Champagne or sparkling wine for the wedding. How to choose, how much to buy

In Weddings by Joni

Champagne used to be the only real choice for a wedding toast but that is no longer true.  There are great alternatives which are often better and usually cheaper.  Consider:

  • Prosecco
  • Cava
  • Cremant de Borgogne
  • Kir Royale
  • Mimosa
  • Bellini
  • A signature or special cocktail with a story behind it
  • An English sparkling wine

Do you need champagne at a wedding?

Many parents of the bride or groom offer to pay for the drinks for the wedding reception or at least to buy some good toasting wines.  It’s easy but expensive to just go for champagne.  But why not look at the alternatives that couples are loving today?

The perfect fizz to match your wedding theme

Is the wedding country or city?  Young and fun or sophisticated and stylish?  Vintage or contemporary? Make sure you know the style and theme of the wedding as these will influence your selection of the right sparkling wine to buy. 

Here are the main alternatives to champagne and the wedding style or theme they best suit. 

Prosecco  for a fun, frivolous, young, irreverent celebration

Prosecco is a popular choice especially with younger couples.  They are already used to drinking this Italian fizz at celebrations. 

Yet the northern Italians have been producing this wine for many hundreds of years.  Until the 60’s it was the sweet champagne-style wine beloved of Italians.  But once the dry or brut version was developed people all over the world fell in love with this crisp, fresh fizz. 

Today the British consume around 25% of the entire Italian production, thanks to your daughter and her friends.  Think Roman Holiday.

Cava for a stylish, savvy crowd

Cava used to be known simply as champagne in Spain but, as you can imagine, the French had things to say about that and ready for Spain joining the EU the name Cava was chosen. 

At around the same time – the eighties – some vineyards started introducing Chardonnay grapes to the traditional Spanish grapes and that’s when this wine really took off.  

Depending on what your budget is you can buy supermarket standard aged for 9 months, step up to Reserva aged for 15 months (as French non-vintage champagne is) or go for the top Gran Reserva which is aged for at least 30 months and will have a vintage date on the label (same as vintage champagne does). 

You can get all levels of sweetness from Brut (dry) through Seco (medium) to Dulce (sweet).  Cava is an excellent buy with prices around a third of an equivalent French champagne. 

Freixenet have been exporting all over the world for a hundred years and just look at those superbly stylish bottles!

Crémant de Bourgogne for a rustic, country-style wedding whether in a barn or a chateau

Two hundred years ago French wine growers commissioned a young expert to leave the Champagne region and help them produce a similar wine further south.  Today, to ensure high standards, Crémant de Bourgogne must use traditional champagne methods and hand-harvest the grapes. 

Expect a slightly less fizzy wine based on Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes.  Prices are much the same as Cava and the French have no qualms about offering guests this instead of champagne.  It makes a wonderful rosé (pink) toasting wine.

Cocktails including fizz can be just what’s needed to add sparkle to the day.  Try one of these.

Kir Royal for a vintage, relaxed, unpretentious day for anyone who loves France

Reckon one part Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) to about 9 parts white wine.  Originally made with champagne this cocktail from Burgundy works just as well with any sparkling white wine. 

In its still wine variety it has been a popular drink in French cafes and bars for over 150 years.  It is ideal for a vintage wedding as it became famous in the 50’s when a local Dijon mayor offered it to visiting friendship groups from across Europe after WW2. 

Mimosas and bellinis in stemmed flutes at a wedding
Mimosas and Bellinis are the perfect start to the wedding reception

Mimosa for a fresh, springtime vibe with a nod to the vintage

Mimosas are ideal for a spring wedding.  They have long been popular especially for weddings early in the day as mimosas are also a great breakfast and brunch cocktail.  They are not too alcoholic and just about everyone likes the taste. 

Freshly squeeze an orange.  Pour half a champagne flute of fizz and top up with the juice.  Magic!  They look so pretty that they will put everyone in a good mood. 

If you can find some flowering mimosa to add to the table that would be beautiful. Mimosa flowers from January to March.

Bellini for a sophisticated, summer wedding or a day  with a vintage theme

This cocktail was popularised in the 30’s at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice.  So no need to use French champagne as the Italian version, Prosecco is cheaper and perfect for this sweet and delicious drink. 

