The ultimate guide to choosing your wedding wine

You’ll be doing lots of toasting on the big day – the question is, which wedding wine should you be pouring into those glasses?

Wedding wine champagne

BYO Wedding Wine and Corkage

If you’re in a position to buy good wedding wine yourselves, ask your venue if you can bring your own. Hotels and restaurants will almost always say no as this is one of their key revenue streams, but other places – particularly those which are weddings-only venues and work with outside caterers – might agree. 

Bringing your own will probably incur a corkage fee to cover service, glassware and breakages, usually applied per bottle, although it can be per person. If you’ve got the chance to get really decent Champagne at a good price, though, it may be worth paying corkage – equally, it could wipe out any savings you’ve made elsewhere. Recently, however, there’s been an increase in the number of venues actively promoting ‘no corkage’, so if this sounds appealing, add it to your criteria list when you’re venue hunting.

The trend for couples to personalise elements of their wedding has moved into drinks choices, too. ‘I believe 2020 and beyond will see couples choosing wines that mean something special to them,‘ says Sam Tyson from wine and Champagne club, Winebuyers. ‘So they might serve the wine they shared on their first date, or one that comes from a vineyard at one of their favourite holiday destinations – either way it will be a wine that tells a story.’

Choosing Your Bubbly

Champagne is as traditional as top hats and confetti at weddings, but it’s not the only fizz in the frame. Prosecco has long been Champagne’s more affordable, slightly sweeter cousin – and it’s particularly popular for cocktails such as Kir Royale or Aperol Spritz. Other sparklers are getting in on the cork-popping act too, with an increased interest in good-quality Spanish Cava (made by the same method as Champagne), Crémant (sparkling French wine made outside the designated Champagne region), plus brilliant British varieties. And a fabulous harvest in 2018 means some great English choices – perfect if you’re watching your green credentials.

‘English wine only has to travel a short distance to get to any wedding in the UK, so less transportation energy reduces its environmental impact,’ says Alex Rabagliati, winemaker from the Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex. ‘The quality is internationally recognised, too – we’re frequently beating our international counterparts in competition – and it’s the perfect accompaniment to seasonal, local produce. Generally, English wines share a style that’s suitable for summer, marquee weddings, which is to say fresh, floral, fruit-focused, light and easy drinking.’

Hythe Imperial Hotel Moet and Chandon Champagne Bar
Hythe Imperial Hotel Moet and Chandon Champagne Bar

Perfect for all palates

Whatever your menu choices, you’ll need wine to serve with them. Pairing it with food is important, obviously, but so is finding easy-drinking crowd-pleasers that everyone will like. Very tannic reds or sweet whites can divide opinion, so spend time talking and tasting with your planner or caterer.

Four of the most popular dishes at weddings are lamb, chicken, beef Wellington and baked salmon, so we asked wine aficionado Joanna Simon, co-founder of The Wine Gang and editor of Waitrose & Partners Drinks magazine, for some wedding wine recommendations…

With lamb… for reds, try a Rioja, a red Bordeaux or New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Lamb would also work with a dry rosé, or an oaked dry white Bordeaux.

With chicken… try a creamy Chenin Blanc or Chenin blend from South Africa for your white choice, or a fruity Beaujolais-Villages or Fleurie as the red.

With beef Wellington… consider a fruity, velvety Malbec from Argentina or a more savoury one from Cahors. For white drinkers, try an oaked Chardonnay from Australia or New Zealand.

With salmon… ideal whites include a classic French Chardonnay such as Mâcon-Villages or Pouilly-Fuissé or, for red, how about a light Pinot Noir from Alsace, Germany or New Zealand?

Wedding wine glasses

How do drinks packages work?

How do you know what to serve and how much? Alexandra Iceton, senior wedding & events coordinator at Nutfield Priory Hotel & Spa in Surrey, talks us through the key points…

Q What might a typical drinks package be?
‘Our most popular includes, per guest, two glasses of sparkling wine, Pimm’s, Mimosas or bottled beer. However, couples often upgrade to drinks such as a Bellinis, Champagne or mulled wine. For the reception, we include half a bottle of house wine per person plus sparkling wine for the toast.’

Q How can we judge the ratio of red to white wine to order for the meal?
‘It can be hard to predict quantities in advance. Personal preference, the type of dish being served, and the weather all play a part in whether guests choose red or white.’

Q What if one starts disappearing faster than the other? Can we make last-minute adjustments?
‘We serve all wines during the wedding breakfast, rather than just place the bottles of the tables, so we can keep an eye on how it’s going. We usually start with a 50:50 split at the side of the room, then switch the bottles according to what guests are drinking.’ 

Q: What happens once the drinks we’ve ordered start to run out? Some guests will always have more than two glasses of sparkling wine or half a bottle of wine!
‘We ask the couple prior to the day how they would like us to manage the drinks. Some tell us in advance that when the package allocation runs out, we revert to a cash bar, others prefer us to start a tab for them. Some just ask if they can make the decision on the day. If they have gone for the latter two options, then we will have extra drinks on ice, but we would only charge them for any extra bottles that are opened.’

Wedding wine

You do the maths…

A 75cl wine bottle will fill six 125ml glasses, while a standard bottle of fizz will fill six flutes generously, or partially fill eight glasses for a toast. When you’re ordering bubbly for the reception, include designated drivers in your calculations. Guests who are driving at the end of the evening often have their legal-limit drinks at the start of the party. And if they don’t, there’ll be plenty of others to drink their share!

Don’t be too strict about the number of drinks per head. Guests won’t know you’ve budgeted for two per person, and they often put their glass down, forget where, and take another. Work out what wedding wine you think you need and add a few bottles for luck, and always over-order – you don’t want to run out.