Wedding Details: Champagne Wishes

Learn why your champagne probably isn't really Champagne, and which bottles can keep your wedding guests happy without breaking your wallet.

Champagne and weddings have gone together for centuries—with good reason. “Historically, Champagne has always been a celebratory wine,” says Greg Moore, president of Moore Brothers Wine Company in Pennsauken and other locations.

“When the cork pops, everybody’s happy,” says Jane Merritt, education coordinator for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. “But it also goes well with food. It’s more versatile than most people think.”

Champagne with a capital “C” technically comes only from the Champagne region of northern France and costs anywhere from about $25 to more than $100 a bottle. But the generic term -“champagne” is used to describe a variety of bubbly from all around the world. The best of these pretender champagnes, even some under $10 a bottle, are still made according to the traditional Champagne method, where the wine’s final fermentation occurs in the bottle itself—thus that fabulous explosion of bubbles when you pop the cork.

Moore likes to look for bargain champagnes from other regions, including the Loire Valley in France. “These are very versatile wines that can be used for toasts to the bride and groom and for a variety of passed foods at receptions,” he says.

Keith Wallace, president of the Wine School of Philadelphia, recommends a group of popular sparkling wines called proseccos, which are made in northern Italy. “If I were going to use a wine only for a toast, I would recommend a $10 prosecco,” he says. And, as Moore points out, these Italian wines also match with fatty, tangy and salty hors d’oeuvres.

Good local champagne is made by several Southern Pennsylvania wineries, including Stargazers in Coatesville, Pinnacle Ridge in Kutztown, Manatawny Creek in Amityville and French Creek Ridge in Elverson. At Kreutz Creek, you can even hold your wedding and reception—using the winery’s champagne—at Folly Hill, its affiliate winery in Chadds Ford.

But the kind of champagne you use and how much it will cost depends on how you plan to serve it, as well as how many guests you have. For a toast only, one bottle can serve eight people. But if you plan to serve it with food, either standing or sitting, figure on one-half bottle for each adult guest, which means four times as much bubbly.

The best champagnes are usually quite dry—or brut—but Merritt points out that for a toast only, the slightly sweet extra-dry style is popular. Sparkling rosés are well respected and add festive colors to the celebration. Sweeter styles, such as some Italian spumantes, are usually served with dessert.

For those who might be planning mixed drinks at the reception, Jack Skudris, proprietor of Memorable Affairs in the Delaware Valley, recommends champagne cocktails instead, which are less alcoholic and more festive than traditional martinis. “We encourage people to be creative with Champagne,” he says. One favorite consists of pomegranate syrup, a dash of vodka and a fizzy topping of champagne. Another blends raspberry vodka, vanilla bean, cranberry liqueur and bubbly.

If you must have Champagne with a capital “C”, Moore recommends searching for affordable ones from small individual growers instead of blends from big, familiar brands. “Look for the growers’ mark—an RM—on the label,” he says.

You also need to think of glassware. Although some caterers prefer them, almost all experts hate those shallow champagne coupes, which are low and open and can let air escape and the bubbles fizz out. “Your bubbles go away too quickly,” Merritt says. Instead, insist on traditional flutes—preferably glass ones.

If this planning seems more than you can—or want to—handle, the Wine School of Philadelphia provides sommeliers who work with you and your caterer in selecting and ordering champagne—and making certain that it gets to the venue on time.