Every savvy host knows that almost half of their overall party budget will be directed to food and beverages and wine can be a significant part of that expense. Wine is not only expensive, it is intimidating. There are thousands of choices and so many new labels; it is easy to make a mistake or worry you are going to make a mistake when selecting wine and champagne for a large crowd. Even experienced party-givers and industry professionals are a little intimidated when it comes to selecting wine. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area. I know a little, but I prefer to rely on the real experts to guide me. It’s their job to be up on the latest, best, and best priced wines in the market so I go to them for help. Any large wine seller will have an in-house expert. Give them a budget and they should be able to recommend several wines to meet your needs.

how to buy wine for a party or wedding Martie Duncan

Here are the most questions I am most frequently asked about wine:  

How much wine do I need for my party?

The basic rule of thumb for calculating consumption is 5 glasses per standard 750 milliliter bottle of wine. Many glasses are oversized but don’t be tempted to over-pour. Five ounces is considered the correct amount per glass no matter how large the glass.

Dinner Party: Estimate four glasses per guest for a four hour dinner party or about one glass per hour. For example, if you have ten guests for four hours, you’d serve forty glasses of wine which would be about 8 bottles. You’ll have to determine the ratio of white to red based on your menu and guest list. (Add 20% extra like the caterers do, especially if you have some heavy drinkers on your guest list.)

Cocktail Party: Estimate three glasses per guest every two hours. For example, if you have ten guests for 2 hours that would be thirty glasses of wine which would be six bottles of wine. Determine your ratio of white to red wine based on the time of year, the time of your party, your menu, and your guest list. Why? Because women will usually drink more white wine than red and men have a tendency to drink more red wine. In summer, typically more people will drink white wine than red. For a party in the afternoon, more people will drink white than red to keep things light. At an evening affair, red is almost always the more popular choice but that could vary depending on the menu. If your guests list includes more women than men and your party is on a summer afternoon, you’ll need a greater percentage of white wine than red. If your party is in the fall, most of your guests are men, and the guests arrive at seven in the evening, you’ll likely serve more red wine than white. Are you completely confused? 

How much should I spend on wine for my party?

There are so many good wines available in every price range you can find something to serve that is easy to drink and easy on your pocket, too. I have no trouble finding good wines under $15 per bottle. A few good ones are listed below.  

Do I need to rent or buy special glasses?

Anything goes, but if you are having a large party, renting glassware is an easy solution. You can mix and match, too, but that isn’t what wine snobs would tell you. For a large event, you aren’t likely serving high value wines so you don’t have to use the perfect wine glass. Champagne, however, is best served in a flute. Target, Pottery Barn, and Pier 1 all have boxed sets of affordable wine glasses that come in a sturdy box for storage. Buy several of these and you won’t have to worry about renting. I don’t like serving wine in plastic but will occasionally use it for the right occasion—like at the beach where glass is prohibited, for example. 

What wines do you recommend?

Since wines are always changing, it is difficult to recommend one. It seems as if every time I go to my favorite wine store, I don’t recognize half of the brands on the shelves. I do have a few “go-to” favorites for different occasions. What I buy depends on the size of the crowd. For small, intimate gatherings, I tend to spend more per bottle than I do when there is a large crowd. Also, I will spend more on wine if the emphasis of the party is on the food. If we’re having a big party with lots of beverage options, I don’t spend a lot on the wine; I like to keep the price around $12 per bottle.

If I have a party coming up and want to be sure of what I’m buying, I will stop into Whole Foods or a wine shop where they have wine tastings to sample wines that will work for my event. They typically have a price break during these events so I try to stock up.

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Let me guess. Like many couples who have just gotten engaged, you've been bombarded with questions about your wedding plans. Where, when and most importantly, what kind of wedding you are planning. Most newly engaged couples have never planned a major party or special event; their wedding will be their first. They have no idea where to start with planning or even have an idea about the style of wedding they want. Even if they have some idea about the degree of formality and number of guests, what comes next is a complete question mark. Answer the questions below and you’ll have some idea about the type of wedding your personal style defines.


Take out a pen and jot down the answer that best describes you. When you are finished, you will have a description of the wedding you want to plan!

