Tips for Pairing Food & Wine at Your Wedding Reception


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Pairing delicious food with the perfect wine is a true feast for the pallet. The first time I experienced it, I was astounded by the way the wine complemented the food and how it changed the flavor of both.

You can share that experience with guests at your wedding reception. I asked some wine experts and sommeliers for their ideas on how to successfully pair food and wine at your wedding reception. Today I will cover the cocktail hour. Over the next two weeks, I will share ideas about the reception meal and dessert.

Kristy Chenell, owner and consultant of Weddings by Couture Consulting as well as a sommelier, shared her ideas for a wine tasting at your cocktail hour.

There are a variety of ways to conduct a tasting. Here are some that would work well for a cocktail hour:

Offer a variety of 3-4 white wines and 3-4 red wines. They should range from sweet to dry. Couples can print out small cards that offer details about each wine. Make sure the bartender only pours a tasting pour and not a full glass so that guests can try each to decide their favorite. Remember to place out a “spit bucket” for those who don’t like a particular wine and want to pour the rest out. This allows guests to select how dry or sweet they prefer their wine.

For a more in-depth tasting, try a regional tasting. For example, select three chardonnays (one from California, one from France, and one from Australia) and three reds (one from California, one from Argentina, and one from South Africa) and let guests taste the difference between grapes from different regions. Guests may notice that American wines tend to be more fruit-forward than those of Europe, which may be earthier and minerally.

If you are interested in a certain area or are hosting your wedding in one, offer some variety of the local brews. Don’t keep it to just wines; explore the options for whiskey, beer, and even teas for an afternoon garden setting.

Another interesting option is a champagne tasting. Try different regions and/or offer different infusions of fruit like pomegranate, blueberry, or mango.

Things to Consider:

1. Is anyone personally conducting the tasting? If it will just be the bartender also serving regular drinks, make sure there is proper signage explaining the tasting and the wines, as the bartender may be busy with other guests and can’t solely concentrate on a tasting. If someone is conducting the tasting, they can talk about the wines with each guest. They must be TIPS certified to pour the wine, and if they are not, they can still explain the wines and have the bartender serve the alcohol.

2. Place crackers in the tasting area for guests to cleanse their palates between each pour.  

3. Consider how many guests you have and how many tasting stations you will need. If it’s an hour-long cocktail reception, consider one station for every 75-100 guests.  

4. If you are renting glassware, remember to increase your amount of red and white wine glasses or opt for a neutral red/white option if the rental company has some.

Interested in having a tasting but don’t know how to pick wines? Ask your caterer or hotel staff. If they don’t have a sommelier on hand, they can put you in contact with someone who is. A sommelier shouldn’t be intimidating. Remember, everyone has a different palate, so just because you don’t like something or you do like something else, doesn’t mean that it is right or wrong. Tastings are subjective, and your sommelier can point you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to share your budget, too. There are wonderful options in lower price ranges, as well.

Are you going to try to incorporate a wine tasting at your wedding cocktail hour? Tell us about it here.

Photo credits:, Creation Wines

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