Wine Serving Order: Traditional vs Practical

When working with more than one wine, serving order matters. Drinking a fruity red after a bold red will make it tastes one-dimensional and watery.

There are 5 traditional guidelines on the serving order of wine. However, there are occassions, for practical reasons, when we would not follow these guidelines. Our expert tips below:

1) Sparkling before Still

Generally sparkling wines are fresher, crispier, and lighter in body than still wines, thus they are served first.

Practical exception: Sparklings can be used as a desert wine. Rosé Champagne or sparkling go well with raspberries or strawberries. Lightly sweet sparklings such as Moscato d'Asti goes very well with a delicate dessert such as Tiramisu. Sec (sweet) sparklings go well with custard and richer dessert.

2) Dry before Sweet

Generally speaking, serve dry before sweet to avoid over-powering your palate.

Practical exception: This happens in France frequently. Sauternes and Tokaji are perfect pairing partners for foie gras which is generally served before the main course that is paired with a dry red or white wine. Rather than depriving ourselves of a classic pairing enjoyment, we suggest cleansing the palate with a plain bread before moving on to a dry wine.

3) Light before Full

Serving a light bodied wine before a full bodied wine allows us to fully enjoy the delicacy of the first wine as well as the complexity of the second wine. Serving it in reverse order would strip the enjoyment out of the first wine, as our palate "under influence" would find it rather weak. For practical reason, we always stick to this guideline!

4) White before Red

Generally speaking, white wine is served before red wine as it is less tannic and lighter bodied.

Practical exception: With a traditional 5-course menu, light reds such as Beaujolais and Valpolicella can be the perfect pairing partners to a poultry or pasta based second course. Don't worry if the third course is a pan-fried fish or creamy lobster. A full bodied white such as Burgundy Grand Cru will not be overpowered by a gentle red. We can break the rule and still have a great night.

5) Young before Old

The traditional guideline refers to serving a simple wine before a complex wine. Mature wines in general have more complex bouquet and flavors.

Practical exception: Many mature wines are more delicate on the palate thus don't pair as well with a full-bodied, heavily sauced steak. To get the best out of every bottle, we suggest drinking the more defined and delicate mature wine first. And pair the younger and more tannic red with the heavily flavored steak.

Even without the steak, we may still drink a mature "old" bottle before a young bottle. It goes back to the "light before full" guideline. With all elements being the same (grape variety, production method), a mature red is usually more elegant in body.

By sharing this, we hope you can get the most out of every one bottle! And next time you sit through a 5 course meal, be more venturing and creative with the wine and food pairing. You won't have to be limited pairing foie gras with a dry wine (which is horrible when compared to the perfect sauternes-foie gras pairing). Enjoy!

Suggested pages: Food & Wine Pairing | How to Serve Wine

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