WINE OBSERVED: Weighing the options: Planning a wedding or celebration? Here’s how you can find a wine that will please a number of different palates and complement a wide variety of foods
Here is something to think about as you plan your wedding (or other gathering, for that matter): What wine will you serve at your reception? If you are having the reception at an inn or managed property, you might be limited to buying your wine directly through them or paying a per-bottle corkage fee for what you supply yourself.
Even if you are paying a $20 per bottle corkage fee, you can often do better supplying your own wine. You’ll have something that you like and, if there are leftovers, something to help remind you of your shared celebration.
Here are some guidelines for choosing wine for your special day. They will allow you to select “common denominator” wines: those that will accommodate a broad range of palates and complement a variety of foods.
Weight refers to fullness in the mouth and the richness of the wine, and is generally a function of the amount of alcohol. Since sugar is converted to alcohol through fermentation, the higher the sugar content of the grapes, the higher the percentage of alcohol in the resultant wine.
Higher alcohol levels are expressed in both taste (sweeter) and texture (fuller or weightier). Some people are used to the very full wines of ripe regions like California and Australia. Often these folks drink only red wine because they do not like the seeming “lightness” of white wines, which frequently are lower alcohol.
Weight also affects food pairing. If you select something massive for your red wine (14.5–15%) alcohol, it is likely to overwhelm at least some of the food — unless you are only serving nearly raw red meats!
To acknowledge the efforts of the caterer, you will probably need to tone down the alcohol level. And given that some people will drink multiple glasses, you might want to choose wine that falls in the 13.5–14% range.
Wine flavors range from very earthy to very fruity. To some extent, this is a function of ripeness. If the fruit is mature when it is picked, it is sweeter, with fruitier flavors.
Most people enjoy a healthy dollop of fruit, from citrus, apple, pear, or melon in white wines to cherry, strawberries, dark berries, or plum in red wines.
Grapes contain acid, and depending on these may produce wines that are tart or even sour. One way to prevent undesirable off-flavors is to allow the wine to undergo malolactic fermentation.
In this process, the naturally occurring malic acids — similar to those in green apples — are converted to lactic acids, like those found in milk. The difference affects both texture and flavor.
The conversion process creates a compound, diacetyl, which makes butter taste like butter. Wines that taste of butter or butterscotch have undergone some degree of malolactic fermentation. The texture, or mouthfeel, of a wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation is creamy or round, like butter.
Almost all red wines undergo full malolactic fermentation, since most people do not care for tart or acidic red wines. For white wines, however, good acidity is often a desirable property since it can generate a sense of freshness.
While some people love that butter-butterscotch flavor, others find it off-putting. A white wine that has undergone 100% malolactic fermentation might leave a cloying coat in the mouth, in effect masking or at least muting the flavors of your food. Unless you have very rich, buttery foods like a traditional lobster dish, you probably want something with no or only partial malolactic fermentation for your white wine.
Tannins are polymers that exist in the skins, seeds, and stems. Unlike red wines, which allow the juice to macerate with the skins and stems, white wines are produced by separating the juice from those components so that color does not bleed into it, resulting in many fewer tannins.
Tannins influence the texture or mouthfeel of the wine. Tannic wines are described as astringent when they feel rather rough or coarse in the mouth, leaving a drying sensation on the finish that finds you reaching for your water glass to rehydrate your mouth — a property that a lot of people do not like.
The effect of a tannic wine can be offset in part by pairing it with foods with very high fat content, like cheeses, that coat the mouth and provide a layer between the tannins and your mouth. It is probably best, however, to choose red wines with low or soft tannins.
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You should be able to find some very strong candidates in the $12-$15 per bottle price range, wines from both white and red grapes which should provide broad popular appeal and complement a wide range of foods.
Try a few within each category, since you will find a lot of variation by producer.