White Before Red? Definitely. Sometimes.

Photo courtesy of www.winefolly.com

As a “general rule” when tasting through several wines it is almost always best to drink in a certain order: bubbles, white, red, sweet. The rule makes sense because you want to drink lighter bodied wines and wines with higher acidity before drinking bigger bodied wines and wine with higher tannins. But rules are sometimes made to be broken and wine tasting order is no exception.

In my experience, this can either be a fun alteration to the standard rules, or it really messes with your sense of what is right in the world and this all depends on what kind of wine taster you are. I’m not talking about skill level, or how advanced your palate is.



I’m talking about mind set. Are you a give me all the wine type – willing and even excited to taste different styles and varietals, from regions near and far?

img_2104Or do you prefer to stick to not only the “proper” tasting order, but also to drinking what you know – life is too short to drink anything you don’t love and all that?

The subject of wine tasting order has been on my mind recently because twice a week I pour through 5 wines at my local wine market, and a certain order is recommended. And 95% of the time, it is the standard recommended order that works best. As is always the case, there are exceptions and sometimes rules are indeed made to be broken.

There are always customers who insist on going backwards, or who want to hodge podge their way through the line up. The tasters that make me the most curious are the ones who only drink white, or only drink red, or will drink anything but this or anything but that. The purpose of a tasting is to experience things you aren’t familiar with. No one expects anyone to love everything they taste – that is why there is a dump bucket.

I feel I have to go on record here, that what and how an individual chooses to consume anything is 100% their choice.  If you want to drink the Cabernet Sauvignon before the Sauvignon Blanc, then that is the way I’m going to pour it for you. If I’m pouring 1 white and 4 reds and you announce you won’t drink red and wan’t 5 pours of the white, then that’s what I’m going to pour for you. But I am going to wonder why you chose to do the tasting instead of just buying glass of something you like at the bar. I truly believe there are personality correlations here – Meyers, Brigg should consider this in their testing profiles!

Human nature aside, the wine can sometimes demand a departure from the standard rules. A couple of tasting surprises that have stuck with me is that a Zinfandel can go from jammy to tasting down right sweet (dessert wine sweet) if you put it last in the line up, and a lean, crisp Rosé sometimes works better before a California Sauvignon Blanc.

I attended a distributor trade show recently and when I came upon a booth that was having everyone taste their wines in a specific order – with their white wine last, I had to stop and participate.

The winery was Melka Estates and much credit goes to their Director of Sales and Brand Manager, Sylie Laly who was unflustered by the huge crowd high priced wines draw at trade show. She not only orchestrated the tasting order in the most friendly way possible, she continued to educate and engage the crowd. She even took the time to write the order of tasting in my catalog and did so for everyone else as well. The booth was far too busy to ask her about the rationale behind the order – perhaps it is that they don’t believe in tasting order all – some people don’t!

I expected the white to be a very big and bold in order to stand up after 5 reds, but it actually came off as quite delicate, even floral – while at the same time having intense aroma and flavor –  even after tasting the 5 reds. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me enamored with wine. I would love to try the Melka Proprietary White blend again by itself. Although beautiful at this tasting I’m sure my palate was impacted by the red wines I tasted first and I would like to play around with this a bit more.

As so often happens in life, I no sooner turned the corner and found myself at the Prisoner Wines booth where I was again contemplating tasting order protocol and the impact it can have, only this time it couldn’t have been more clear to me.

I’m familiar with The Prisoner Wine reds but hadn’t ever tried the white wines. The rep poured The Blindfold first. Wow. It’s a big white wine. This is a white that red only drinkers would begrudgingly love. But, the next wine the rep offered was the brand new Pinot Noir, Eternally Silenced. On first sip the Pinot Noir tasted like nothing. This shocked me because with Prisoner wines you expect a big and bold expression of whatever you are drinking – even Pinot Noir. My face must have given my thoughts away. I could tell the rep was disappointed in my reaction and so I explained I felt the Blindfold was overpowering the Pinot.  I decided to see if my opinion would change on 2nd or 3rd sip. And it really did. As the Blindfold faded, I was able to better taste the Pinot Noir, but it still seemed much lighter than I would expect from this producer.

I am still curious about this experience of the Prisoner Wines. So much so that I’ve decided that one weekend when we decide to stay in, I’m going to purchase a bottle of the Blindfold and the Eternally Silence to explore them both further. The Proprietary White from Melka will have to wait for a very a special occasion.

So, what do you think about tasting order? Have you experienced a situation where the tasting order really impacted a wine one way or the other? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


In the August issue of Wine Spectator, Editor at large, Harvey Steiman adds an interesting perspective on this subject with his column entitled Sweet Wines With Dinner. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link to the article.





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