How do you set up a vertical tasting?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m interested in finding out about vertical tastings in depth. Could you please give me some details of how to set them up?

—Juan, Mendoza, Argentina

Dear Juan,

Some of the most memorable wine events I’ve ever been to were vertical tastings. That’s when you taste several vintages of a single bottling—or, at least, a single winery’s bottlings. Sometimes our editors report on vertical tastings, as when James Laube tasted all the Harlan Estate wines from 1990 through 2006. What’s so much fun about a vertical is that it gives you a chance to see the thread that runs through a vineyard, wine or winery and better understand how each vintage can be distinctive.

Sometimes people ask me what order to put a vertical tasting in, but they really can go in either direction. If you present the wines oldest to youngest, there’s often a natural progression of tannins and body, as the younger wines would be more tannic than the older wines. Most of the time I see verticals going from younger to older, because the thinking is that older wines will be more complex and nuanced than the younger versions. That direction also follows a wine’s evolution as it gains bottle age, which can be fascinating.

If you don’t have a set of wines handy for a vertical tasting, another theme for a tasting can be a horizontal, where you look at wines from the same vintage and category but not the same producer—say, a flight of 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs, or of 2006 Bordeaux. It’s interesting to compare wines among their peer groups and to look at a vintage from a few different angles. For extra fun, you can do the horizontal tasting blind, brown-bagging the bottles ahead of time so the tasters don’t know who each producer is until the bags come off.

—Dr. Vinny

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