There’s a bit of preparation to make a real Bellini.  You need to puree peaches in a blender.  Originally Italian white peaches were used but frankly tinned ones in plain juice will do almost as well.  Keep the puree in the fridge until the last moment and if possible chill the glasses too.  Add one part puree then two parts Prosecco.  Sweet heaven!

Pousse Rapière for an ‘only those in the know’ take on a château-style wedding or at a traditional, smart do

I used to live in Gascony – home of the musketeers.  There’s a fabulous cocktail made there which I have to admit is my number one choice for a toast or any special celebratory aperitif.  It’s made with one volume of the local liqueur called Pousse Rapière (Sword Thrust) to 6 volumes of brut (dry) sparkling wine. 

Pousse Rapière liqueur is made at the Chateau Monluc in Saint Puy in the Gers in South West France.  It’s made with Armagnac (the local brandy) flavoured with bitter orange. 

The wine to add is ideally Vin Sauvage made at the same chateau with the same grapes as the liqueur thus making, as the French say, le marriage. But frankly any dry sparkling wine will be great as the liqueur packs quite a kick in the flavour department.

So don’t buy an expensive wine, just something fizzy and dryish.

Pour the liqueur in first then top up with the wine.  Add a slice of orange if the mood takes you.  Serve as cold as possible.  Pousse Rapière also makes a super accompaniment to the wedding cake.

Castang Wines of Cornwall (this link, non-affiliate, is to their Pousse Rapiere) claim to be the only UK importer and you can buy the liqueur, and if you wish, the vin sauvage, from them. But you can also buy it online from Uvinium (this link, non-affiliate, is to their Pousse Rapiere) which has sites for the UK, US and most European countries.

Amazon France (.fr) has several retailers who ship worldwide and this might be a great choice. Note that Amazon in the US no longer sells wine since its link up with Wholefoods.

Take a look at all three dealers and compare prices and delivery charges.

Champagne for a smart city wedding

If the knot is being tied in a grand hotel or special city venue then really, it has to be said, there is no real alternative to a good French champagne.  Your guests will expect to see those unmistakeable bottles sitting in an ice trough next to the rows of gleaming champagne flutes as they come into the reception. 

Moet et Chandon champagne in an iced bottle with frosted glass
Icy cold champagne – be sure guests notice the label

Most champagne merchants suggest serving in tulip style glasses to keep those glorious bubbles rising for as long as possible.  But coupe glasses look elegant and are easier to sip from.  Ideal for photographs of a refined and elegant party!

Most champagne is labelled brut meaning dry.  If you’d prefer something to go with the cake then try sec or demi-sec which are a little less dry.

If a year’s grape harvest is extra good the champagne will be labelled with the year and called vintage champagne.  Otherwise different years will be mixed to get a great balance and thus a great taste.  Vintage champagne is not necessarily better but it is likely to be more expensive.

Look for a well-known label – it’s got a reputation to uphold after all.  But, just as important, if you are going to splurge on this top price fizz make sure your guests recognise the fact! 

Whether you have a champagne bucket at each table when it’s toasting time or have a large receptacle full of ice with a waiter opening and pouring as guests arrive, it’s all about those bottles, so keep them visible!

Don’t keep the bottles in the fridge for longer than two or three days as the quality of the champagne will deteriorate due to the cork drying out.  Just stand them somewhere in the dark and cool until the day you need them then get them good and cold before serving. 

It goes without saying that you want to give a bottle of champagne plenty of time to settle after moving it otherwise opening becomes a war zone.  So that’s why you’ll need the ice bucket or bath to keep things cold while the bottles await uncorking.

The choice for Royal Weddings in the UK

If your heart is set on matching the Royals then you need to know that Meghan and Harry served Pol Roger as their champagne. This champagne house is pretty much a tradition for royal weddings now.

Chapel Down English sparkling wine bottle.
English wines at a Royal Wedding

What nobody can reveal is which sparkling wines they also served. That’s because unless they receive a Royal Warrant suppliers to the Royals are expected to keep details private. But with English and Welsh sparkling wines benefitting from global warming it would be very strange if Harry did not want to forefront them at his celebration.

The Cambridges served Chapel Down‘s Three Graces in 2011 by the way.