1. When you close your eyes, what do you envision for your wedding?

a.   outdoor, casual setting

b.   beach

c.   hotel or ballroom

d.   country club

e.   hip loft

f.    historic setting or city landmark

g.   alternative venue

h.   no idea


2. How would you describe your personal style?

a.   hip, cool

b.   traditional, conservative

c.   bohemian, hippie

d.   eclectic, diverse

e.   modern, sleek

f.    sophisticated, elegant

g.   dramatic diva

h.   country, casual

i.    other

j.    don’t know         


3. What is the one thing that is a must for your wedding?

a.   a unique space, something different than my recently married friends had

b.   completely delicious and unforgettable food

c.   incredible entertainment that makes the party happen

d.   film quality video and magazine quality photos

e.   a to-die-for couture gown for my big day

f.    flowers and décor that make your guests gasp when they enter the room

g.   a cake that people talk about for years

h.   something else

i.    don’t know


4. How would you want your décor to look?

a.   hot, bright and fun: hot pinks, bright greens, orange

b.   cool, calm and serene: aqua, brown, white, turquoise

c.   traditional: pinks and spring flowers

d.   all white

e.   seasonal: Autumn, spring, winter

f.    pretty and soft: feminine colors and lacy touches

g.   striking and bold: red, black, metallics, brown 

h.   follow a theme: farm, summer, 4th of July, beach, etc

i.    over the top and elaborate: use your imagination

j.    funky: Chinese lanterns, lots of pillows, colorful linens

k.   trendy: mood lighting, fabric drapes, conversation pits, etc

l.    highly styled: massive flower arrangements, each element coordinated

m.  monochromatic: one color theme throughout

n.   no muss, no fuss- like no effort was made: long banquet tables, lots of candles 

o.   something else

p.   no idea


5. I would want our food to be

a.   buffet style with lots of choices

b.   seated and served by waiters

c.   passed and served

d.   interactive stations

e.   champagne and dessert only

f.    a combination of these

g.   something else

h.   don’t know


6. I want our party to be

a.   an all out bash, dancing ‘til they throw us out

b.   elegant and timeless

c.   fun for all ages

d.   piano bar style

e.   big band

f.    orchestra

g.   wedding band

h.   just classical background type

i.    interactive DJ with games

j.    club DJ with hip tunes

k.   a combination of these

l.    something else

m.  don’t know


7. I want my guests to remember

a.   our personal touches, the sentiment and how special the day was to us

b.   the rock star party we threw

c.   how fantastic I looked

d.   our “Dancing with the Stars” moves during our first dance

e.   all the details and planning that went into every moment

f.    how much fun we had

g.   all of the above!

If you wrote down your answers, you should have a better idea of what you really want (affording it all is a different story) for your own wedding day.

For example, if your answers are 1. a, 2. a, 3. c, 4. b, 5. a, 6. j, 7. f, the description of your wedding would be: an ultra cool and trendy outdoor party decorated in aqua, turquoise, brown and white with an amazing band that played until the wee hours where our guests dined on multiple choices of food and beverages and everyone can’t stop talking about how much fun it was!

Now fill in the blanks to create a “mission statement” for your own wedding!


When my friends Scott and Cam's son Jeremy got married, I helped Cam implement her party plan for the after rehearsal dinner--- a casual shrimp boil on the lake.  The party was touching tribute complete with speeches and sentimental moments--- a perfect kick-off for a busy wedding weekend. The theme for the party was black and white and all of the guests dressed in black and white attire.

ideas for a rehearsal dinner Martie Duncan

We created a casual yet elegant setting which allowed the perfect opportunity for everyone to relax and catch up. All of the out-of-town family and friends were included in the after rehearsal dinner festivities.  

party at the lake Martie Duncan

We were able to borrow tables and chairs from the family's church to avoid having to rent them. White tablecloths were not actually tablecloths but twin sheets Cam found for a few dollars each. They were topped with a black and white topper or runner. Lanterns with an antique feel were used along with vases of white flowers and photos of the couple throughout their relationship.

We greeted guests at poolside with cold glasses of iced tea and traditional Southern favorites like Black-Eye Pea dip, cheese straws, bacon and cheese muffins, and fresh fruit.

Family and friends all pitched in to help with the food. The Shrimp Boil was cooked on the dock and served in a huge wooden boat. Tables were set with cocktail sauce and melted butter for dipping. Homemade bread with sweet butter rounded out the menu.

black and white rehearsal dinner plan Martie Duncan