Shattering Wine Tasting Myths: Why Wine Tasting Order Matters, but Not How You Think

Discover the surprising truth about proper the wine tasting order and why traditional wine teachings may be misleading after all.

So, you're planning a wine tasting with friends, and you find yourself wondering,

What should be the wine tasting order of these four wines?

It's a common question that often leads to these traditional recommendations:

  • Taste the white wines first, then the red wines, or
  • Start with the light-flavored wines and finish with the full-bodied wines, or
  • Always keep the sweetest wines at the end of the flight.

My answer? It doesn’t matter.


Okay, it matters, but not in the way you learned it.

In this article, we'll explore how the order of wines in a wine tasting flight can affect your overall appreciation, debunk some traditional teachings, and provide you with practical tips to enhance your wine tasting experience.

The two components of wine tasting order affecting your appreciation

Flavor linger

Let’s acknowledge the intent of the traditional recommendations first.

Going from light styles to fuller-bodied wines helps minimize the carry-over effect.

What is it?

The carry-over effect occurs when the taste of one wine lingers and influences the perception of the next wine. This carry-over effect can be especially noticeable when transitioning from bold, flavorful wines to lighter, less aromatic ones.

What you learned at the wine school is to mitigate the gross effect that carry-overs have on your overall experience. However, lingering perceptions can still distort your perceptions all along the tasting flight.

Acidity can linger, irritating your mouth for some time, and

Heavier tropical fruity flavors of one wine can clash with the earthy notes present in the next wine.

It’s easy to get rid of the carry-over effects between wines, but more on this later.

Wine position

Have you noticed that in a tasting flight, we often prefer the last sample? This might be because the host kept the “best wine” for last, but all in all, it’s a psychological bias.

With my fellow marketing professor Antonia Mantonakis (1), we demonstrated that wine tasters tend to show a preference for the first wine in a short flight (2 to 3 wines) and a preference for the last wine in a longer sequence (4 to 5 samples).

How we did it? 

Wine enthusiasts participated in a blind tasting. We served them either a sequence of 2, or 3, or 4, or 5 wines. The trick was that we poured the same wine into different glasses, without people knowing. And we asked every time, which wine do you prefer?

This phenomenon, known as the serial position effect, can influence your perception and judgment of subsequent wines. 

  • In a short sequence, we remember better the first wine, it’s the primacy effect. 
  • In a longer sequence, we remember the last wine better, that’s the recency effect.

In a flight of different wines, which is usually the case, when we assess the wines one at a time and not in comparison, the wine in the first position tends to receive more positive tasting appreciation.

How to mitigate these wine tasting order effects?

Let’s explore more.

The simplest way: Palate cleansing

It sounds trivial; however rarely done properly in conventional tasting.

To minimize the impact of the serial position effect and carry-over effect, the simplest solution is to rinse your palate with water (at room temperature) between each wine. This helps to cleanse your taste buds, reset your sensory receptors, and ensure a more neutral and objective starting point for each wine.

When I say rinsing your palate, I don’t mean sipping water to “refresh your palate”. I mean, rinsing thoroughly as you would do after brushing your teeth with toothpaste.

Swishing water cleanses your mouth from any residues and any lingering aroma compound still bound on your mucosa. To read more on how that’s even possible, I suggest you read this article.

The advanced protocol: Rotating the wine tasting order among tasters

This is an advanced strategy appropriate when the tasting outcomes are beyond simple enjoyment. For example, a competition.

This more objective approach consists in arranging the wine-tasting order to balance, among the tasters, the first position effect and carry-over effect.

Assuming four tasters are tasting four wines, A, B, C, and D.

  • Taster 1 will taste in this order: ABCD;
  • Taster 2: CADB
  • Taster 3: DCBA
  • Taster 4: BDAC

Each wine occupies every possible position when tasted by 4 people.

Wine D could have become a gold medal by “chance”, if everyone tasted it last in a sequence.

By rotating the tasting order among tasters, every wine has a chance to be a gold medal by its sole attributes.

Looks too complicated to set up? Yes, it is. 

But, fortunately, we use simple software to create these orders of presentations for us. The heavy work remains to place the glasses and pour the wines in the appropriate orders, but it’s worth avoiding the biases of position and carry-over effects.

Why aren’t wine tasting order issues and solutions more common knowledge?

I have a few theories, but no empirical data.

Maybe rinsing our palate in public is too embarrassing.

It’s undeniable that the act of swishing water in your mouth isn’t elegant. The wine settings are already very intimidating to many wine guests and it can be uncomfortable to do so. Refreshing our palates sounds more appropriate but not as effective.

Check this video to learn how to cleanse your palate efficiently!

Maybe people don’t know.

Another reason for the perpetuation of incorrect teachings could be simply a lack of awareness or understanding of the scientific research that supports the impact of tasting orders on wine appreciation.

Since I started my quest to demystify wine-tasting rituals, I’ve been appalled by the lack of understanding wine professionals have on how their senses operate and can be distorted by simple and unconscious practices.

So, I wrote this article, hoping it will make you as curious as Tom, who told me.

“I have never heard of tasting wines like that, and I am dying to experiment.”

Yes, go and experiment.

In summary:

I explained in this article how the order of wines in a tasting flight can influence your overall appreciation, and how the traditional recommendations were not proper solutions to mitigate them.

By understanding the serial position effect and carry-over effects, you will be more aware of the importance of mitigating them at your next tasting.

Adopting a simple, but thorough, palate-cleansing between each wine is the easiest solution to succeed and have less biased appreciation throughout the tasting flight.

Let's continue to explore the fascinating world of wine tasting together!


[1] Mantonakis, A., Rodero, P., Lesschaeve, I., & Hastie, R. (2009). Order in Choice: Effects of Serial Position on Preferences. Psychological Science, 20(11), 1309–1312.

Published, August 2, 2023

Categories: : Tasting education

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Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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