Vertical Wine Tasting Themes

A vertical wine tasting is one of the classic wine tasting themes. While we wish we could take credit for this type of wine tasting, alas, we cannot. But where-ever the idea came from, it is a great one and one which can be very educational and fun. It can help you learn about a particular wine producer, their wines and their style, in depth. This is as opposed to a tasting spanning several producers or vineyards from the same vintages, which is called a horizontal wine tasting.

So what is a vertical tasting anyway?
A vertical wine tasting is one in which the wines tasted are all from the same producer, generally the same wine, from several different vintages. For example, a vertical of Chateau Lynch-Bages (a famous Bordeaux wine from Pauillac in France) would include several vintages of Chateau Lynch-Bages to compare back to back.

What is the point of setting up a vertical?
A vertical tasting in a fun way to learn a lot about a producer and particular wine and also to learn about different vintages. Each vintage has distinct characteristics that set it apart from others. While some wine critics will call one vintage the "vintage of a century" it doesn't mean that others do not have their merits or that a particular producer didn't make amazing wines in other years. So tasting the same wine over several vintages can be educational and enlightening in regards to the subtle, or not so subtle, difference from one vintage to the next. It also gives you a chance to compare older vintages of a wine to younger ones, teaching you about how that wine typically ages and evolves with time. Finally, because the wines are all made from the same vineyard and by the same techniques (presumably, unless something has changed drastically at that producer over that time frame), you get to learn a lot about that particular vineyard and producer style. You get to become intimately aware of those things that are consistent from vintage to vintage.

How many wines do you need for a vertical wine tasting?
There is no set number of wines you need for a vertical tasting. The only requirement is that you have more than one vintage of a given wine. This can be your entire wine tasting theme for the night or you can do a "mini" vertical amongst other wines. The ultimate vertical tasting would be one bottle each of ever vintage ever produced by a given producer. However, while fun in theory, this is generally impractical or impossible. It also depends on how many people you will be tasting with. While a few vintages is plenty for two or three people to taste through, you can realistically put together a 5 to 10 vintage vertical with a bigger group of people. Also, you do not necessarily have to have every vintage in a row in a vertical. In other words, if you have a 1990, 1995 and 1999, that is a perfectly good vertical.

How are the wines served in a vertical tasting?
Generally wines are served in chronological order. However, there is some disagreement about whether wines should be served oldest to youngest or youngest to oldest. Traditionally, wines in a tasting are served youngest to oldest, the theory being that younger wines are more simple and older wines are more complex so your palate builds up through the tasting. However, very young wines can be quite big and powerful and old wines can be subtle and mellow. So the other way around you may burn out your palate early on young burly wines and then cannot appreciate the subtleties of the older wines that come later. How you decide to order your wines in your vertical wine tasting themes is up to you but you should take the particular wines into consideration. While the order may not matter much if all the wines are relatively new, an ancient bottle may be distinctly different from the others and deserve special consideration and planning.

Are there any other wine tasting themes that go along with a vertical wine tasting?
Sure! Just because you choose a vertical as your wine tasting theme for your party doesn't mean you can't get creative with other wine tasting ideas. For example, you can combine a vertical with a blind wine tasting. Without knowing the vintages, or even the producer, you can get your guests to rate or score the wines against one another without bias. Also, you can arrange a dinner party theme around the wines in question. For example, if you do a vertical tasting of Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape (a famous red Rhone wine from the south of France in a larger region called Provence) you may want to have a Provence theme around the wines with traditional Southern French food and decor. Get creative and make it fun!

Go on to learn about another related classic wine tasting theme, the Horizontal Wine Tasting.

If you are done learning about the Vertical Wine Tasting, return to the Wine Tasting Themes page.

Return to the Wine Tastings Guide home page.

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