Wedding plans are in the air this time of the year, as the bridal shows and four-kilogram wedding magazine issues prove. But judging by the urgent queries I get from readers around May and June, it's apparent many couples treat wine buying as little more than an afterthought.
This is not right. It bears pointing out that a glass of good drink, not just the flash of the gown, is the crowd's fair compensation for sitting through all those embarrassing speeches.
But don't take it from me. The Bible even warns against skimping on the reception refreshment. Remember the wedding at Cana, scene of Christ's first miracle? He saved the day by turning water into wine. And good wine too. We know this because the master of ceremonies proclaimed that the groom had broken with custom and "saved the best for last."
Not that your guests will expect miracles. But there's a difference between a thoughtful choice and banquet-hall standards.
My suggestions here are suitable for more than just weddings, of course. They count as good crowd-pleasing party wines and even, depending on your budget, everyday food companions. And note: They tend to be on the leaner side, in keeping with today's lighter reception fare and with summertime weddings.
Turning first to whites, one of the most elegant and widely available choices at what I would call a reasonable price is Château Bonnet 2001 ($12.95, product No. 83709). This is the traditionalist's choice and should impress even the connoisseurs in the audience. A crisp, light offering from the Entre-Deux-Mers district of Bordeaux, it's made by blue-chip producer André Lurton, who since the mid-1980s has been instrumental in restoring the quality and image of white Bordeaux. The blend here is equal parts sauvignon blanc and semillon plus 10 per cent muscadelle. Refreshing, with hints of lemon, peach and gooseberry, it could complement a wide spectrum of foods, from raw oysters to salmon to chicken. And it's great for vegetarian menus.
My sexy Italian choice would be the new, 2001 vintage of Serego Alighieri Bianco delle Possessioni 2001 ($13, No. 409862), which has more than just an attractive label going for it. This deftly blended white is made by well-known producer Masi near the Romeo and Juliet city of Verona on an estate once owned by the son of poet Dante Alighieri. The chief component here is garganega, the Soave grape. But it gets added body, fragrance and roundness from 30-per-cent sauvignon blanc aged briefly in oak barrels. This is another very good choice for fish and vegetarian fare.
For an exotic touch, I'd choose Xanadu Secession Semillon Chardonnay 2001 ($14.15, No. 599118), and not just for its name or the attractive label. It comes from remote Western Australia, where the whites tend to be zippier and more food friendly than the oak-laden chardonnays of the southeast. There are delicious nuances of pear and tropical fruit here, and the 40-per-cent semillon and 38-per-cent chardonnay get an additional lemon-like zing and herbal nuance from 17-per-cent chenin blanc and 5-per-cent sauvignon blanc.
My sophisticated under-$10 choice is a new Ontario listing that's a bestseller in Quebec, Lurton Les Fumées Blanches 2001 ($8.95, No. 472555), a lean, delicate, crisp sauvignon blanc from southern France.
For upscale weddings, white Burgundy is the way to go. I'd suggest William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux 2001 ($18.75, No 276436), a lightly oaked chardonnay that goes well with food and would delight both Europhile traditionalists as well as fans of fuller-bodied New World chardonnays.
Turning to reds, it took me some time to get past the conspicuous, flower-painted bottle that has helped make a big seller out of Duboeuf Milenage 2001 ($11.25, No. 548917), but I suppose that in the context of a wedding it could be a felicitous statement. What's more important is what's in the bottle, of course, and this wine happens to be a terrific value and big crowd-pleaser. It's a blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah from southern France, made by the famous Beaujolais giant Duboeuf. Flavours of raspberry, cranberry and plum get a nice overtone of dried herbs in this modern-styled red. It's ripe and smooth yet dry and savoury, sort of a cross between Australia and Bordeaux.
I've mentioned Robert Skalli Merlot 2000 ($12.95, No. 571042) before in this space. The 2001 is now coming on the market and it's another big value from -- yes -- southern France. This is the wine-insider's banquet red, a classically smooth merlot that's big enough to stand up to robust fair, such as roasted poultry, game and grilled red meat. It's also fruity and soft enough to make a nice sipping wine on its own.
A solid under-$10 red choice would be Penascal Castilla Y Leon Red 2000 ($8.95, No. 343434) from Spain. Red berries, spice, smoke and vanilla come together in a surprisingly complex medium-bodied wine for the money. Very versatile.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, my pricey, chic-wedding red would have to be last week's pick of the week, the very sexy Ninth Island Pinot Noir 2001 ($19.95, No. 595124) from Tasmania. It's hard to find a sexier, more refined red for under $20.
For bubbles, I'd be tempted to go with the festively pink Freixenet Brut de Noirs ($10.45, No. 352369). For a few dollars more, there's the more complex and elegant Segura Viudas Aria ($14.95, No. 311241). If you can afford true-blue French champagne, look for Pommery Brut Royal ($44.75, No. 346106) and Pol Roger Brut ($45.05, No. 51953), both terrific choices at the low end of the price range. email@example.com
/slin Pick of the week Duboeuf Milenage 2001 ($11.25, No. 548917). Flavours of raspberry, cranberry and plum get a nice overtone of dried herbs in this red. It's ripe and smooth, yet dry and savoury.