Wine Tasting Order

Whether you’re out at the wine shop, at a wine tasting party, or just have multiple bottles open at a gathering, the order that wines are tasted in can have a big impact on flavor.  There are so many wines though, how does one go about determining which order to try them in?

In general the rules are as follows:

  • White before Red – This is important not only for the flavor of the wine, but also could offend your host in some cultures.
  • Dry before Sweet – The sweetness will cause the drier wine to become to acidic.
  • Light Body before Heavy Body – It’s harder to taste a Pinot Noir after a big Cabernet.
  • Anything before Fortified – Fortified wines have high alcohol contents, and can burn out both the sense of smell and the palette.
  • Sparkling First but after White / Red, Dry / Sweet – Generally speaking, this is the case, but it is dependent on color and sweetness.
  • Young before Old – Age before beauty isn’t always the case with wine.  In deep tastings, with a lot of bottles, nuances of old wines may be lost, but in general, go young before old.

The wine tasting order for some of the most common varietals on the market would be as follows [any sparkling wines will go at the start of the color]:

  1. Riesling [Dry]
  2. Pinot Grigio
  3. Sauvignon Blanc
  4. Gewürztraminer
  5. Chenin Blanc
  6. Viognier
  7. Chardonnay
  8. Rosé / Clariet
  9. Pinot Noir
  10. Sangiovese
  11. Tempranillo
  12. Grenache
  13. Zinfandel
  14. Merlot
  15. Shiraz / Syrah
  16. Cabernet Sauvignon
  17. Sweet [White before Red]
  18. Dessert Wines [non-fortified]
  19. Fortified Wines

Blends require some guesswork, but in general the largest grape by percentage will dictate the character of the wine.

  • Briggspf

    I was looking for a good article like this!  Thank you!  Where would you put temperino in this order?

    • Wow, I’m sorry about my delay.  Tempranillo is a bit of a tricky one.  Most of the younger,  straight Tempranillo from Rioja though will mostly go best after Sangiovese.  Older Tempranillo, those with heavy oak, or blends with Cabernet or Grenache will fare better around Zinfandel or Merlot.  

      • Jill Jaeger

        What about those labeled Crianza?

  • Throwing a Wine Tasting

    Where would Malbec fit in the order?

    • Brenda C

      I believe it would come after the Syrah

  • ellisge

    What about Mourvedre?

    • Jill Jaeger

      I would like to know this as well…also known as Monastrell here in Mexico.

      • ellisge

        After more searching. It looks to be before Syrah. http://winefolly.com/review/mourvedre-wine/

        • Madeline’s team does great work at Wine Folly, I’m looking forward to seeing a copy of their new book.

          I’m inclined to put Mourvedre after Syrah due to the highly tannic nature it sometimes exhibits. I might reverse this order for an Australian Shiraz, only due to the added weight of the alcohol and occasionally sweeter nature.

          As the graphic Madeline has there shows though, Mourvedre approaches Shiraz, so you’re in the right neighborhood either way!

  • Jill Jaeger

    Or Blanco de Blancos?

    • Generally sparkling will go first, so at the start of the tasting.

  • Jill Jaeger

    Or Carmenere?

    • Carmenere is general a little more toward the moderate side, enough to be mistaken as Merlot. (It is occasionally called the lost bordeaux!). While you’d be safe slotting this on either side of Merlot, I’d put it behind the merlot due to some of the herbaceous flavors it can pick up.

  • Jill Jaeger

    Or last week, I served a Blanc Moelluex and a Rouge Moelleux. When to serve in this order?

    • Regrettably, I’ve had neither of these, however, given that the moelleux normally refers to medium sweet. You could taste these with the sweet wines.

      Typically white before red applies here, unless you’re familiar with a particular disparity in sweetness that might make you reverse order.

      • Jill Jaeger

        This one was a real hit and very economical: (if you are looking for one to try)

        Rouge Moelleux Baron de Lirondeau, France 2014

        • I’ll have to be on the look out for it Jill. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Jill Jaeger

    Torrontes?

    • In my experience, I’d place Torrontés before Sauvignon Blanc. They have similar body, with Torrontés sometimes being a little lighter.

  • Jill Jaeger

    Just to clarify…for the last 3 months I have been doing wine flights at my restaurant, and all the questions I have asked have come from this experience. Not trying to be difficult. 🙂

    • I’ll certainly do my best to help you out! Glad you’re so passionate about wine tasting order!

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  • TravellingWino

    I am holding a Cabernet tasting this evening and we have wines from all over the world. What order do I serve them in?? Help Please

    • Hi TravellingWino,

      Your cabernet tasting sounds exciting! Generally speaking, the body of cabernet is going to be somewhat similar, but you might see some differences depending on where it’s from and the year it was grown. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick with location as the driver, and my recommendation would be serve cooler climate first as the body is lighter, alcohol potentially lower, and the profile brighter with less fruit forward characteristics:

      Cooler Climates (Leaner body, brighter, more red fruit flavors):
      Bordeaux, France
      New York
      Chile
      Washington State

      Warmer Climates (Full bodied, higher alcohol, ripe fruit):
      California
      Australia
      Argentina
      Spain
      Southern Italy

      Hope your tasting goes great and you have a blast!

      Cheers,
      Nick

  • G

    Am I wrong that some of the Washington/Oregon rieslings might be a little farther down the list due to their sweetness? Seems so to my albeit limited palate.

    • Hi G,

      That’s correct, any time you have a sweet wine you want to consider tasting it later. That sweetness can disrupt your palate and make the dry wine seem more acidic than it is!

      Cheers,
      Nick

  • Ang

    Thank you. I received a flight in an akward order and wanted a quick reference to make sure I made the correct adjustment. I will note this site for future situations.

  • Glock67

    Where in this list would you place carmenere and barbera?

    • Hi Glock67,

      I’d slot the Barbera just before Merlot, and the Carménère just after the Zinfandel. Cheers!

      • Glock67

        Thank you. Where would you put a Cab Franc?

        • Depending on the climate (warm or cool), either side of Merlot would work! I would recommend before for a cooler climate (France), or after for warmer climates (California, Italy). Cheers!

  • debs

    We will be hosting a tasting of various Sauvignon Blanc from around the world. Any suggestions on how to order them?

    • Hi debs,

      There’s no particularly right order there, so you can go anyway you please! Only thought that springs to mind is that due to more focus on terroir, wines from Europe may be perceived as drier than their New World cousins who focus on fruit.

      Cheers!

  • Jessica Voss

    Where would a vinho verde go?

    • Hi Jessica,

      Vinho Verde are light and crisp, just after Pinot Grigio would be best! Cheers!

  • Jake Lenihan

    Fantastic article! Where would you put a nero d’Avola? Towards the end close the syrah and cab I’m guessing?