Sommelier and soon-to-be bride Rachael Lowe has some tips about buying wine for weddings. And she should know, she's doing it right now. 

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Rachael Lowe
Credit: © Anthony Tahlier

Choosing wines for your wedding can be hard – how do you please your Merlot-loving mother-in-law-to-be and your Pinot Grigio-only sister at the same time? Do you really need multiple glasses? And how do you get it all done on a budget? To get help with these quandaries and other wedding wine planning advice, we enlisted the help of bride-to-be Rachael Lowe, sommelier of Spiaggia in Chicago, as well as a 2016 F&W Sommelier of the Year.

Go for sparkling, just not Champagne

“I definitely think there are some amazing sparkling alternatives to Champagne,” says Lowe. She suggests Cava from Spain’s Catalonia region, which certainly offer great value. They’re made in the traditional method, same as Champagne, but with different grapes, and can generally be purchased for $10-15 a bottle. Lowe’s pick is the Castell d’Or Flama d’Or Brut, which she says has nice notes of green apple, Bosc pear and lime blossom. “Alternatively, I have always loved the Château de Sours Réserve de Sours Sparkling Rosé out of Bordeaux,” she adds. “Made in the méthode champenoise, this is generally a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of red cherries, raspberries, tomato leaf and graphite, balanced with great acidity, it makes for a perfect aperitif and is under $20 a bottle.”

Some grapes are safer than others

“For whites I think that neutral, high acid, racier style wines can be crowd pleasing, and honestly, I think for a wedding, crowd-pleasing wines are the way to go.” asserts Lowe. She suggests looking for wines such as Arneis, Verdicchio, Albariño or a village level Grüner Veltliner from Austria.

“In terms of reds, I think that Spanish wines can be a really cost-effective way to go, especially if you’re looking for a crowd-friendly wine with more extraction. One I like is the Matsu El Picaro from Toro, in the Castilla y León region. Tempranillo from 90 year-old vines, this wine shows red and black fruits like blueberries, blackberries and cherries and a touch of licorice and spice—delicious and versatile.” Other reds she suggests that are often universally enjoyed and can prove great value are Italian wines from Campania, Abruzzo, Basilicata and often Sicilian Nero d’Avola. Also Côtes du Rhône rouge, which she says are some of her favorite value-driven wines.

Don't overdo it with the glassware

“We are choosing to rent one all-purpose glass for all the wines to avoid over-complicating things. We’ll use the regular wine glass for sparkling wine (which I prefer to drink out of anyway.) and stemless glassware for beer and spirits. Easy enough to walk around holding these.”

Keep it simple for cocktails and beer

“In terms of cocktails, we want to make this as easy as possible and plan only to offer drinks like gin and tonics, Manhattans, martinis and negronis. Simple bottled beer and perhaps a rum punch or something easy that we can dump a bunch of tasty ingredients into will be a fun option as well.” Thoughts on signature cocktails? “Meh. Not my personal cup of tea,” says Lowe. “I think classics, elegance and simplicity are the way to go.”

Make it personal

Do something out of the box to make the wedding uniquely yours. “We plan to get a 3L of something and have all the guests sign it as a fun memory to have and perhaps drink many years down the road,” Lowe says.

Put wine gear on your registry

Lowe thinks that great stemware is wonderful to have for one’s house, and often people won’t splurge on these for themselves. “I am a huge proponent of amazing hand blown crystal glasses from the company Bottega del Vino, made outside Verona, in Italy," she says. "And they are even durable enough to use at Spiaggia. Seriously the best stemware, and they would make a wonderful gift. A nice decanter can make a good gift as well, and is a wonderful option if one doesn’t want to gift a full set of glasses.” Lowe’s favorite gift though? “I am just happy that people are willing to make the trek to Michigan for a farm destination wedding; that’s the best gift I could ask for.”