Of Rites, Receptions, & Refreshments
By Bernard Ledermann
It hits youin eight months you and your love will commit matrimony, and a good wedding, as Carson McCullers put it fifty years ago, [is] “the transcendence of the ordinary world.” Can anyone blame you if you can’t hold back a beleaguered-sounding moan? You’re headed for the greatest spectator event you and your family will ever stage and everyone’s striving for a result to rival a Norman Rockwell picture. Key among your decisions will be how to handle the audience participation portion of the event, the receptiona reckoning which affects at least 2.4 million brides nationwide each year.
As you tick off points on your check-list, you’re heartened at the progress made to this point: you’ve selected a site for your vows, the gown has been chosen and fitted, your gift registry is in place, and the guest list is forming nicely. Next, it’s time to book a florist, a baker, a spot for your reception, and, centrally, decide how the wedding will be catered.
On the menu side, if your sister and aunts have been enlisted to create their, pardon the isomorph, breathtakingly elegant sweep of heavy hors d’oeuvres, brava for you. But what if the “other side” requires something beyond a nosh, and in seated fashion? In that event some catering assistance will certainly be required, and with catering it all comes down to budget. Can youor are you willing tospend between $65 and $90 per guest, depending on any “facility minimum?” It can be a troubling decision, especially since those costs never include alcohol. Depending on your drink choices, bar costs can result in an unnerving final bill.
If there is a caterer in your future, he/she will be able to offer expert advice about adult beverages. Decades of professional fine-tuning usually means you’ll get very accurate advice on what and how much will work. You might, however, consider buying your own wine and spirits; often, it’s less expensive than allowing the caterer to handle that detail.
While considering budget, you might be interested to learn what percentage of your wedding expenses will be assigned to alcoholic drinks. A wedding planner of my acquaintance estimates between twelve and fifteen per centan item near the bottom, considering food/catering may require thirty-five or forty per cent, the florist another twenty.
What to serve is speculative at best, although the season of your wedding and the types of food to be offered will provide substantial clues. In warm weather expect your guests to consume more “clear spirits” (vodka and gin) and white wine. Should your entrées include hardy red meats and substantial side dishes a red wine with big flavors is always in order. A caterer we’ve used prides herself on canapés and entrées with so much moxie (i.e., full-flavored) that only Rhône-style reds, largely Syrah- and Grenache-based, will workbold, spicy, and crisp. On the white side, usually something of Alsace birth is just right.
During the weeks leading up to the wedding, you and the bridegroom can give yourselves a big edge by observing the drinking preferences of your friends, and particularly of family members. Bourbon drinkers may not be immediately evident, but you had better have a 750 ml bottle of amber standing by for old Uncle Grover who’s flying in from Baton Rouge.
Overall, the most astute advice anyone could give is this: offer an open bar, but limit your choices. Of course, there are always degrees of “limited,” as evidenced by my friend Rolf’’s bar at a reception last summer. Rolf offered but one Scotch, but it happened to be a near-$90 bottle of 16-year-old Lagavulin Single Malt, Scotland’s luscious amber Lord of the Isles. You see, Rolf did well in the market of the mid-nineties, so no expense was spared for his little girl. Generally, though, omit the Chambord and Sambuca. Serve wines (a red and white, which will also be appropriate with dinner), some beers including-I hate to admitthe pedestrian stuff, and don’t forget soft drinks. As for mixed drinks, keep it simple. Do not expect your hard-working bartenders, if employed, (and controlled pouring is always a consideration if you’re tending to a budget) to assemble Presbyterians or Sazeracs.
At some locations (usually those which do not allow you to bring in your own beverages), especially in first-rate hotels or at some country clubs, a “full host bar” for a four-hour reception will run $3,000 and up. Limiting drink choices could easily save at least $1,200.
Considering a cash bar? Don’t even think of going there. Having your guests ante up will take the luster off any event ASAP, and, in the long run, may cool some friendships.
Knowing what beverage quantities to buy needn’t be a tricky or uncertain part of your wedding day. There is plentiful data availablefrom wedding consultants, caterers, and retailers of wine and liquor.
Constraints of space hinder my repeating the formulaic advice found in the article on holiday parties in the Nov/Dec Spree, but it holds nicely in the wedding milieu. With experienced bartenders to assist you (almost a necessity if your guests number more than fifty), buying magnum size bottles (1.5 ltrs/42.4 ozs) of wine, and buying spirits in “super-magnums” (1.75 ltrs/59 oz) will mean some savings. With beer, inquire about keg beers. There are currently many exciting premiums along with the “standards” available in rolling vessels. One keg alone can satisfy 100 guests well into the evening, and bartenders will know how to deal with the oft-irritating tap hardware required. Savings with kegs can be considerable.
Generally, if you’re serving three beverage typesspirits, beer, and winefigure about one-third of your guests for each category; if beer and wine only, reckon a fifty-fifty split on preferences. As previously noted, weather will likely influence the type of drinking. On warm, humid days look for higher consumption of white wine and beer and lesser amounts of “brown” spirits. It’s also to your benefit to note the demography of your guest list. With an older crowd, expect more drinking of spirits; a large assembly of twenty-one to thirty-fivers usually means more beer.
