Most people probably don't think much about the proper serving order for wines, but serving or drinking wine in the right order can make a big difference. Serving or drinking wines in the wrong order can negatively affect both the taste of the wines as well as the taste of the food, so paying attention to which wines are served when can enhance the meal, helping everyone enjoy both their wine and their food all the more.
Some people may only drink a single wine over the course of a meal, but it's not uncommon to have a couple of different wines served with different courses of the meal. There can a wine with appetizers, another with the main course, a dessert wine, and even an after-dinner wine. It's even more common to have a couple of different wines available throughout the course of a meal for people who prefer different sorts of wines. So thinking about when to drink what wine may be necessary more often than some people realize.
Serving Order for Wine Without Food
If you're serving wine alone, without food, then you have far more options for the serving order. Although it may sound strange to think of just serving several wines without a meal, this is what you'd encounter if you were at any sort of wine tasting party. The only food you'll have will be plain food to clear the palette, like bread, or simple foods to try pairing with the wines, like basic cheeses.
The general rule of thumb for the serving order of wines is to start with those served coldest and move along to those served warmest. This is because the wines which are supposed to be served warmest are also usually the most complex and thus are best drunk later in the evening; drinking them first might overwhelm your ability to discern the most subtle flavors and aromas of colder wines.
So the wines you should start with are sparkling wines and champagnes, rosés and blushes, and whites wines. These should be followed up with better white wines, light red wines, stronger red wines, and dessert wines. You can end the evening with higher-quality, higher-alcohol port, sherry, and after-dinner wines — assuming anyone is still standing by this point, of course.
Serving Order for Wine With Food
If you're serving wine with food, it's probably in the context of a meal. You can't very easily rearrange the order of dessert, salad, and appetizer to accommodate your wines so your wines will have to accommodate the serving order of the dishes in the meal. This may not allow you to stick to the ideal order for serving wines and you could end up serving a full bodied red wine before a simpler white wine.
This doesn't mean that you can have no control whatsoever over the serving order of wines, though. Since you know you need to pick your wines based on what food your are serving, you can pick foods that pair best with wines in the best order. You can pick appetizers that work best with a sparkling wine (like baked Brie), a soup that goes well with a dry white wine, a main dish that goes well with a powerful red, and a dessert that goes well with a particular dessert wine that you like.