Perfect Wine Pairings for Your Reception

Peter Tonguette
Saacha Mohammed and Spencer Matthews share a toast with their wedding party.

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2019.

When choosing among wines to be served at a wedding, many couples first consider how well a particular glass pairs with a given meal. What goes best with prime rib? Should vegetarian lasagna take a red or a white? What about airline chicken?

Such considerations are important, but several Central Ohio wine experts say that there are other, more important matters to take into account when curating a wine list. For starters, who’s coming to celebrate with you on your big day?

Paolo Rosi, the vintner at Via Vecchia Winery, says that accommodating your guests’ tastes is more important than being matchy-matchy with meals.

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“Most wines will go with most foods,” Rosi says. “Nobody is going to be at your wedding thinking about the pairing and how this goes with it. People drink whiskey with their dinner, they drink gin, they drink Bacardi and Coke with their dinner. Weddings are ... different to a meal that’s designed around a wine.”

No less crucial, says Andrea Hoover, beverage director of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, is keeping key players happy.

“The most important thing to do when planning this would be first to look at what … both parents [like to drink], to appease both parties,” Hoover says.

Don’t let the season alone dictate your choices, either. Summer weddings should still play to the tastes of red wine lovers, and winter affairs should not neglect white wine fans.

Before deciding which bottles to stock, Rosi recommends putting your guests’ wishes ahead of your personal preference. Signature drinks and customized beer offerings are well and good, but they shouldn’t take precedence over wines likely to be enjoyed by the party as a whole.

“You’ve got all these guests of a diverse range, and whereas you might like your Pernod and black [cocktail] or your Newcastle Brown Ale, and you want to bring in kegs and gallons of the stuff, you may be the only people drinking it,” Rosi says.

Adds Hoover: “If your father-in-law or your mother-in-law loves to drink a big-bodied red, or you have a massive Caymus fan, then you better have that.”

The experts say that allowances must be made for middle-of-the-road favorites. As Hoover sees it, a wedding consisting of about 500 people should include the requisite mix of red, white and sparkling wines, but also go a step further to accommodate what’s sure to be a wide range of tastes. “Maybe do a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which is definitely trending up right now,” Hoover says. “Then maybe have a full-bodied [cabernet] with your pinot.”

There are other safe bets that go above and beyond the basics.

“I would say a pinot grigio is just about right down the middle as you could ever be—it’s like the grilled cheese of white wine. ‘I know exactly what that is. I’m comfortable. I know it, and I’m good,’” Hoover says.

For his part, Rosi points to a Cabernet blend from Italy that can do justice to an array of meals.

“We do a blend ... of sangiovese and pinot noir,” he says. “It’s a light wine, not much aftertaste to it, but if you look at where it comes from, it’s used to playing across a whole range of foods—sauces, chickens, roasts, summer fare and seafood pasta.”

If getting a perfect pairing is paramount to you and your betrothed, Rosi describes a Via Vecchia exclusive: a medium-bodied blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet franc that is exceedingly adaptable to a variety of dishes. “It won’t dominate your food,” he says. “If you’re paying a lot of attention to your food, and you want people to really appreciate the food, ... you don’t want a wine that overwhelms the delicacies in that.”

For example, the needs of vegetarian guests should be given top priority, as many wines can be ruined by a strong vegetable dish. “If you serve wines that are not vegan-friendly, you get that disappointment,” says Rosi, who suggests lighter wines for such circumstances. His suggestions include wines that complement “what they do to improve those dishes by way of vinegars and sauces and salts and other spices,” rather than the main ingredients themselves.

Despite the benefits of playing it safe, some couples might desire to leave a good impression among wannabe sommeliers in attendance. So how to make clear to your party that you know a thing or two about wine?

“Show them something unique,” Rosi says. “If you can find a unique wine, then that rings their bell and you’ve got people talking about your wedding. That’s something they didn’t expect, especially in Ohio.” The vintner points to baco noir, which he describes as a regional variety that offers a “rich alternative” to pinot noir.

And although food compatibility is not the be-all, end-all at a wedding, there is no denying that certain wines play particularly well with specific cuisines.

Hoover says that cava—a Spanish sparkling wine—contains sufficient acidity to cut through fattier dishes. And, contrary to the conventional “white wine with fish” pairing, a pinot noir makes good company for salmon and certain other seafood, though fans of white wines should consider a Chardonnay. “I enjoy an unoaked Chard [to] kind of pull the butteriness out of the salmon and utilize the unoaked portion of it to give it a little bit of a backbone,” she says.

If you’re wondering how much all of this wining and dining might cost, you’re not alone. Champagne—the Cadillac of sparkling wines—has come to be synonymous with the fizzy celebratory spirit of a wedding, but it comes at a price. “If you’re going way high, I love the Champagne Ruinart—it’s the oldest Champagne house in the world and it’s just beautiful,” Hoover says. “If you’re looking for the label recognition, of course, you have to go with Veuve [Clicquot].” Champagne’s high price point is due in part to the fact that only wines produced under specific conditions in the Champagne region of France can be called “Champagne” officially. Everything else is just a sparkling wine.

The good news: You don’t have to burn through your wallet to enjoy a bubbly group toast. Hoover says a good California brut would satisfy most taste buds without racking up a hefty bill. “It would be just as crowd-pleasing as if you had something delicious and French for ... someone who’s just having wine to be a part of the party, which I think I see a lot,” she says.

And that, in the end, is the purpose of sharing wine on such a special occasion: to celebrate among family and friends. “Everyone says, ‘This is your wedding and you do what you want to do,’” Hoover says. “But let’s be honest. You want your party to be happy, and you want to be able to enjoy and vibe off of that.”