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Serving Wine Etiquette

Traditionally, wines are served in the following order: white wines before red, and dry ('sec') wines before sweet. Food is the real determining factor though. The most important goal is to choose the wines that best suit your menu and serve them in that order. Visit the food and wine pairings section for suggestions on appropriate wines.

When you plan your food - wine matches, you can start either with the food or with the wine. Generally, you will set the food menu first and then choose the wine based on how it will complement the food.

wine sequence

A good pre-dinner choice to serve with hors d'oeuvres is sparkling wine. An aperitif to stimulate the appetite.

If you're serving more than one kind of wine with the meal, this general progression works best:

  1. white wines before red wine,
  2. light wines before heavy wine, and
  3. dry wines before sweet wine.
  4. drink lesser wines before better wine.

how much wine to buy

As a general rule, plan on one bottle of wine per person for total wine purchases. The following table provides more specific guidance:


Number of Wines

4 guests

6 guests

8 guests

10 guests

12 guests

Two (2)

2 bottles of each wine

3 bottles of each wine

4 bottles of each wine

5 bottles of each wine

6 bottles of each wine

Three (3)

1 bottle of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

3 bottles of each wine

4 bottles of each wine

Four (4)

1 bottle of each wine

1 bottle of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

3 bottles of each wine

Five (5)

1 bottle of each wine

1 bottle of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

2 bottles of each wine

3 bottles of each wine

Dessert wines are considered separately. They can be served as an accompaniment to a dessert - or as dessert. The serving size is much smaller, but the bottle size is half that of a table wine.

servings of wine per bottle

For large parties, consider buying wine in containers larger than the standard (750 ml) bottles. Magnums can offer savings.

choosing the wine

If you don't know your guests' preferences, stock both a red and a white. Provide wines that are easy-to-drink and that will pair well with the food served. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris for easy-drinking whites
  • Riesling for food-friendly white
  • Beaujolais for light, easy-drinking red
  • Pinot Noir for food-friendly red
  • Tempranillo or Cotes du Rhone for smooth, down-the-middle reds

wine tasting parties

Do you want your event to be educational? Would you rather assemble a bunch of different wines and let your guests experiment on their own? Or something in between?

Traditional wine tastings have a structure of sorts.

  • The Leader. Someone knowledgeable about the wines being served to facilitate discussion and answer questions.
  • Who to Invite. Anyone who has an interest in sampling and learning about wine.
  • How Many Wines to Serve. As many as you want-but five or six wines work well.

Seat guests at a table with empty wineglasses in front of them - one for each wine if possible. You can rent glasses if you like. Or you can limit the glasses to one or two per person. If you'll be tasting both reds and whites, splurge and go for two per person. In any case, have a pitcher on the table to rinse the glasses between wines. And, of course, a dump bucket for the water or wine.

As with the sequence of wines for a wine tasting party:

  1. white before red,
  2. light before heavy,
  3. and dry before sweet.

In selecting the wines, you might want to consider a "theme." Consider these traditional options:

Vertical tasting -You serve several bottles of the same wine from the same producer, only from different vintages. The objective is to identify the wine's traits that appear from year to year - or the differences from one year to the next.

Horizontal tasting - Serve the same kind of wine from the same year from the same general area but from different producers.

Blind tasting - You keep the identity of the wines secret while they're being tasted. That way no one is influenced by the reputation of a particular winery or region or vintage.

wine tasting party strategies
  • A good strategy is to invite your guests to bring a bottle of wine and prepare to tell the group about it.
  • Allot one wineglass per person and place water pitchers and dump buckets around the party rooms.
  • As different wines are being poured, ask the guest who brought it to describe the wine and explain why she chose it.
  • Themes create a fun atmosphere for these less formal tastings, where your guests bring a wine related to the theme.

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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