by Christina Andrews
Sparkling wine is one of the most important beverages on your wedding day. Its place in the order of things is in celebrating age-old traditions, creating an aura of elegance and luxury, adding aesthetic beauty to the day, providing a delicious and invigorating twist to the bar and dinner table, and sparkling wine perfectly offset the rich, decadent foods one enjoys on special occasions. Its importance cannot be overestimated!
A common question is: “What distinguishes Champagne from sparkling wine?” The short answer is that it depends on the region in which the sparkling wine is produced. Only the French get to use the word “Champagne” on their labels. That is the rule. Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne.
However, that does not mean that the same méthode champenoise and grape varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) are not used elsewhere. In California’s Napa Valley, for instance, three of France’s top Champagne houses produce identical-to-Champagne sparkling wine products. Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros and Mumm Napa Valley use traditional French techniques and varietals to produce some of the finest and most popular domestic sparkling wines in the United States. And there are a plethora of other sparkling wine labels that are highly regarded coming out of California, Washington State, Oregon and New York State. Look anywhere for sparkling wine, whether it’s at your local grocery store or online, and you’ll find a huge selection of intriguing, high-quality domestic options that won’t break the bank.
Keep in mind that you can now find sparkling wines emanating from every wine-producing corner of the world. Consider selecting labels from regions in which you have personally traveled or lived. This is a nice way to offer guests a taste of your life experiences as a couple.
You might also consider offering specialty sparkling wines that will appeal to older guests and those who do not have a palette for, say, a dry brut rosé of Pinot Noir. Sweet sparkling wines to consider include sparkling Moscato, which is bright and sweet with flavors of peach and orange; sparkling Gewürztraminer with aromas of spice and exotic fruit; Prosecco with its fresh, fruity, flowery aroma and light bubbles; and Cava with a light sweetness and subtle citrus and quince/apple notes.
Note: Moscato and Gewürztraminer are decidedly sweeter than nearly any of the other sparkling varietals. For guests requesting “sweet” wine at the bar, either of these two will do the trick. Know also that most French and domestic sparkling wine houses offer variations on their bubbles that feature a sweeter, more approachable flavor profile (look for “demi-sec” or off-dry in the description).
Italian Prosecco is the ideal beverage for the bride and bridesmaids as they do their preparations on the wedding day. It is reasonably priced, and excellent variations can be found most anywhere. Prosecco is delicious straight up and in mimosas (see simple recipe below). And Prosecco is a perfect accompaniment to breakfast and picnic foods, be they salty and rich or light and fruity. If you’re hosting a post-wedding day brunch, you might consider serving Prosecco (or cava) for that as well.
Punctuating Your Wedding Day With Sparkling Wines
Pre-Ceremony Welcome Reception
Sparkling wines are perfect for welcoming guests pre-ceremony. For spring weddings, consider a sparkling rosé for its beautiful color and light, refreshing flavor. A blanc de blancs is wonderful for the fall with its subtle essence of apple, while a crisp, cold brut is great for a hot summer day.
Post-Ceremony Cocktail/Wine Reception
Some guests will prefer to drink sparkling wines throughout the evening, so consider making them available at the bar. Immediately after the ceremony, offer tray-passed glasses of sparkling and non-sparkling wines, simple cocktails and long-neck beers. This will satiate guests after a long sit and prevent a pileup at the bar.
At Dinner: First Course and Toasts
Sparkling wine is great to pair with first courses that are creamy and buttery, have mushrooms, smoked salmon or seafood, and it is also fantastic with risotto. And, of course, you’ll want to serve sparkling wine to everyone for the obligatory speeches and toasts (which are typically at the beginning of the meal). It is best to have Champagne or sparkling wine pre-poured at the table immediately prior to seating your guests to prevent disrupting conversation and eating or causing a delay in the food service (or the start of speeches). Know that the pouring of sparkling wine can be time-consuming when done properly. If you are expecting it to be poured quickly between courses at a large event, plan to fork out extra bucks for the waitstaff needed to make that possible.
Though you should always consult your chef when choosing a wine for dessert, a crisp, dry sparkling wine pairs well with chocolate. Sometimes, however, the dessert course is a good spot for a reprieve from alcohol and the perfect time to insert coffee and tea service instead.
Post-Dinner & Dance Reception
Keep tasty sparkling wines flowing at the bar for the remainder of the evening. On the wedding day, some guests will want to drink sparkling wine until the evening’s big send-off.
