How do you set up a vertical tasting?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

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

How to Taste Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

How do you order a glass of red wine? I want to try Zinfandel but I’m not sure how to word it.

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for ordering wine at a restaurant.

Sep 18, 2020

Why are beers aged in wine barrels? And what's a "foeder"?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why large, used wine barrels, or "foudres," have …

Sep 16, 2020

Can I recycle wine bottles that have metal or plastic capsules on the top? Is it true that some capsules contain lead?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for recycling wine bottles and handling older …

Sep 14, 2020

Half of a broken cork ended up in my wine bottle. Is that OK?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for what to do when a cork breaks.

Sep 11, 2020

Are all wine barrels toasted?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why oak barrel staves are toasted.

Sep 9, 2020

Why is “smoke taint” a problem? Don’t they clean the grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how smoke taint works, why it can't be "washed …

Sep 7, 2020