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The question

I would very much appreciate any help regarding choosing the correct amount of wine for my wedding this summer. We’ll have 171 guests, with an open bar, and I am pretty clueless as to the amount of both red and white that I should buy for this number of people. I would say the majority of people will have more beer than wine, but I want to ensure that we don’t run out.

The answer

There are many priorities and many people to think about when planning a wedding, but few will be as important to most of your guests as the drinks supply. Cardinal rule: Don’t run out.

In recent years wine consumption generally has been growing while beer is on the decline, so I’d be inclined to slightly bump up the wine number and assume a roughly 50-50 split between wine and beer, though of course you be the judge. (Either way, don’t skimp on the beer!)

Keep in mind that many retailers, including large provincial liquor boards, will accept returns of unopened products typically within 30 days, providing the bottle labels have not been damaged from bobbing in coolers filled with melting ice. So, consider buying more than you need – and more than I’m about to suggest, assuming you can afford to fork out the money up front.

Okay, this number may sound high, but I’m going to say 160 bottles of wine, or about 13 cases, minimum. That works out to almost two bottles per person on the assumption that half your guests will stick with beer. The number is not my prescription for how much people should be drinking in an evening (it’s not my job or desire ever to tell people how much to drink). It just reflects the fact that weddings tend to go long (I’m assuming six hours), and people tend to consume more than they would normally when there’s an open bar and dancing and toasts and multiple courses of food. Plus, I’m accounting for a bit of waste. People may try one wine and drink only half a glass before switching to another selection, that sort of thing.

If that does sound high, bear in mind that I’m on the low side compared with some actual party-planning experts. For example, Martha Stewart Living a few years ago published a “party calculator” that suggested half a bottle of wine per person per hour (not including spirits as well as beer!). That would bring your total, assuming six hours, to 257 bottles.

Even the conservative estimates are not far from mine. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s Food & Drink magazine also publishes an online party calculator. As you can imagine, the publication is keen to uphold its social-responsibility mandate, so its numbers tend to fall on the lower end. Indeed, its calculator tops out at three hours for a party (you can’t specify a six-hour bacchanal because this is the cut-the-party-short liquor board, after all). For a three-hour party of 171 people, assuming a 50-50 split between beer and wine, it recommends buying 69 bottles of wine. If you extrapolate that to six hours, you end up with 138 bottles – not too far from my minimum recommendation of 160.

Congratulations. I hope the wedding is glorious. And I hope you don’t run out of wine (or beer!).

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.