Which Wine to Taste First?

By Gary Twining


When tasting several wines in succession, the goal is to maximize your ability to taste all the  wines so they show their best attributes. That depends partly on the order in which you taste them, and these basic guidelines can assist you in arranging wines in tasting order, with some exceptions and a number of considerations.


A meal parallels the basic aspects of tasting because its goal is to show each course at its best while keeping the diner’s interest in the flavors. Appetizers (light, salty, crisp) start because they are the lightest. They are followed by light white meat courses (seafood, poultry), then the fuller white meats (veal, pork). Red meats are even fuller in body and texture and would be the next in line, followed by the dessert course served at the end of the meal.


Wines follow the same progression. Ponder the following guidelines:

Light before full: If you serve the fuller bodied wine first, the lighter wine will seem lighter and less interesting than it is. Start with the lighter wines and progress to the fullest, and both will show at their best.


White before red: Exceptions can be noted; if you have to pair wines with several appetizers you can go back and forth between white and red. An example would be a seafood appetizer followed by a rabbit terrine. While a white could be paired with the game, a light red like Beaujolais is perfect and makes wonderful sense. You can then move back to a fuller white or one with more acidity. If you are evaluating wines alone, the reds can be tasted before the whites, which will help cleanse the palate of tannins from the full-bodied reds.


Dry before sweet: Sugar shuts down the appetite and palate; that’s why dessert is served late in the meal. If you have a lightly sweet wine in the lineup it can be comfortably served before the fuller-bodied whites. Consider that Sauternes and fois gras are paired as an appetizer and the French now serve Tawny Porto as an aperitif. For a serious tasting it still is best to serve the sweeter wines at the end of the event to show the dry whites at their best.


Lead to the best quality: You will be able to tell the difference if a lower quality wine is served after a finer one. Lead up to the highest-quality wine.


Taste young before old: Younger bottles offer more structure, acidity and tannins and will be harsher after an older wine of the same type. Some tasters do prefer serving older Champagnes, sparkling wines and Portos before young examples. Experiment to find your preference.


How do you place unusual or unknown wines? Lead up to the wine with the highest alcohol content (again considering the age of the wine).


Simply think the variables through and balance the most important considerations. The process gets easier with experience. The worst that can happen is you might have to change the order.




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