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Wine for 120--is this a good plan?

I'm in the process of narrowing down my choices for wedding reception wine. We're doing an open bar for about 120 guests for cocktail hour, dinner, and after dinner. But let's say 20 people won't be drinking at all (designated drivers, children, etc.) so 100.

Most of our guests are new to wine, as in curious but not at all knowledgeable. I thought it would be a complete waste to pour full pours so the plan is to have the servers pull half pours to start, and then full pours for guests whose glasses start getting low. I fully expect some of these half pours to be almost completely untouched, but oh well. We'll do champagne to start, move to white wine with the appetizers (seafood), and a red for the entree (red meat).

My biggest question is guesstimating the number of bottles we need. My fiance and the guy at the wine store both agree that half a bottle of red, a third a bottle of white, and a third bottle of sparkling is a good per-head estimate because it takes in both wasted wine and people who will want to drink more than others.

But that means we'll be budgeting almost a bottle of wine per person, plus a cocktail or two. I can't imagine that more than a quarter of our guests would be such heavy drinkers!

Our wines, FYI, are:

-Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (a steal at K&L Wines for $10!)
-Silvano Follador prosecco (shockingly yeasty for an Italian sparkling, with an intensely fragrant nose, $13)
-white to be determined, but we have a few rieslings and a gruner veltliner in mind.

We actually replaced two favorites, Seghesio Zinfandel and Piper Hiedsieck extra dry, because K&L was able to find us wines that were excellent if not quite as good for half the price.

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  1. "My biggest question is guesstimating the number of bottles we need."

    I assume you're referring to Hollywood's K&L ( 1400 Vine ).
    They've opened at this location barely 5 months now, and are doing their very best in the customer service dept.
    I assume they wouldn't have a problem with you returning unopened bottles, did you ask?

    1 Reply
    1. re: RicRios

      Thanks for the replies, everyone! Will keep it all filed away in my brain.

      RR, they do not at all mine returns on unopened bottles, but I want to keep it under control because I would still have to haul back any leftovers, they won't take back any bottles that look damaged (like if they've been submerged in ice and water), and there's a 5% restocking fee. I doubt I'll return since there's a restocking fee; we'll just drink the leftovers in the months following!

    2. Personally, I might shy away from Riesling or Gruner Veltliner* -- while I personally thing these would be excellent choices, the fact that (in your own words) "Most of our guests are new to wine, as in curious but not at all knowledgeable," means these may not be the right choice for your guests, even if it is for you.

      Keep in mind that, when I got married, I was still in the wine trade (I retired after 35 years), and many of our guests were well-known winemakers and winery owners from Napa, Sonoma, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. But a good number of guests -- the friends of the bride's and the bride's family -- were not "into" wine; many liked it, but were not knowledgable (like your guests). Our wedding reception wines were a Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Vieilles Vignes (with a suggested reail price of, IIRC, $13) and a Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc from Alsace (suggested retail of $12). EVERYONE -- novice and professional -- loved the wines.

      This is not to suggest changes to what you have already chosen, but rather to merely suggest something more accessible to the average drinker than a Riesling or Gruner Veltliner. I'd look seriously at -- from France -- Alsatian Pinot Blancs, white wines from the Maconnais (like Macon-Villages or Vire-Clesse), or if you want something with more weight to it, a Cotes du Rhone Blanc; from New Zealand, there are a number of Sauvignon Blancs that are classic without being so high in acidity as to make a novice cringe; and so on . . .


      * One GV that would work is the Hofer Niederosterreich Gruner Veltliner -- it comes in a one-litre bottle and is sealed with a crown cap, which may be off-putting to some, but the wine is delicious and a regular at our house in warm weather.

      2 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        Just one person's palate difference... I find riesling to be among the most accessible wines to newbie drinkers....

        1. re: Chicago Mike

          If one is looking to wines like J.Lohr or Kendall-Jackson -- off-dry Rieslings from California -- then I would agree with you. These ARE among the most accessible wines to "newbies." But dry Rieslings from Alsace or Austria, or even trocken-, halbtrocken or Kabinett-style wines from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are often too minerally, too austere for inexperienced wine drinkers.

          Just my 2ยข-- YMMV. ;^)

      2. I think those are pretty good estimates! Usually, a wedding reception is around 4 hours if each person has a bottle of wine and two cocktails that is 1 drink every 40 minutes. Some will drink more some less. 6 drinks might sound like a lot, but its not unreasonable, especially with an open bar, some people take advantage in those situations.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sweetnspicy

          That's pretty close the the number we use when calculating for banquet/catering events. I generally go with one drink per person per hour (that you're serving drinks) for the event. But I wouldn't subtract any except the kids. Some people always drink more and some (drivers, etc) will drink less, but it'll work out. Good luck! Oh, also, remember, you don't have to provide enough for everyone to get hammered.

        2. Pei,
          First of all, mazeltov!

          I love K&L, love the Follador Prosecco and think you are on the right track.
          Her are a few ideas for whites - but if you are working with either Greg or Jacques - you are in very good hands indeed.

          They are clearing out the stock of 2004 Livio Felluga Sauvignon from Friuli for ~$8/ bottle - is just lovely.

