Wine flights, also sometimes referred to as tasting flights, are tastings of multiple wines, which allow tasters to get a feel for breadth or depth. They are usually intended for those new to the experience of tasting wine, or those who want to increase their understanding of a specific region, vintage, or varietal.
A flight can include anywhere from three or four wines to upwards of 50. The number of wines, the way they are presented, and their quality usually depends on the context in which they are served. They may be offered in tasting bars, in restaurants, or at wineries or special events. Flights will often be based around a central theme, but may also just be a chance to try a number of different types of wine.
Detailed flights will often provide tasters with a pad of paper and a pen to take notes, and may or may not offer the wines to be tasted blind. A wine flight may be rather general; for example, one may allow participants taste a number of Rieslings from around the world to get a feel for the wide variety in terroir characteristics that grape offers. It may also be incredibly specific, such as a tasting of ten 2003 Côte-Rôtie wines to see how various chateaus differ in the same year and appellation. Good flights will usually be accompanied by some educational component, helping the taster get the most out of their tasting experience.
In a restaurant, a wine flight may be offered as a way for diners to sample an assortment of different wines. These may be designed to pair with a prix fixe menu, with each wine pairing with a different course, or may be intended to showcase some other component of the wine. Restaurants in wine regions, for example, may offer tastings as a way of allowing diners to sample a variety of wines from that region. So a restaurant in Mendocino might offer a number of different varietals from Mendocino county, California, or might focus on one varietal and showcase different appellations within the county. Restaurant flights have an added bonus of usually consisting of freshly opened bottles, since the wines offered as flights usually turn over quite quickly.
Wine flights usually provide smaller pours than normal, because of the amount of wine being offered. Generally, a pour will be either 2 or 3 ounces (about 60 to 88 mL), giving more than a simple tasting, but less than a full glass. Longer flights may give slightly less wine per pour, while shorter flights may be closer to full glasses.
In some cases, the samples can be a part of an extended tasting, in which a number of flights are combined to provide an overarching theme. Extended tastings usually take place over two or more hours, and can be made up of three or more flights. Each one, in this case, will focus on a specific aspect, such as varietal, vintage, or appellation, and stand alone in its own right. The flights will all work together to create a synthesis, however, highlighting similarities and differences between different aspects. An extended tasting might, for example, consist of a flight of five 2001 Alsatian Rieslings, followed by a flight of five from 2002, and one from 2003, demonstrating the vintage difference in that region and varietal. A tasting might instead consist of a flight of four mixed-vintage and region Rieslings, followed by four mixed Gewurztraminers, followed by four mixed Viogniers, highlighting the similarities and differences between these varietals.
The possibilities with wine flights are virtually endless, and a well-designed flight can be a remarkable opportunity. Many restaurants offer extremely affordable flights, with prices varying depending on the number of wines offered and the quality of those wines. They are available in restaurants throughout many countries, but the most likely candidates are wine bars, which usually offer a number of different flights and extended tastings at different price points.