How to Serve Champagne and Sparkling Wine
There are three basic types of stemware traditionally used for serving sparkling wines: the coupe glass, the flute and the tulip glass. In a pinch, a white wine glass will also do the trick. Tulip glasses are especially good as the shape accentuates the aromatics and allows more room for the bubbles. They are also beautiful! These are currently the go-to glass for sommeliers.
Champagne coupes have a vintage appeal and can be fun to use as a decorative element, but as you can imagine, the beverage warms easily in this vessel and bubbles dissipate quickly. They are, however, visually irresistible. Perhaps reserve them for the sweetheart and head tables.
Flutes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are the most common glass for serving sparkling wine. You can’t go wrong with these unless you select the stemless variation, which will make the wine warm in no time flat (pun intended). Sparkling wines are best enjoyed chilled and thus need to stay that way for the duration of the drinking experience. Stems are desirable.
Any quality event rentals company will be able to offer a variety of stemware, some of it in service of the fine wines you are serving, others that are vanity stemware (e.g., colored glass or shapes that are evocative but not necessarily well-scaled for the beverages being served). If you are serious about serving fine wines, you should also be serious about your stemware. For the full experience, guests need to see and properly smell the wines. Ideally, choose the highest-quality stemware for dinner, where wines are carefully paired with each course. At the bar, choose standard stemware that shares the stylistic features of the rest of the barware.
Riedel glassware is available through most rental companies, and it is highly regarded by sommeliers for all wine service. It also has a classic profile that will set off the most elegant table settings. At the bar, where a large quantity of stemware will be needed to meet the needs of the evening, Libby makes sturdy, attractive wine glasses and flutes offered at lower rates through most rental companies.
How Much to Order?
Your licensed beverage service and/or caterer will be able to assist you in determining the number of bottles needed for serving wines throughout the evening. The proper serving size for wine, sparkling or not, is six pours per bottle. Sparkling wines are poured two-thirds of the way to the top of the glass, both for optimal taste and so that the wine consumed is cold from start to finish.
When sparkling wine is served for toasts, calculate eight pours per bottle to avoid waste (many guests will not drink sparkling wine during dinner except for the toast), which is approximately half a flute. In preparation for your beverage planning meeting, come with an idea of how many guests might be drinking sparkling wine occasionally and how many might enjoy it as their main alcoholic beverage. Also determine in advance where exactly you want to serve sparkling wine throughout the evening.
For the bar, select several sparkling wines with varying characteristics: one that is crisp and dry, one that is sweet and one with unique visual appeal (a sparkling rosé, for example). The sparkling wine served at dinner should be a classic, like a “prestige brut,” and this same wine should carry through to the dessert course. Choose something with universal appeal that is also well-suited to fine dining (as opposed to lighter, inexpensive wines).
How to Select Sparkling Wines
During the planning process generally, make the choosing of things enjoyable. Get ideas from friends, family, your planner and your chef as to what wines they like or find intriguing. Order them, try them on their own, try them with food, share them with friends … get to know your wines. And in the process, discover what the two of you love.
As you settle on specific brands, or perhaps a label that has the range of products to cover all bases, consider joining their wine clubs. You’ll enjoy the expertise of a dedicated wine club representative, learn about special sales, and you will receive substantial discounts on your purchases. Wines can be shipped directly to your caterer or licensed beverage service. Though most venues and caterers charge a corkage fee for outside wines, the discount you get through a wine club is typically substantial enough to make it worth buying your own. And often the wines you prefer may not be part of the beverage catering service’s lineup.
Best Domestic Sparkling Wines
Schramsberg Vineyards, Napa Valley
Roederer Estate, Napa Valley
Domaine Chandon, Napa Valley
Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine, Napa Valley
Frank Family Vineyards, Napa Valley
Iron Horse Vineyards, Napa Valley
J Vineyards, Russian River, Sonoma County
Domaine Carneros, Carneros District, Napa County
Gloria Ferrer, Carneros District, Sonoma County
Karma Vineyards, Washington State
Domaine Ste. Michelle, Washington State
Treveri Cellars, Washington State
AGO, Washington State
Mumm, Napa Valley
Amista Vineyards, Napa Valley
Carboniste, Sonoma County
Rack & Riddle, Sonoma County
Breathless Wines, Sonoma County
Favorite French Champagnes (that are readily available in the United States) Veuve Clicquot, Reims
Moët & Chandon, Épernay
Nicolas Feuillatte, Épernay
Dom Pérignon, Marne Valley
Superb Sweet Sparkling Wines
Cava and Prosecco
Satisfying Nonalcoholic Sparkling Wines
Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider and Juices (hands down the best nonalcoholic option)