          The '06 Burgans Albarino is fun to drink and seems versatile with food pairings.

          I love Reisling but think it scares a lot of people who are driven to thoughts of horrid, treacly wines.

          One last thought, I have yet to try the Root 1 (hear good things from a friend) but perhaps you want to consider a lighter red or an alternate red if you are dead set on the cab? Just a thought and, as I said before, K&L is unlikely to steer you wrong.

          I recently attended a great, small wedding in Chicago and they had two reds (altos de luzon jumilla and a lighter, french red) and two whites (one was a spanish, the other a gv) available at the bar. It was really nice to be able to make a choice depending on what one liked or what one was eating.


          1. Do riesling as your white... it's a good wine with "seafood", but for large gatherings, even more importantly it's one of the very best social wines that are easy to sip by themselves... maybe the very best. Also, your budget of more than one bottle per guest seems a bit high unless these are dedicated drinkers. That's 9 plus 3oz pours per person, seems high for a non-wine tasting event.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chicago Mike

              Thanks Mike, your thoughts on riesling mirror mine closely. We don't have a lot of dedicated drinkers, but we have enough dabblers that they'll be intrigued by the presence of rieslings. And for whatever reason, my friends seem almost to enjoy smelling wine than drinking it, so an intensely fragrant, dry, minerally riesling seems like a good bet for me.

              As for bodie's comments on the cab, we definitely need to have some kind of cab sauv around to appease the crowd, but the idea of adding an alternate light red is a good one, especially for the cocktail hour.

            2. i think your estimates sound good- always good to have a bit extra just in case.

              and a note about your servers (i've served many parties and a few weddings). unless you're doing an actual wine tasting dinner the servers should not just go ahead and pour. they should ask each guest if they would "care for some white/red" etc. except for the sparkling of course- you can assume everyone will take a half glass for a toast. i also suggest you have both the red and white available for both courses- most parties have a few people who will drink one but not the other.

              have a great wedding!!

              6 Replies
              1. re: excuse me miss

                Our dinner will most likely be: a crab appetizer or vegetable bisque followed by mini-entree courses of fish, duck, and beef. So yes, there normally would be a progression from a minerally white toward a hearty red. But I just don't think everyone would get it. Am I wrong? My fiance says it would be a little odd to have three wines poured at the same time.

                Bubbly will be poured early on so that people can do toasts. All the guests will have a menu printed with all courses and what wine we would suggest with it. Of course, if you want red wine with your fish, so be it.

                Maybe the servers should say "and would you care for wine with this course?" Those who dislike white can say they want to skip and either get the red immediately, or wait until the beef to get something besides bubbly?

                1. re: Pei

                  Maybe have your servers say "would you care for the suggested wine pairing with this course"

                  1. re: sweetnspicy

                    Yes, post some sort of "wine pairing suggestion", either in front of the appetizer/entree buffet or in some intro flyer you might have to the dinner...

                    Now that you've specified your appetizers, BTW, I might change recommendations as follows:

                    CRAB: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
                    VEGGIE BISQUE: Sauvignon Blanc
                    "FISH": Chardonnay is the most reliable overall match here, likely
                    "DUCK": Pinot Noir
                    "BEEF": Any rich red, but Cabernet & Merlot are most recognized by the masses.

                    The key is that for "sipping by itself", in general I would recommend Chardonnay over Sauvignon Blanc. So, if you're going to have only one white, I'd go with the Chardonnay. The problem then becomes that you want to tailor the Veggie Bisque dish to be very chardonnay friendly... I'd make a few recipe suggestions but then you would have my "reliable trio" of detractors jump all over the suggestions and create a posting firestorm, so I'd just leave it that Chardonnay is IMO your best single-white for your 2 apps but you may need to tweak the Veggie Bisque a bit.

                    I would also suggest a cheese platter to match these wines, but again I have a very reliable trio of detractors that would pounce on that suggestion, but be assured your 120 guests would appreciate it.

                    1. re: Chicago Mike

                      LOL. Now you have me very curious about who your detractors are.

                      I'll probably be tweaking the wines once I figure out which dishes the catering staff is best at making. That won't be until November. I just finished the riesling K&L recommended. And while I like it, it's way too sweet for dinner. More of a fragrant after dinner wine, borderline dessert. Yikes. Try again (like I mind)!

                      1. re: Pei

                        what was that riesling, I'm curious.... sounds like an auslese, really.

                        For the spread you're describing you'd want a kabinett, IMO, and that shouldn't taste so sweet....

                        1. re: Chicago Mike

                          It was a Monchoff (sp?), and yes it was Auslace. Everyone in the shop liked it so I figured it wouldn't hurt, but I'm definitely a Kabinett kind of person! It's a solid Auslace, just not for me.

              2. Although I can't comment on your particular choices per se, I will tell you to get more wine than you think you will ever need. We estimated about the same as you for our wedding, but the thing we didn't consider was that some people will want more white than red or vice versa, regardless of what is being poured at the moment. We had to send the caterers out to purchase more wine from the local store -- not an ideal situation. Far better to have too much than too little, especially if you can return the unopened ones (and if a few look beaten up, well, I guess you'll just have to drink them!). And no, we don't hang with a group of alcoholics, just people that like to have fun.