Hosting dilemma: Which wine to drink first

Most hosts have faced the dilemma at some point: You’re having several bottles of wine over the course of the evening, some better than others. Which order do you drink the wines? 

If an evening is to feature a mixture of white wines and red wines, and maybe even rosés, then it’s generally accepted that the white wines should be drunk first, followed by rosés and then reds. If a dinner features a dessert wine, then that is drunk with dessert regardless of its color. 

But what if an evening doesn’t follow the classic wine dinner approach and you’re only drinking white wines or red wines? 

There are two schools of thought. One is that you should drink the lower quality wines first and then work your way up. The thinking behind this is that if you drink the better wines first followed by lesser wines, guests would notice the drop-off in quality because their palate would have been primed by better wines. 

On the other hand, the more wine a person drinks, the more their taste buds become numb – a phenomenon known as palate fatigue – so they can best appreciate the really good wines earlier in the evening. 

Two of Cayman’s wine industry professionals weighed in on the dilemma and both gave a resounding “it depends” as a response.  

“I don’t think that there are absolutes for the question,” said Jenna Mayle, sommelier at Agua Restaurant and Lounge. “I believe it depends on the scenario. If you are dining, drink what pairs best with the course. If you are simply enjoying wine, it may be best to enjoy the highest quality wine first to avoid palate fatigue. Another option is drinking from lightest body to most full-bodied wine. This too, will help you avoid palate fatigue.” 

Ross Chernin, the retail wine specialist at Jacques Scott Wines and Spirits, also believes the answer isn’t clear cut. 

“It depends on what kind of night you’re having and what kinds of wines you’re planning to drink,” he said. “If you’re having a dinner and you have a benchmark wine you want to drink, you probably want to start with entry or mid-level wines and then move to the real show-stopper later, and you hope that it pairs with whatever you’re eating.” 

However, if the evening is really about getting together and drinking wines and the food element is secondary, then the dilemma gets a little more tricky.  

“I don’t like to start with the most amazing wine because you don’t know how it will show, especially if it’s a bigger-style wine and you have lighter-style wines you plan to drink,” he said, adding that if he’s planning on drinking a combination of wines with different bodies, he would recommend drinking the lighter-styled wines first. 

However, if the styles are all comparable, sometimes it’s best to drink the best ones first. 

“Sometimes I do Champagne and fried chicken evenings with friends, and when I do, I start with the best Champagne right away so that we can really enjoy it,” he said.  

For wine aficionados, any gathering with friends can lead to long nights and many bottles of wine. In these cases, Chernin warns about bringing out the big guns late in the evening. 

“If you’re going to open up a nice bottle of something special, you don’t want to be at the point where you can’t appreciate it,” he said. “You don’t want to wake up the next morning and say, ‘Why did I open that? I could have easily opened up something else less special and enjoyed it just as much.’” 

When you have a lineup of wines to drink in an evening, a host’s dilemma is choosing the order in which to serve them. – Photo: Alan Markoff