You’re planning your upcoming reception, and you have put countless hours into fine-tuning every aspect of your menu, from the cocktail hour canapés to the dessert bar petits fours. Now you are thinking about your wine, and for good reason; wine can elevate the meal, inspire memorable toasts, and fuel your dance party! It’s no wonder it has been an essential component of celebration rituals since the Greeks worshipped Dionysus. Here are tips for narrowing in on a perfect selection.
Remember the “4 S” Method
During your tasting, you can get a much fuller picture of the wine if you involve all of your senses. Learn this quick system to taste like the pros:
Step One: “See”
Hold your glass up to the light and take a good close look at the liquid inside. Is it a pale, delicate straw, or a rich, vibrant gold? A deeper color may mean an older wine. Does it have as much clarity as the rock on your finger? If it’s a little hazy, it may be unfiltered. Is it coating the inside of your glass? If so, it might have a little more sugar or higher alcohol content. We can tell so much about a wine just by looking at it.
Step Two: “Swirl”
Take your glass and place it on a flat surface, then make tiny little circles with the base. You’ll see the liquid start to swish around. The goal is to get oxygen incorporated into the wine! The purpose of this is to start to release all the magical aromas that are locked in the glass.
Step Three: “Sniff”
Hold your nose above the glass and inhale deeply. The aromas in wine can be as varied and nuanced as your favorite fragrance. While the human tongue can only taste five things—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and “umami”—the nose can pick up billions of different olfactory sensations. Does the wine smell like fruit, herbs, or flowers? Leather or honey? Wet stones or fresh cut grass? With enough practice, you will begin to pick up all of these various notes.
Step Four: “Sip”
This, of course, is everyone’s favorite step. When you sip the wine, pay attention to not only how it tastes, but also how it feels in your mouth. Does it have a rich and creamy mouthfeel, or is it zingy and bright? If it makes your mouth water, it has a high acidity, which is ideal for pairing with food. After you swallow, pay attention to the “finish”—that’s a fancy way of saying “aftertaste.” Is it still lingering on your palate, echoing waves of flavor long after that sip? The longer the finish, the higher the quality of the wine.
Pay Attention to Size
When tasting Champagne (or other sparkling wines like cava or prosecco), size does matter: bubble size, that is! The secret is that higher-quality sparklers have smaller bubbles. Think about Perrier bubbles vs. Pellegrino bubbles vs. club soda. We want the light, effervescent, tiny bubbles of the Perrier variety for the ultimate in sparkling satisfaction.
Keep the Season in Mind
Wine is all about context. The appropriate wine for a holiday-themed ski lodge wedding might not be as fitting for your summer garden party fête. While it’s important to choose wines that are a reflection of you as a couple, they need to fit the occasion. Go for fresher, lighter-bodied wines for summer—pretty, delicate reds like pinot noir and vibrant, aromatic whites like riesling or sauvignon blanc would be perfect. Fall and winter can handle richer and heartier varieties such as chardonnay or viognier for whites, or cabernet sauvignon and syrah for your reds.
Consider Your Cuisine
In the food and wine world, we have a saying: “What grows together, goes together.” So, if you’re serving a classical and refined French meal, French wines such as Sancerre—a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley—or a Burgundian pinot noir would be a natural fit. If your celebration is more of the backyard barbecue style, fun American wines like California zinfandel and Oregon pinot gris are a great way to extend the theme.
Think About Your Guests
This is a key rule for any great host. While you want everything about your wedding to be a reflection of you and your intended, it’s so important to make your guests comfortable. You two might have an adventurous palate with a taste for super-funky wines from obscure growing regions or avant-garde producers, but if your guests are more conservative and traditional drinkers, strive to find wines that are crowd-pleasing. For example, if your future mother-in-law drinks only Napa Valley merlot, it might be a nice gesture to include that in your beverage menu. Your attendees will appreciate your efforts to make them feel welcome.