What Is the Best Order to Serve Wine at a Party?

best order to serve wine at a party

The best order to serve wine at a party is dry white wines first and bold, sweet red wines last. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user Counselling

When you have vintage Krug, Screaming Eagle Cabernet, and Angelus Grand Cru on the menu, you need to give these special wines plenty of space to impress your guests (and yourself). If you serve the Screaming Eagle first, the wine’s robust, juicy flavors will overpower your palate, eclipsing the lighter flavors found in the Krug. Hosting a wine tasting–or just a dinner that features some exceptional wines–is a lot like being the conductor of an orchestra. You should know when to highlight the delicate notes and when to go all-out with bigger, brasher ones.

Less Is More

Some of the best wine tastings I’ve attended featured just one or two varietals, at most. These hyper-focused tastings allow you to dig in deep with the wines, finding the subtle differences between each vintage. By contrast, the more exhausting tastings I’ve been to served dozens of bottles of wine, ranging from delicate Riesling to the most syrupy port imaginable. The problem with less-focused tasting parties is that it can be difficult to accurately taste and appreciate each wine’s subtleties.

For instance, you might drink a tart, mouthwatering Oregon Pinot Noir, and a few minutes later, drink a sweet, blander German Riesling. Comparing the Riesling to the Pinot Noir is like comparing apples to oranges, and this actually makes it more difficult to spot flaws in both wines. You can’t tell whether the Riesling is actually bland, or if it only tastes that way because you drank the Pinot Noir first. For tasting parties, I usually pick one overarching theme (like “aged white wines” or “light-bodied reds”), then serve wines to match . However, in a casual party setting, it’s not always possible to stick to just one theme. In this case, you’ll need to serve your wines according to varietal, body, age, and sweetness.  

Choosing the Order to Serve Your Wines

Let’s say that you want to serve the following wines at a party:

Although these wines don’t appear to have a consistent theme on first glance, you can still group them by style to carefully ease your palate into each wine.

Step One: Sort by Varietal

Generally, you should try to serve your white wines before your red wines, however, you don’t have to follow this rule religiously. At formal tastings, most guests will expect to be served whites before reds.  In a casual party setting, you can ignore the rule if you have a particularly bold white wine. A thick, rich Chardonnay might be better served after a delicate glass of Lambrusco, for instance. You should also try to serve your sparkling wines in the very beginning to excite your palate.

Based on the wine list above, your groupings should now look like:

Whites

  • Young Champagne
  • 15-year-old white Burgundy
  • Young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sauternes

Reds

  • Young Oregon Pinot Noir
  • Vintage port
  • 20-year-old red Bordeaux
  • 10-year-old Australian Shiraz

Step Two: Refine by Weight and Age

Next, order your reds and whites from lightest to heaviest. Light-bodied whites should be served first, whereas full-bodied reds should be served last. While you’re considering body, also think about the bottle’s age. An aged red Bordeaux might be full-bodied, but it won’t be as intense as a young Shiraz, so it should be served first; an aged white Burgundy will usually taste more intense than a young Sauvignon Blanc, so the Sauvignon Blanc should be served first. If you’re not very familiar with each wine, read some tasting notes to find the best placement.

Depending on your wine’s tasting notes, your list should now look something like:

Whites

  • Young Champagne (sparkling wine first)
  • Young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (light, crisp white)
  • 15-year-old white Burgundy (aged, rich white)
  • Sauternes (sweet, intense white)

Reds

  • Young Oregon Pinot Noir (light-bodied red)
  • 20-year-old red Bordeaux (full-bodied, rich red)
  • 10-year-old Australian Shiraz (full-bodied, with bold, fruity flavors)
  • Vintage port (intense, concentrated dessert wine)

Step Three: Save Sweets for Later

Also keep in mind that you’ll want to pour your dry wines first, and save your sweetest dessert wines for last. Go through both your red and white wine lists again and identify how sweet each wine is. If two wines have similar weight and intensity, serve the sweeter wine after the other. For instance, if you have a medium-bodied, dry young Riesling and a medium-bodied, sweet young Chenin Blanc, you should serve the Riesling first. Sweet flavors tend to overpower the palate.

Botrytized wines like Sauternes, as well as ice wines and fortified dessert wines, should always be served after all of your other wines, including your bold reds. Knowing this, the final wine list becomes:

Appetizer/First Course: Whites

  • Young Champagne
  • Young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  • 15-year-old white Burgundy

Main Course: Reds

  • Young Oregon Pinot Noir
  • 20-year-old red Bordeaux
  • 10-year-old Australian Shiraz

Dessert: Sweet and Fortified Wines

  • Sauternes
  • Vintage port

Finding the best order in which to serve several wines requires some trial and error. The most important tip to remember is that your best wines should remain at the center of attention. Save your oldest, rarest wines for a one-on-one tasting in an intimate setting so that your palate won’t be distracted or overpowered by any other wines. If you have a large number of fine wines that you want to share with your friends, then a large tasting like this could be the perfect setting, as long as you pay attention to the order you’re serving your wines in.

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Ryan has worked in every restaurant capacity from bartender to management, and in wine distribution as a consultant and advisor to Chicago’s most elite restaurants and retailers. As a new member of Vinfolio's Executive Fine Wine Specialists, he is thrilled to share his expertise and passion for wine. Outside of the office, he can be found learning to cultivate vines in the garden, with a glass of White Burgundy in hand, or hiking with his wife and dogs.