Wedding Wine Guide: A Q&A with Buyer Sarah Knowles MW

A Master of Wine and our buyer for Champagne and spirits, not to mention Italy and North America too, Sarah shares her thoughts on the right bottles for the big day.

Wedding wines

What wedding wines are most popular at the moment?

English sparkling wine is gathering in popularity as the fizz of choice for toasting the bride and groom, and I suspect in this platinum jubilee year this trend will continue. That said, Prosecco has just had a wonderful vintage in 2021 and the wines have never looked as good, so I suspect this trend will continue too.

For wedding wines in 2022 and into 2023, I suspect the practice of offering rosé wine as well as a white and red will continue, with south of France wines being the most popular, but with great value to be found in Italy and Spain too. Greek white wines and Italian red wines are also starting to appear on more wedding tables as these naturally food-friendly styles offer an alternative to the more classic French staples.

Wedding cocktails are also on trend, pioneered by Pimms, but with white Port and tonic or vermouth and soda, with fragrant herbal and citrus garnishes hot on the heels for a more individual and food-friendly take.

How do you begin to choose which wines to buy and serve?

Choosing wines for a wedding can be tricky for many reasons. Trying to select wines that will potentially be served all day, with and without food, and to a wide range of guests with individual tastes can mean that couples opt for wines that they know will be crowd pleasing.

A great way to select wines is to order a case, invite the wedding party over, and try the wines together. Making a fun evening out of the decision can add to the whole wedding and garnering various family and friends’ opinions may also help.

You could also taste with an expert to help guide you. For example, The Wine Society offers tastings at our Showroom in Stevenage to couples looking for the right wines. This sort of service can really help widen the wine styles you consider.

To get around the issue of trying to please all my guests at my own wedding, I opted for two whites and two reds, putting all four wines on the tables so that my guests could make their own choice between differing styles. I was able to do this safe in the knowledge that The Wine Society would accept a proportion of returned stock on wedding orders.

Also, don’t forget sweet wines and fortified wines. We had Port with cheese in the evening, which I decanted into decanters bought at charity shops. Not everyone had a glass, but those that did had a really memorable moment in the evening and a great pairing!

I also went to a great wedding where the dessert was fresh strawberries and cream, and we all had a glass of moscato d’Asti – the perfect sweet sparkling match – and the glass that we could all also keep for the toasts (and the fact that it’s lower in alcohol may be a plus point too, particularly towards the end of the day!).

Finally, if you really do have a favourite wine, make sure you include it in your day. Mine was a particular Champagne and now, whenever my husband and I have it, we call it our ‘wedding wine’ and share an extra toast!

How much wine should you buy?

You know your guests! Make sure you account for those who might be driving or not drinking for any reason, as well as for children, but then also try and total up the amount of wine you really think your guests will drink. Opting for a bottle per head of red or white wine plus toasts might be a bit ambitious if you also have a bar serving beer, or G+Ts, or have a wedding cocktail, for example.

The Wine Society’s advisers can give great estimations of how much to buy if you let them know your numbers, and if you over order, you can always return full cases. The team can also let you know if the wines you have selected come in half or magnum-sized bottles, which could help.

Does price matter?

Weddings can cost a lot. The Wine Society offers wines at a huge range of price points from £6.25 all of which are endorsed by our expert buyers. There can be great value to be found under £10 and fantastic fine wines under £20. Price in itself doesn’t have to be the deciding factor in your selection of the wines, if you have a budget in mind then our advisors will be able to find the right wines for you.

At my own wedding, I really wanted Champagne for the toasts and for the initial post-ceremony drinks. However later in the afternoon, I swapped the Champagne out for a fantastic, but less-expensive, sparkling wine which went down a storm and saved us a little money! Also, within my two whites and two reds I had different prices covered so that the average bottle price suited our budget, but I could have a pair of wines above it, and a pair below.

Which styles of wine would you recommend pairing with each part of the day?

To start with, there is no right and wrong as to what to drink when, and with what at your own wedding. If you love red wine with fish, then do it: it’s your day. However, here are a few tips that helped me at my wedding:

  • Don’t forget a few bottles of good Champagne for the bride and groom’s rooms on the morning of the big day to sip with hair and makeup, and of course for any photos!
  • We then had Champagne (and cups of tea) served immediately after the vows which really set the pace for the afternoon
  • As we had the photos, and guests waited for the wedding breakfast, we had Champagne, white wine and G+Ts available, along with plenty of chilled water and flavours of San Pellegrino available for those not drinking. We also made our speeches and had the various toasts before the food – and while most guests still had their flutes in hand.
  • At the ‘breakfast’ we had two whites – a super-fresh Loire sauvignon blanc wine and a richer Kiwi chardonnay – along with two reds – a juicy southern Rhône option and a more structured Rioja reserva – open on the tables with a little tasting menu that I printed so that guests could help themselves to the one they fancied or to all four over the course of the meal.
  • After the meal, we had a fuller Argentine red and a crisp Italian white wines at the bar along with any leftover fizz from earlier and a keg of local golden ale, which all went well with the evening bacon baps!
  • We also had two areas set out with our favourite food and wine pairings – an Old Fashioned with jam doughnuts, and Port and cheese.
  • Throughout the day we had tea and coffee also available, as many of my family would really rather a cuppa than most other options(!), but I also tucked away a particularly special whisky for my husband and his friends as a surprise at the end of the night.

