One of the coolest tastings you can do when wine tasting is either a horizontal or vertical tasting. Unfamiliar with what these terms mean? Here’s an introduction to get you started on your way to learning how to elevate your wine tasting experience.
Horizontal Wine Tasting
As the name suggestions, you are tasting wines of a similar nature — whether it be a particular year’s vintage, a region’s production, etc. Common horizontal tastings are the same year’s vintage of a particular wine from various producers, i.e., 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, or 2009 Rieslings from Washington State. Typically, horizontal tastings are done with wines from varying wineries to establish differences in winemaking styles, however it is interesting to sample the same producer’s offerings from a particular vintage as you might be surprised at how different they can be, even with the same winemaker!
Two of the most interesting horizontal tastings I’ve done were both in Napa. The first was from single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse Nickel & Nickel. We sampled all their Cabs from a particular year from across the Napa Valley region. This tasting highlighted the terroir and actual vineyard differences that make their wines so special. These wines are pricey, but Nickel & Nickel produces some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley. I love their wines because they do a stellar job of showcasing the importance of the proper grape growing process and how vineyard location, climate, soil type, and such (all part of terroir) heavily influence the final product.
The other intriguing horizontal tasting was the comparison of a particular vintage of Rieslings from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley. With different vineyard locations and varying sugar levels, these wines were strikingly different. If you don’t understand sugar levels in Rieslings, tasting them side by side is a great way to figure out what sweetness level is your ideal match.
Vertical Wine Tasting
If horizontal tasting is similar wines from the same vintage, it stands to reason that a vertical tasting is the same wine from multiple years. It’s not uncommon to have the opportunity to taste the same Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vintages when you are visiting a winery in Napa Valley. If you are extremely lucky, you might visit on a day when they are treating visitors to library editions or older reserves you may not otherwise get to sample (or afford in some cases). I’ve lucked out with tasting some older Cabs and Zinfandels that are well above the $200 bottle range on a regular basis. Vertical tastings are ideal if you love a particular wine as you can see the vineyard’s characteristics over time.
Just recently, the team of Our Tasty Travels did a vertical tasting of library Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa. We both fell in love with a particular label from Silverado Vineyards, and we were able to sample a number of vintages. Based on our preference for the older, more aged characteristics of this particular wine, we purchased a bottle that was several hundred dollars without even trying it! We were able to tell enough about the consistency of the winery’s production and we opted for one of the prime years for Cabs in Napa. Now to find a special dinner to pair it with!
Have you done a horizontal or vertical tasting? What has been your experience and did it enhance your wine knowledge and understanding?