Pouring Predicaments – Should the Expensive Wine Shine First or Take a Backseat?

Pouring Predicaments – Should the Expensive Wine Shine First or Take a Backseat?

When friends come over for dinner, what do you serve first, the expensive hero wine or the cheaper support act? It’s an age-old dilemma when you’re serving two bottles of red with the main meal on Saturday night. Is it better to warm up the palate with the cheapie and impress with the expensive wine, or should we make an impression with the five-star bottle and then slide in the 3-star backup? There seem to be different schools of thought but to me, serving the best first is a bit like flying to Europe in business class and coming back in economy! 

 It may be a ‘first world’ problem to have to solve, but it’s real. And it caused consternation in my house last Saturday night. Friends were coming over for slowed cooked beef short ribs on a bed of green pea mash and I’d decided that I wanted to try two Tasmanian pinots that I’d tucked away. One was the 42 Degrees South pinot which retails at about $36. The other was a very special bottle that I’d been gifted by a globe-trotting business partner who recently visited the Apple Isle – the Gala Estate Constable Amos 2020 – with a lofty price tag of about $120! I was expecting a lot from the prima donna with the big wraps, but is it poured first, or better kept for a crescendo? 

 As any good host does, I did a little ‘quality control’ by opening and decanting the wines a bit before the guests arrived – because if you pour these wines into a decanter, your guests don’t know that a glass or two is missing! Now don’t get me wrong; there is nothing bad to say about the 42 Degrees South pinot – it’s a youthful and vibrant pinot that is fully laden with cherries and redcurrants. At the modest ask, the $36 seems good value. But having ripped the stelvin off the Constable Amos and swished, swirled and swallowed, I realised quickly that the 42 Degrees pinot was in the presence of greatness! So, which first?  

Popular industry opinion seems to be that you always start with the lighter wines and move to the heavier, but if the wines are the same varietal or weight, start with the best before palate fatigue has a chance to set in (although in my house, the wines seem to disappear before there’s enough time for anything to fatigue!) So, I’d like to apologize to the winemaker of the 42 Degrees Pinot, Alain Rousseau – your pinot was excellent quality and very good value, but being served after the Constable Amos didn’t really give it a fair chance to shine like a beacon. 

The Gala Estate Constable Amos pinot noir isn’t exactly your everyday drinking type of wine – unless you’re a tech billionaire. But it is a remarkable wine with an intriguing story. Gala Estate history dates to 1822 when two Scottish brothers emigrated to Tasmania and took a grant of land on Tasmania’s east coast north of Swansea. One of the brothers, Adam, became the Districts’ Chief Constable despite being a full-time primary producer and this premium pinot from the family farm is a tribute to Adam’s legacy. 

So often these days, pinot noir is released quickly while the fruit is still vibrant, fresh and full. But that’s not the Burgundian way, and the top-end Gala Estate pinot takes a deliciously traditional approach to crafting a pinot noir to rival the Grand Cru classics. From the first whiff, the red fruits and chocolate characters stimulate the olfactory senses. Take that first fateful sip, and you’ll be hooked by the complexity of the brambly ripe cherries, raspberries and stewed rhubarb. Sweet, concentrated and intense, the fruit cavorts across your mid-palate before the oak shows itself and reveals silky smooth tannins through an energised but elegant conclusion. Wow! This is some wine. I love the convolution of stalk, leaf, oak and ripe fruit which remains in balance right across the palate, like a gymnast on a beam! And I’m guessing that it’s still got at least five to ten years of improvement in it. 

I’m not sure that we’ve solved the quandary of whether the best wine goes first or last, but I certainly wouldn’t be serving this outstanding Gala pinot when my sister comes to stay; something to do with that saying about feeding truffles to pigs? Sorry Bron! 


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