Really, my best advice would be to think of the various sections of your wedding, and not be scared to change the drinks as you go, to create different moods for your guests. You are in charge of the day, and generally your friends and family want to get involved in the whole day and if wines and drinks are important to you, as they are to me, you can entertain your guests using them throughout the day.

Also don’t feel the pressure to offer a full bar if you are unable to use the venue’s own. Limiting the choices to those that you like, so long as there is a good range of soft options, is fine for your big day.

Would you recommend serving Champagne or sparkling?

I would definitely advise including a fizz on your big day as nothing says celebration quite so much as sparkling wine. If your budget allows, there is no getting away from it, Champagne is delicious. However, it’s not the be all and end all. If you have a large guest list or are working to a tighter budget there are some fantastic sparkling wines available.

As mentioned, Prosecco has just had a brilliant vintage and the wines are singing. French Crémant can offer a Champagne-like sophisticated style, and Cava wines shouldn’t be forgotten as an example like The Society’s Cava arguably offers the best value of any fizz.

Whatever you choose to serve, try to make sure the venue really chill it down before serving – as so often this is really the difference between weddings where a warm toast – however good the wine – can be a little disappointing.

How do you decide what matches well with the food you’re serving?

There are lots of theories when matching wine with food and some great advice online including our own site. However, if you have some personal favourites, go with that: again, it’s your day. If not, though, when tasting your wine options at home, perhaps think of cooking the main ingredient from your menu to pair alongside – see what you think works best.

If looking for bespoke professional advice, our Showroom team will also have great recommendations if you share your menu with them ahead of the tasting they can arrange (feel free to then also bring along a little finger food if you want!).

The other simple advice is often to pair food with wines from the same region so if having duck, think south-west France, for example.

How can you make more sustainable choices when choosing your wedding wines?

Sustainability is important but making the most sustainable choice for your wedding can be hard. Small things you could do are look to wines in lighter-weight bottles, or wines that have been bottled in the UK, both of which will have savings on CO₂ emissions in transport and manufacture.

Working with reputable growers may also ensure that you are working with winemakers that care deeply for their team and are fair employers. Some regions are also better certified than others with 90+% of New Zealand’s wines being certified as produced sustainably. Though the wines have travelled a long way, they are shipped by large sea container and are not actually as bad in CO₂ emissions as you might think. Most wines from Italy are also shipped by train, which offers a significant carbon saving compared to road freight, whereas, of course, choosing ‘local’ wines from our great English wine selection could also help from a sustainability position.

What wine makes the best wedding gift?

I have often given friends and family a case of Champagne for their wedding, with a card that I once received that said that ‘you need to keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge at all times so that when you next have a moment to celebrate the bubbles are already chilled!’

I so loved the idea, that I stole it, and have used it many times; sometimes also sending half bottles of wine, cases of sparkling wine, or the couples’ own fizz if I have known it (so that it’s their ‘special’ wedding wine).

Wine and spirits can also be a great gift for family and friends who have helped particularly towards your big day. The right bottle of malt whisky, gin, rosé, chardonnay or pinot noir for the right person can show that you have taken note of their favourite tipple and thought of them on your big day, and also gives them something to take away and toast you with at a later date.

Wedding favours can be a minefield, but have you thought about making your own sloe gin or rhubarb vodka…?

Finally, a thoughtful gift for the couple in question, or key family members, might be membership of The Wine Society – £40 for a lifetime share, with a £20 credit off their first purchase, it is something longer term that might really hit the spot.

What can you serve for guests who do not drink alcohol?

There are non-alcoholic wines now available – we list a great sparkling one from the producers of our Society’s Champagne.

However, think about cloudy apple juices or elderflower cordials, perhaps pop by a cash and carry for a tray of fancy soft drinks or flavoured tonic waters.

A simple way to offer an Instagram-ready soft drink is to add a signature garnish to beautiful jugs or carafes of iced water such as pink grapefruit, lemon and blood orange slices, springs of mint and pomegranate seeds, wild rosemary, cucumber slices or summer red berries. And don’t forget tea and coffee!

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