Save the Sweet for Last: Why tastings are ordered the way they are

Ice Bucket

Tastings are often delivered in a particular order to help the taster have the best tasting possible. This is why when you attend a festival or visit a winery, the pourer is often hesitant to let you join in the middle of a tasting.  Having wines out-of-order can ruin the flavor of wine. I’m now going to try to answer the two main questions about why the order is the way it is.

Why do tastings go from dry to sweet?

Before I can answer this question, I’m going to explain what a wine lover means when they use the word finish. The finish of a wine refers to the aftertaste left on your palate/in your mouth after swallowing. When a wine has a “long finish” that means the residual taste stays in your mouth. The reason tastings go from dry to sweet is because sweet wine often has a longer finish.  Having a wine with a sweet finish first will interfere with the taste of anything dry by making it taste more acidic, bland, or sour.

When we order wines from dry to sweet, it isn’t done by the raw taste but by the residual sugar left in the wine. Residual sugar is measured in a few ways, including the units grams per liter and in percent sugar content by volume. Wine is usually ordered from least residual sugar to most even if the sweetness is balanced due to acidity.

Why do tastings go from white to red?

First, going from white to red removes the need to rinse the glass mid-tasting.  The main exception for this rule is putting dry before sweet.  Tastings will often do dry whites and dry reds, then sweet whites and sweet reds.

Also, going from white to red usually follows the rule to go from a light taste to a more full-bodied one. The point of ordering wines in a particular way is to make sure the wine doesn’t overpower or influence the taste of anything after it.  Having a full-bodied wine early on will affect anything lighter that follows it.This another example of why the finish of the wine needs to be taken into account when ordering a wine tasting.

A major exception to both of these rules is that sparkling wines, such as champagne or prosecco, are generally put first regardless of their color or residual sugar. If including sparkling, the tasting would go white sparkling to red sparkling, then dry whites to dry reds, finishing with sweet whites to sweet reds.  Rosé‎s would fit in the middle of the white and reds in each category.

In summary, wine tastings are ordered in a fashion so the aftertaste of one wine doesn’t impact the flavor of the next wine.

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