When wedding bells chime, family and friends come together to celebrate, raising their glasses with something that's golden and sparkles -- like the bauble on a new bride's finger. No other event provides as many opportunities for megacelebrations. Toastmasters and champagne salesmen await your call.
However, you needn't feel compelled to pour expensive French fizz at a very large reception. Good-quality sparkling wines cost much less than champagne. From Spain, for example, where sparkling wine is called cava, Segura Viudas Brut ($14) offers a clean, natural, lemon-biscuit bouquet and crisp taste. It's bone dry, though, so serve it as an aperitif, with hors d'oeuvres or throughout the beginning of a meal. Bone-dry bubblies taste sour once coffee and sweets are served, so you may want to consider a sweeter sparkler like Martini & Rossi Asti ($13), which has a luscious fresh fruit taste and low alcohol content, making it ideal for toasting often and any time.
At smaller, more intimate gatherings with family or the bridal party, you'll want to serve genuine champagne. The same rules apply for sweetness. Offer dry wines (brut, extra sec) early in the reception, and some sweeter sparklers (sec, demi-sec, doux, rich) later on.
With the grand names of the Champagne region, quality never comes into question. Your choice is based on "house style," and sweetness level. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut ($55) is intense yet subtle, crisp and dry. Mumm Carte Classique ($49) has a kiss of sweetness and a softer mouth feel with full, fruity flavours. Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut ($53) is lush and creamy, with flavours of vanilla wafers and an awesome aftertaste.
Marilyn Monroe's favourite champagne didn't always end up in her bathtub. She drank lots of Piper-Heidsieck Brut ($53) but also adored the extra touch of elegance of its hot pink sister-fizz, Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage ($69).
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin produces the classic Yellow Label Brut ($61), Vintage 1998 Brut ($80) and Vintage 1999 Rosé ($88) with fabulous flavours of strawberry ice cream and crushed-hazelnut sprinkles.
The luxury brands, despite their designer prices, are absolutely dazzling drinks, so go for broke. Möet & Chandon's top brand, Dom Pérignon 1998 ($195), has the enticing aroma of a delicious warmed fruit strudel. The mouth feel is lithe yet supple, and the unforgettable finish is laced with flavours of the grape's very soul.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin's top cuvée, La Grande Dame 1996 ($172), is just as fabulous, with an elegant, embracing, almost buxom palate. I'm stricken with the desire for more after a sip of this pure, luxuriant essence. What a gal!
Champagnes, like potential mates, have unique personalities. If you're looking for one that's big and strong, rich and powerful, worldly and well travelled, yet kind and gentle and wanting nothing more than to please you and make you smile, you need look no further than Louis Roederer 1999 Cristal ($230). It will never let you down.