What's wrong with drinking white wine after red?

Fact check: Does the drink-white-first rule check out?
Fact check: Does the drink-white-first rule check out? Photo: Marina Oliphant

What is the problem with drinking white wine after red?

You're doubtless familiar with the time-honoured, if regrettably unreliable, adage "beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you're in the clear".

A French variant suggests that if you drink white wine before red you can expect to feel fine. Do the reverse, mon ami, and you'll spend the night getting to know your closest toilet facilities a lot more intimately than you might like.

Alas, I have not found anything other than anecdote to support this. For the most part, the drink-white-first rule, if we can call it that, is driven by the theory that it's best to drink lighter-bodied wines before moving to bigger wines that are likely to dull your palate to the nuances of more delicate examples.

As a rule of thumb, then, it's good to serve white wine before reds; dry wines before sweet ones; and young wines before older vintages. But these are arbitrary rules and they're made to be broken, especially if the food served alongside demands it. You might pour a young, fresh red - a grenache, say - with a salmon entree before opening a richer, more developed chardonnay to go with a veal main course. It's a French custom to serve sweet wine - maybe sauternes - with dishes such as foie gras at the start of a meal before moving on to dryer wines. As for saving your most prized, longest-cellared wine to be the finale for the meal? You run the risk that your guests will already have eaten and drunk so lavishly that they won't really appreciate it - the smart thing might be to pour it earlier in the evening.

At the end of the day, (I'm not advocating the start of the day) drinking white wine after red doesn't have to be a problem. I withdraw this advice in the event that it is 3am and you're eyeing the white only because you drank all the red, the port and cognac, and the sole alternative is the advocaat gathering dust at the back of the pantry. At this juncture the only thing you should be quaffing is soluble painkillers, with a Berocca chaser.

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