How To Choose Affordable (But Still Great) Wines For Your Wedding

It's easier than you think.

October 23, 2018

By Dominika Lirette

Choosing the perfect wines for your wedding that will not only please your guests, but also fit your budget can feel like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be (unless all of your friends happen to be sommeliers). “I don’t think you have to overcomplicate things,” says Stephen Ward, visitor experience manager at the new Great Estates Wine Experience Centre in Penticton. “The best thing is to select one red and one white that is going to basically serve the full purpose of the evening.” After that, you can throw the rest into the “extra” category.

When it comes to selecting a red and a white, Ward recommends choosing wines that are easy drinking across the board with or without food. “A lot of people are big wine drinkers, but they just want a glass of wine. They don’t need something that’s big and bold and has a lot of attitude,” says Ward. “People want a wine that they can enjoy. And they’re not always thinking food, so I think you want to look at those approachable wines that service a wider audience.”

Stephen Ward, visitor experience manager at the Great Estates Wine Experience Centre.

For white wine, the best place to start is with a sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio. Meanwhile for reds, think pinot noir or merlot. “It’s something people can sit and enjoy before dinner, throughout the meal and after,” says Ward. “They’re just really approachable and nobody is going to be offended. And you can spend $12.99 to $400 if you want.”

When it comes to how much to purchase, a general rule of thumb Ward has is to budget half a bottle of wine for each guest. “The wedding couple knows their audience better than anyone else,” says Ward. However, in his experience, weddings with guests mostly between the ages of 19 and 35 tend to have more beer drinkers than weddings with guests mostly between ages 30 and 60.

Pro Tip: Have servers pour the wine instead of leaving bottles on the table. Couples get more length out of the wine and fewer bottles are left wasted.

Lastly, even though you want to choose a wine that’s enjoyable on its own, you still want to consider how it will pair with your menu (especially when catering takes up so much of your budget). Ward has some good-value recommendations for budget-conscious couples at price points that are much easier to swallow than that corked red wine that’s been sitting in your pantry for three months.

Food and Wine Pairings

Veggies

For a vegetarian dish packed with nicely grilled veggies, Ward recommends a sauvignon blanc, and for roasted vegetables with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing, a pinot noir.

Sauvignon blanc
Jackson Triggs ($13)

Pinot noir
Kim Crawford ($23)

Chicken

“It comes down to what are you serving with it as far as the sauce goes,” says Ward. For roasted or fried chicken, a chardonnay will pair well. For chicken with capers, lemon and olive oil, go with a pinot grigio. And for the classic hotel-style chicken breast with mushroom sauce, a pinot noir.

Chardonnay 
Alamos  ($16)

Pinot noir
See Ya Later Ranch ($20)

Pasta

If you’re serving a cream-based pasta, chardonnay or pinot grigio are your best bets. For a red, try a chianti or pinot noir.  For a tomato-based pasta that’s got some “real attitude to it” – a bigger bolder chianti or a merlot with some punch, or a richer, more earthy-style pinot noir. And for a simpler pasta with an olive-oil based sauce, go with a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.

Pinot grigio
Ruffino Lumina ($15)
Pinot Noir
Santa Carolina ($14)

Spicy Food

For spicy dishes like butter chicken you’ll want sweeter options like a riesling or gewürztraminer. “The spicier your dish the sweeter you want your wine to be,” says Ward. Wild Goose Vineyards has a white blend called Autumn Gold that is a great option. “It has just that little bit of residual, but it’s got some really bright fruit which is really enjoyable,” says Ward. “It’s something that services dinner, but if they want to continue drinking it afterward, it’s a great bottle of wine as well.” For a red, try a zinfandel.

Riesling
Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl ($20)
Zinfandel
Ravenswood Vintners Blend ($16)

Steak

For steak you need a wine “that’s got some attitude.” If you’re doing a prime rib or just grilled steaks, go with a big bold cab, or a red meritage from the Okanagan or California. But if  the dish has a peppercorn sauce that’s accompanying it, Ward recommends a zinfandel or a bolder style shiraz. And for those white-wine-only drinkers, a new world Chardonnay (one with bolder oak and butter components).

Chardonnay
Chateau St Jean ($20)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Angus The Bull ($20)

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