Outside of the very few most talented wine tasters I have been around, the order in which wines are tasted has a massive impact on the context, tone, and experience of every wine in the lineup. Each wine sets the tone for the following wine tasted.
The tasting experience is shaped by the progression. This concept can be less vivid with spirits for a multitude of reasons (like proof, for instance), but the tasting order definitely comes into play.
Incredibly, I rarely see professionals think twice about order progression. This is a colossal error. Look no further than Ye Olde Robert Parker to see where a standard lightest to fullest progression can lead. It ain’t pretty.
EX: Taste a muscadet followed by a white burgundy with oak and the oak will appear to be accentuated – even if the burgundy is balanced like a top.
In the best case, a tasting is like a concert where the songs flow together and follow each other well, and in the worst case, it’s a disjointed set.
When there is a jarring shift like Muscadet to Burgundy, I find that elegant storytelling, an acknowledgment of the difficulty, or a pause can ease the “difficulty” in the transition from one wine to the next.
Bottom line: Don’t underestimate the importance of the order in which you present wines or spirits – next level tasting and presentation pay attention to the progression. It goes well beyond light to full, low tannin to high tannin, austere to broad – standard practice can lead you astray.
No rules truly apply – except (of course) experience.