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Advice from Wine Expert Stephane Colling

Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2012

Stephane Colling

Food and Beverage Director

Known for Wowing diners and top chefs (Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon among them) with his sophisticated wine lists
Where to Find Him San Ysidro Ranch, California (

Host a prewedding wine-tasting party. If hiring a sommelier is cost prohibitive, couples should simply head to the best wine store in town and say, "We're getting married, and this is our budget. What do you recommend?" Buy a few of their suggestions, and then invite friends over to test them.

Always consider the season. The food that will be on plates should be a major influence on your wine selections. For example, at a fall wedding, you might serve meals that are a bit richer than what you'd eat at a summer affair, so a wine with more body is a better fit.

The old food-and-wine pairing faux-pas are outdated. Twenty years ago there were all kinds of taboos about what can and can't be served with what. Nowadays, however, nothing is set in stone. I'd be very happy seeing a light red wine such as a pinot noir next to my halibut, or a chardonnay with a chicken entree.

You'll need one bottle for every three guests per course. This is a safe bet. Better to overshoot than leave guests thirsty. Few stores accept returns, so just save the surplus for future parties.

Sub in a sparkling wine for Champagne. It's less expensive, and you can find great ones from Napa. Or, go for Prosecco from Italy. Both are great in cocktails like kir royales. I like those by Bisson and Sorelle Bronca.

So-called second-label wine is another way to cut costs. Many winemakers produce a separate line that's not aged as long as their grand vins, or is made using fruit from younger vines. The standards are still high and the quality exceptional, but the price can be 25 percent lower -- sometimes far more. For example, if you love Mouton Rothschild, consider Mouton Cadet, which is a fraction of the cost.

Target regions known for producing quality wines at lower prices. Wines from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Slovenia, and even New York's Long Island offer great value. Greek wines, like Assyrtiko, are also coming up. The industry is going global, so there are now options that didn't exist a decade ago. You'll save roughly $10 a bottle for basically the same wine by venturing off the beaten path, and your guests get to try something new.

Throughout your wedding, drive home the point that the drinks you're serving have a special meaning to you as a couple. You could include a line on the menu about how you came to know each wine or Champagne and what makes it special to the two of you. When my wife and I got married, each bottle was close to our hearts because it had been made by a friend. Before each course, the winemaker got up and spoke for a few minutes about what happened during the vintage, the experience of making it, and what the blend was if it was a blend. So one or both of you could say a few words about each drink to keep it personal.

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