The arrival of summer means the arrival of wedding season. For many couples, the walk down the aisle is less daunting than planning the reception.
Big or small? What's the budget? Who gets invited? Will your family be offended if your crazy uncle is asked to stay home?
With so many decisions, it's no wonder most couples ask their caterer to select the wines. Beware of such a move. While some caterers have great portfolios, most are guilty of outrageous markups on pedestrian wines.
Fortunately, selecting the perfect wines for your wedding doesn't have to be stressful or expensive. Here are five simple tips:
Many venues will let you bring your own wine and only charge a "corkage fee" for service and stemware. If this is an option, go for it. Carting in your own wine can save lots of money.
Earlier this year, two friends whose caterer wanted to charge $25 per bottle asked me for help. We inquired about corkage, and learned the caterer's fee was just $8 per bottle.
So we visited one of my favorite wine shops and selected four different wines that averaged out to about $9 each. By skipping the caterer's wines, my friends saved nearly $1,000.
If corkage isn't an option, don't be afraid to negotiate. Many caterers have wiggle room in their wine prices.
Under European Union trade laws, wine can only be sold as "Champagne" if it comes from the Champagne region of France and is made in the "traditional method," which is a very expensive process.
While real Champagne is a treat, it's quite expensive. Even "budget" options cost upwards of $35 per bottle. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable sparkling wines from regions outside Champagne.
Consider Cava, a delightful sparker from Spain that's produced just like Champagne, but using native Spanish grapes. Prosecco, a sparkling wine from Italy that tends to be a bit sweeter, is another option. Many top Cavas and Proseccos can be purchased for around $10 each.
After all, no one is going to ask if they're drinking "real" Champagne while toasting the bride and groom.
Napa Valley makes some exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. But it's nearly impossible to find a decent bottle for less than $25. Sonoma County's Russian River Valley produces some lovely Chardonnay, but most cost $20 or more.
Fortunately, the world is awash in affordable, great-tasting wine. Finding such wines is as easy as opening up your palate to unheralded regions.
While values are found outside the wine world's more popular regions, there's no sense in terrifying your guests. So avoid esoteric grape varieties and choose wines with wide appeal.
Washington State Merlot, for example, is always a great value. Other regions for affordable reds include Chile, France's Côtes du Rhône, and Italy's Chianti.
For whites, it's hard to go wrong with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or South African Chenin Blanc.
A rough rule of thumb? Stick to wines with easy-to-pronounce names. Guests won't be afraid of them.
Most couples consider multiple venues for their reception before deciding where to celebrate. Selecting your wines might not be as important, but the process is typically more fun.
If you're looking for one white and one red, try to sample at least five or six of each before making your decision. Serve everything blind, pouring the wines from paper bags to mask their prices and where they're from. Hopefully, you'll be pleasantly surprised and learn the least expensive option is your favorite.
Your wedding is a celebration, not a wine tasting. So stick to these five money-saving and stress-reducing tips, and have fun.