A Guide to Wedding Wine and Spirits

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Barn Reception -- Geoff White Photographers
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Bouquet Toss – Bishop Photography
Wontons - Anna Kuperberg Photography
Reception Hall - Geoff White Photographers
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A Guide to Wedding Wine and Spirits

Wine. The drink as old as civilization itself. Serving wine at your wedding reception as a complement to food, or during the cocktail hour can set a tone for the celebration.

The amount of alcohol consumed at a wedding reception varies widely. You know your guests, and you know best how much they are likely to drink. Will they choose liquor or do you think they'll go for wine and beer? In most weddings, the crowd is multi-generational, and as a result, you'll probably have a range of preferences. The surest predictor of the amount to purchase is the time of day you've chosen for the reception. Much less alcohol will be consumed at a morning reception than at a late afternoon or evening event.

Considering that there will be those in attendance who will not drink alcohol, it's safe to estimate that the crowd will consume one drink per person per hour, or about five drinks over the course of the evening. Considering that your guests will probably be driving home after the event, it's in everyone's interest that the drinking not exceed that one-per-hour rate.

How many drinks does each bottle contain?


Of course this depends on the size of the glasses, but here are a few standards.

  • A bottle of Champagne fills 6 glasses (8 if the flutes are narrow)
  • A bottle of wine fills 5 glasses
  • A 1 liter bottle of liquor makes about 18 drinks

How many bottles in a case?


A case of wine contains 12 bottles.
A case of beer contains 24 bottles or cans.

What makes up a full bar?


If you decide to have a full bar, here's an estimate of how much you'll need per hundred guests.

Standard Contents of a Full Bar Quantities We Suggest You Order (per 100 guests)
Beer 2 cases
White wine 1.5 cases
Red wine 1 case
Champagne 1.5 cases
Vodka 6 liters
Gin 3 liters
Sweet vermouth 2 bottles
Dry vermouth 2 bottles
Scotch 3 liters
Bourbon 2 liters
Whiskey 2 liters
Rum 2 liters
Tequila 1 liter

Specialty liqueurs such as cognacs and aperitifs are a luxury at any wedding, and could add to the bar bill significantly. Chances are, if these drinks are not on display at the bar, they won't be requested.

How can I save money on the bar bill?


The amount you pay for the alcohol at your reception depends on the location you choose, and the arrangements you make with the management.

Hotels, Clubs and Restaurants
Most places used to hosting wedding receptions will offer the standard bar content, similar to that listed above, including several different choices of wine and beer. If there are specific wines or Champagne you wish to serve, ask the establishment if they can special order it for you. Expect a special fee for special orders. If this is not possible and you bring in your own cases of wine, they will generally charge you a corkage fee per bottle. Beware! The corkage fee can add significantly to your eventual bill. Inform the management that about half way through the reception, the groom or a groomsman would like to check on the amount that has been served. This will help you gauge the consumption and let the management know that someone's paying attention.
Independent Locations
If the reception is taking place at an independent location such as a home or hall without restaurant and bar facilities, your alcohol costs will generally be quite a bit lower. You will be able to hunt for a bargain or work something out with the owner of your favorite liquor or wine store. The owners will often give you a substantial discount for buying in bulk.

Which brands should I look for?


When you stock the bar, think about the brands that are most likely to satisfy the greatest number of guests. Again, you know your guests. If your family is flying in from the highlands of Scotland, you may want to substitute a single malt for that Kentucky bourbon, but generally, standard bar fare will go over just fine. On the wine front, there is a far greater opportunity to make choices based on your personal preferences.

Choosing wine with a budget in mind
Choosing wine can be a fun part of your wedding planning process. Find several bottles in your price range, gather some friends for dinner and have a wine tasting to select your favorites. Once you've made your choices, your friendly wine storeowner may offer you a deal for buying in bulk. If they don't have the wine you like in stock, they can order it for you usually within a couple of weeks. You may wish to contact specific vineyards whose wine you enjoy and find out the cost of ordering directly from them. This is no guarantee of a lower price, but it's worth a try. If you live in a wine-producing region, local wines may be available at a good price.

Some tips


The year 1995 was a wonderful year worldwide for wines, both white and red. In the moderate price ranges, you are more likely to find a tasty wine if it was produced in that banner year.
There are several quality wines available in 1.5 liter bottles. These larger bottles will help to stretch your budget. Unfortunately, not many vineyards choose to use bottles of this size.
Choosing wine from countries that have become established here only recently can be a real money saver - countries such as Australia, Chile and South Africa. Contrary to popular belief, these countries are not newcomers to wine production. Some vines in South Africa date from the 1600's and hundred year old vines are not uncommon in Chile and Australia. These countries offer absolutely top quality, award winning wines at bargain prices. Ask your wine seller for a few recommendations. Meanwhile, here are a few varieties available at very reasonable prices:
Red Wines
  • Buena Vista, 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon - California. Full bodied.
  • Rosemount Estate, Shiraz - Australia. Peppery, spicy and dry.
  • Bridgeview, 1994 Reserve Pinot Noir - Oregon. Smooth and light.
  • Col-di-Sasso 1996 Sangiovese/Cabernet blend - California. Full and dry.
White Wines
  • Dry Creek Chardonnay - California. Crisp and dry.
  • Meridian 1997 Gewürztraminer - California. Luscious and sweet.
  • Sokol Blosser 1998 White Riesling - Oregon. Light and fruity.
  • Three Chardonnay values offered in the 1.5 liter size
  • Napa Ridge
  • Summit
  • Robert Mondavi Woodbridge
Champagnes
  • Paul Cheneau Blanc de Blancs Brut
  • Korbel Brut
Cheers!

See More: Catering , Receptions