Kent, where the UK wine industry thrives, is now just one degree cooler than Rheims – where champagne is produced – during the important growing season. French champagne houses are already investing in Kent vineyards which are only about 200 miles from their traditional hillsides.

Whilst the Brits consume masses of champagne they are also now quaffing English sparkling wines in quantity, especially at high profile events. So it’s well nigh impossible to buy the stuff outside of the UK. But if your wedding is a very English affair, you should seriously consider serving a top English sparkling wine.

Waitrose do a good selection (general link to Waitrose English wine lists). Note that wine stocks don’t last forever so my suggestions made in Spring 2019 may be unavailable by the time you read this. So use this general Waitrose link to find similar categories of wines or the same wine but a different year.

Think well ahead so that you can snap up offers. Online offers are really worth noting, they can save you hundreds on the total bill. You can buy a single bottle or several cases and get them delivered where you need them.

Why not order three different bottles and do a tasting – great fun and gets everyone in the wedding mood weeks before!

Try not to take delivery at your home – ask the supplier to send them direct to your venue. But check with the venue first to be sure what date they can accept delivery. They might be short on storage areas.

Leckford Estate English champagne in a fresh cool bottle.
English ‘champagne’ is ideal for a country wedding

Try Plumpton Estate – a delicate pink made by students of wine growing helped by some heavyweight specialists. Only 2000 or so bottles exist so you may have to stock up early. Or Leckford Estate made on Waitrose’s model vineyard in a beautiful village in Hampshire – an excellent best buy.

How much champagne to buy for 100 wedding guests

There are three potential moments during the day when you might want to serve champagne or a sparkling wine.  As guests arrive at the reception they are usually greeted by a glass of fizz and a selection of tiny, easy to eat, canapes.  When the best man calls upon guests to toast the happy couple everyone must have a glass filled and ready to raise.  Finally as the cake is cut, many weddings also offer a sweeter still or sparkling wine.

Not all of these moments need real champagne.  If you want to serve champagne just once then make it for the toasts.  Choose a cocktail made with an inexpensive fizz for the welcome drink and a quality Cava, Prosecco or Cremant de Bourgogne for the other occasions. 

Weddings today are organised according to a schedule that suits the couple and the style of their celebration.  So you may find the couple do the cake and the toasts at the same time. 

If a waiter is pouring the champagne then make to sure to tell them how full you want the glasses to be.  This is perfectly reasonable and nobody will feel you are a cheapskate. 

Half a glass is acceptable but it is usually agreed that two thirds of a glass of fizz looks good and lasts for enough sips to put everyone into a good mood. 

How to calculate how much champagne to buy

Expect to get 6 champagne flutes or coupe glasses from a regular sized bottle.

Magnums, which are the size of two standard bottles, look swish.  Just ensure that whoever is pouring can easily handle a magnum as it’s quite heavy. 

Take into account how many times guests will have their glasses refilled.  For tables of 6 – 10 you might go for two bottles in an ice-filled bucket brought round for the toasts or the cake cutting.  Bring them any earlier and you’ll have guests drinking champagne throughout the meal.  Not too worrying if you are serving Cava but a pricey decision if you are serving champagne.

Calculation: Number of adult guests x number of occasions (1,2 or 3) divided by glasses per bottle (6 if bottle on table, 9 or 12 if served by a waiter).

For example: 100 guests, drinks poured by waiter, two-thirds full, welcome aperitif, toasts and cake/dessert – 34 bottles or 17 magnums.  Some people might ask for a refill but others may not drink alcohol so this calculation should be fine.

Remember that by the time it comes to the cake cutting or the dessert many people will have had sufficient wine and will prefer a coffee.  This will apply especially to older people and to anyone who needs to drive.

A good plan for 100 adults might be:

  • welcome bellini cocktail (using half glass of wine and quarter glass peach puree) poured by waiter using 9-12 bottles of Prosecco
  • champagne for the toasts in ice-bucket at each table of 10 using 20 bottles of Champagne (2 per table)
  • coffee at cake-cutting
  • Open bar after the meal

If you are hosting the wedding at home then you should take a look at my post which lists the most important things you’ll need to plan for the day.

And you can calculate how many servers you need for both food and wines using this useful article.

A champagne cocktail being poured at a sophisticated venue
Champagne or something more original?