Why is a wine flight called a flight? [reader mail]

wine flight

Reader question: Why is a flight of wines called a “flight”?

It’s tempting to say that the other names really didn’t take off.

But, in reality, a flight is a grouping of similar objects, like a flight of stairs or a flight of geese. Thus the same term applies to cabernets, pinots, or other small pours of wine, grouped together.

Are you happy with the term?

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7 Responses to “Why is a wine flight called a flight? [reader mail]”


  1. a grouping of similar objects, yes, but what about…
    a murder of crows, a crash of rhinos, a gaggle of geese, a congregation of alligators, a mob of emus, an implausibility of gnus (!), a nuisance of cats, a gulp of swallows (that might work for wine),
    quite a list I found online:
    http://www.thealmightyguru.com/Pointless/AnimalGroups.html

    lots of good alternatives, but I think “flight” is used because it also implies travel; travel over time (vintage flights) or over space (varietal or vineyard/producer flights). Plus, it sounds dramatic and exciting. “let’s all take a flight!”

    It’s harder to get people excited about going through ‘battery of wines’ or a ‘litter of reds’!


  2. I really like the term because having a wine flight takes my palate on a journey.

    Would be interesting to make a review of how a “wine flight” is translated in other languages. I’m French, and I’m racking my brain as I cannot find a satisfying French equivalent [yet]… How sad.


  3. Daniel – I like your style. Next time I go to a wine bar, I’m going to try to order a gaggle of wines. No–make that a murder!

    Mitoubab – Yes, what do they call this in French?


  4. Per the Oxford English Dictionary, the first such use of “flight” (in print) was relatively recent: a 1979 New York Times article by Frank Prial, available here (possibly behind the paywall):

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F60B1FF83E5A12728DDDAC0994D0405B898BF1D3

    I wrote to Prial and then to Eric Asimov via the Times website to get more details, but they didn’t respond.


  5. Hi Ernie –

    Thanks for digging that up. For those that cannot see it because of the paywall, Frank Prial is reporting from the Los Angeles County Fair, where he was working as a judge in a wine competition. He says that the groups of wines are called flights in wine judging. (Article dated 8/15/1979.)

    So, in the quest for true etymology of the term, I guess we have to find out how groups of wines came to be called flights in wine competitions in the 1970s.

    Anyone have an insight?


  6. […] lined our wines up in proper flight form from white to red, light to full-bodied. The reasoning behind this standard order is […]


  7. Of course ‘flight of wines’ derived from wine judges who could not agree on which group of wines were worth more than $100 but they eventually agreed that the concept of such wine values was a flight of fancy so they jokingly referred to the wines as a ‘flight of fancy wines’ which for professional reasons was reduced to ‘flight of wines’.


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