ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I manage a tasting room at a small winery. We sample the wines in this order: whites first, dry to sweet, then reds, again dry to sweet. A few times I have had tasters that were horrified that we did the whites before the reds. Our winery is in Wisconsin and the few times that order was questioned has been from out-of-state visitors. My question is, is this a regional habit?

—Terri B., Camp Douglas, Wis.

Dear Terri,

What struck me about the order you describe isn’t so much white to red—which is pretty universally the way most folks taste wine—but that you’re going from dry to sweet back to dry.

I’m guessing that’s also what startled your customers. I find it really difficult to go from a dessert or even an off-dry wine to a dry wine, particularly a red. Sweeter wines tend to have a longer finish, and that sweet flavor can really linger, making a dry red seem bitter or sour when it normally wouldn’t. It’s a lot like how toothpaste and orange juice don’t mix.

My recommendation would be to taste from lightest to heaviest (which is why white to red generally works) and then from driest to sweetest. If you have both red and white dessert wines, you can put the white dessert wines ahead of the red ones, or better yet, put them in order of ascending residual sugar, regardless of color, which is how we assemble our blind tastings here.

—Dr. Vinny


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