Can’t resist a collective toast with bubbly? Unless a kingly fortune has recently sailed your way, the expensive French bottlings may not be possible. (Naturally, the bridal table and honeymoon suite are not to be restricted.) Just as acceptable are many popular Charmat-process (bulk sparklers not fermented in a bottle) wines and spumantes on today’s market. Remember, sparkling wine isn’t universally liked by any means, so a pour of about an ounce-and-a-half per glass (no more than five, 750 ml bottles for a crowd of fifty) will still elicit a rousing salute. Using your regular reception wine(s) in a hoisted glass also accomplishes the desired objective.
A final thought on magnum bottles. If your celebratory meal will have people seated at tables of eight or ten, you may find brandishing of over-size bottles by your guests an inconvenience. If so, select a good value, high-quality branda red and white on each table, pleasein 750 ml bottles, such as the Mont•Pellier line of California wines mentioned in our Nov/Dec. column.
Wise choices in beer and wine
Still among the favored “hot brews” of the momentwith broad crowd appealare the following ‘regulars’: Labatt Blue ($22.95/case) and Modelo Especíal ($26.95/case). If Light you must, entice the over-21 drinkers with a slimmed-down Corona ($45.95/case of twelve-ounce “long” bottles). Strive for flavor and interest; above all, an item which speaks of your elevated taste.
Choices in good magnum wine are as plentiful as over-the-counter pain remedies (and often more effective).
We’re listing consistently well-made wines with good-dollar-to-quality ratio. All prices are before discount. It’s helpful that most producers issue both fine reds and whites, which allows you to stay within one brand. Try any of the 1999 CK Mondavi bottlings ($83.95/case); any of the Forest Ville (CA) offerings (59.95/cse.); the 2000 vintage releases of Bel Arbor (CA), 53.95/cse; and on the bolder, French sidevery harmonious with heavier foodstry the red and white Rhône wines of Vielle Ferme ($83.95/cse, b.d.). Two whites of special interest are Beringer’s 2000 Chenin Blanc, a suave “transitional wine” idea for persons stuck in the White Zin. mode ($71.95/cse). Lastly, the second label of Dr. Konstantin Frank, Salmon Run, boasts a 2000 Chardonnay ($98.95/cse) which floors all tasters.
In snapshot form, here’s one drink guide to support your purchasing. A three-hour reception is assumed.
||16 mgn *
||12 mgn *
||2 mgn (1.75)
||2 mgn.+ 1
|| 1 Ltr.
* Fluctuates, according to dinner needs
and weather exigencies.
** An additional super-magnum required if you’re offering a martini bar.
(And don’t forget the Vermouth.)
Vodka is still the preference leader at social events. We find the potent STOLICHNAYA, $34.99, (All are super-magnum prices unless noted.) emotion-stirring, although our pet is Sweden’s silky-smooth ABSOLUT ($33.99), advertising campaign notwithstanding. It pleases at any occasion. Our favorite domestic vodka continues to be SKYY ($24.99), quiyyte satinyy and nuanced. We don’t agree with people who find it a light-weight.
For its after-taste and savory juniper berry flavors, BEEFEATER ($33.99) continues to lead my choice of gins. My favorite best-buy bets remain the stone-dry BURNETTE’S ($16.99) and the subtle, affordable BOMBAY Dry ($35.99). Great for mixing is Gordon’s-USA ($18.99), which shows some interesting nuttiness and lovely balance for the money.
Some wedding topers must always keep company with the “brown barley-corn,” and for those JACK DANIELS sour mash Tennessee is a natural. Always muscular, if a little earthy, it is reliable at $36.99.
Same for the engaging JIM BEAM ($23.99) with its off-dry caramel hints on the palate. MAKER’S MARK, though a bit pricier ($42.95), can be downright ambrosial with its flourish of sweet smokiness. And don’t forget the finest of all Canadian entries, CROWN ROYAL ($21.95/ltr); its fragrance, layered effect, and overall finesse make it too easy to love a tipple, and for me brings back golden memories of weddings past.
Whiskeyphiles will never grumble with a tot of BALLENTINES 12-year-old ($28.95) Scotch; it’s a satisfying blend that exhibits light peaty flavors and haunting sweetness on the after-taste; however, the finest Scotch for magnum purchase has to be OLD SMUGGLER ($19.95). Zesty and generous, it always gives me a pinch of caramel on the finish.
May some of the tips provided here make your planning of a liquid wedding menu less rigorous. And, for a bit of wedding wisdom that can never be too often repeated, remember, this is a time for YOU!
Bernie Ledermann, a long-time Western New Yorker, is now semi-retired but continues as lead salesman for Seaboard Wines in Raleigh, NC. In the Buffalo-Rochester area he was known as a passionate wine educator.
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