unusual in South Africa. Or Verdelho from the Klein Karoo, a less obvious but very affordable region. Of course, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay are always winners.
These are all lighter, acid driven wines that will stimulate your guest's palates and balance the salinity of the fish - as well as cut through the fattiness of oilier fish.
How could you not opt for a sensibly oaked Chardonnay with chicken - it's a classic combo! However, it's important to remember that one should pair the wine with the sauce or the most dominant flavour in the dish.
Chicken served with a herby tomato based sauce may do better with a lighter, unoaked Merlot. Chicken in a creamy black pepper sauce could do well with a peppery cool climate Syrah with a lighter body. Creamy buttery lemony sauces pair well with white wines that have enough acid to cut through the fat and stand up to the lemon. Pinot Noir, Gamay and a bright Grenache are also fantastic red options.
Red wines are the obvious choice for red meats. But, again, follow the rule about matching the wine to the most dominant flavour of the meal. If you're serving your steak with a peppercorn sauce, the peppercorn will be more noticeable. If you're serving delicate lamb cutlets, the flavour of the meat will be the focus.
Steak or Roast Beef: Here's where Cabernet Sauvignon and its Bordeaux style blend friends (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere) shine. Merlot has friendlier tannins, but I'd suggest looking for a structured example with enough tannins and body to stand up to steak.
Lamb: Shiraz has proven to be a wonderful pairing with roast lamb dishes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab/Merlot blends, Sangiovese or Tempranillo will work too.
Pork: You have to consider Riesling. And the good news is that these wines are still incredibly well priced, whether you're after a German Mosel, or a local example. Viognier and Riesling are two more white wine alternatives. As far as reds go, Pinot Noir is a winner, with Grenache coming a close second.
Think lower tannins and some perception of sweetness e.g. Gewurztraminer, Viognier, dry Muscat, Chardonnay and white wine blends. Grenache and Pinotage are red options. Rosé...don't forget that rosé wines are incredibly food friendly!
Including a sweet wine is a classy option for more formal dinners. I wouldn't worry too much about finding a pairing for the dessert course. Let your dessert have its spotlight....perhaps boost everyone's energy levels for the impending dance-off by offering caffeine as an accompaniment to the sugar rush.
However, if you're offering a cheese platter, this is a fabulous excuse to indulge in a sweet wine.
The meal is done and it is time to party. Honestly - now is where your sensibly priced wines will erm come to the party. There's no danger of the food disagreeing with the wine. Anyone who's had a sweet dessert will need a while for their palate to return to its baseline. The music is pumping, your loved one's are dancing with a drink in hand...everyone is brimming with happiness and nobody cares what's in their glass. There is bound to be a round of shooters. So DO NOT save your best wines until last. If anything, focus on making sure that there are jugs or bottles of water readily available.
THE AFTER PARTY
There's something about saving one or two bottles of sparkling wine to pop with the very last guests. You know the group of your closest friends who will stay until the very end. The venue staff are leaving, you're outside on the patio sitting on each other's laps or huddled down at the bottom of the garden having deep and meaningful 'remember when' conversations while wriggling your toes in the grass. Those bottles of bubbly will serve you well as the last toast on your special day. A whisky or brandy is perfect too.
THE MORNING/S AFTER
I swear by drinking a half glass of what you've consumed the night before to get rid of the hangover. But if you've practiced restraint, a symbolic bottle of your wedding bubbly is a lovely way to start your morning as a married couple.
Do your future nostalgic selves a favour: grab an extra case of bubbles so that you can open a bottle to celebrate a few big wedding anniversaries and remember your wedding day.
If you've over-catered, you can add the wines to your cellar or start a small wine collection.
Get the best deals:
If you're hunting down your own wine, shop for deals.
• Buying direct from the wineries is always great and wineries often discount wines bought by the case.
• Supermarkets with buying power drive down prices and can be a good option. Paul Cluver Chardonnay on special for R110 at Checkers vs R125 from the estate.
• I see no problem with decanting wines that benefit from decanting. Remember the Consol advert where box wine is decanted into old bottles? There's some romance to this as long as you choose wisely. Saving a few pennies won't be beneficial when you're adding them back in the form of buying or renting carafes (you could also decant into unlabelled bottles0...but your wine connoisseur friend's will catch on pretty quickly unless you choose a reputable wine from a good producer).
• Explore and taste unlabelled wines - these are particularly cute when you add a custom label.
• Look out for warehouse sales as they regularly need to clear space for upcoming vintages.
Start ahead of time and take advantage of deals from places like GetWine.
Invest in the best wines that you can afford, within reason.
After all, they'll be enjoyed by your nearest and dearest (and their plus ones) in celebration of a big day in your lives. We are spoiled for choice in South Africa - we make wonderful wines to suit all budgets. Do some homework, chat to favourite wine store, visit your favourite wine farms. A super fun idea is having your bridal party blind taste some wines to help you decide which bottles will make the cut. And if you really need help, send me your budget and I'll happily put together a list based on your preferences.
Lastly, don't forget to factor in the cost of corkage!
However, the corkage fee may still be worthwhile for the opportunity to choose the best wines for your day. House wines often have a hefty markup. So do your calculations and weigh up the wines on offer before deciding.
Note: your venue may limit your options. If you've chosen a wine farm as your venue, the farm may restrict your choices to only their wines. A good venue should appreciate your passion for wine and allow you to, within reason, supplement their wine list with anything special or vastly different (from other producers) that you might want to include; it would be polite to ensure that the bulk of your wine is from the venue's farm. A good venue should also allow you to supplement with styles that they do not offer (usually in the form of sparkling, dessert, and fortified wines).