You may have heard the phrases “vertical tasting” and “horizontal tasting” at wineries and in industry circles. But what makes them different? What is the benefit of each?
We asked three wine professionals to clarify.
What is a vertical tasting?
“A vertical tasting is the same wine from different years, typically from the same producer,” says Ashley Brandner, director of hospitality at Gamble Family Vineyards in Napa, California. The brand produces a red blend called Paramount. Each year, depending on weather and other factors, it’s a little different. To taste it over different vintages “really showcases the expression of the winery itself,” she says.
Another way to conduct a vertical tasting is to try bottlings from different wineries in the same region, says Evan Goldstein, MS, president of Full Circle Wine Solutions and Master the World. One might look at Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa, or Malbecs from Argentina over several vintages.
When possible, set up a vertical tasting with wines that span multiple years, or even decades. The greater the time difference, the more meaningful the results will be, especially if the aim is to see how the wine will age, says Goldstein.
What is a horizontal tasting?
The most common option is to choose a single vintage and compare wines from different estates or wineries in a region, says Kyungmoon Kim, MS, founder of KMS Imports LLC.
“This allows you to see how each winery performed under the same conditions of the year,” he says. “You’re comparing winemaking style and the little details of each winery’s practices.”
In the other type of horizontal tasting, sometimes called a side-by-side tasting, organizers will present wines made from the same grape, but from different places around the world, says Kim.
For example, a Pinot Noir tasting might pull samples from Burgundy, Oregon, Sonoma and New Zealand. Although many organizers stick to wines from the same year, they can come from vintages a year or two apart.
What do vertical tastings show about the wines?
“The benefit of doing a vertical tasting would be you’re really diving in deep with one particular producer, and you can see the evolution of the wines and see how it changes over time,” says Kim. “You can see the consistency of the winery and what they’re trying to achieve. You can really understand their philosophy.”
Vertical tastings are also an interesting way to see how climate and other conditions affect a wine—for example, what it will look like in hotter vintages versus cooler ones, or in wet years as opposed to dry ones, said Goldstein.
Wineries sometimes organize vertical tastings of their library wines to see how products are performing. They can learn from the winemaking techniques or choices made in previous years.
Serious collectors, especially those who have favorites chateaus, may host vertical tastings to gain a sense of how wines are developing, says Goldstein.
Let’s say that a group has invested in a case of the same wine from an estate in Saint-Émilion each year. If the group opens one bottle from each vintage, that could help determine which wines need to age or are ready to enjoy now.
Why do people do horizontal tastings?
People with wines from the same region can gain an impression of a particular place at a point in time, says Kim. “It’s most helpful if you’re trying to paint the picture of what a particular vintage will be like, either in a specific area or even around the world,” he says.
Horizontal tastings conducted with wines from the same grape and from different regions can develop a better understanding of each region’s expression.
“Horizontal tastings are a great educational tool that allows people who are just getting into wine to broaden their scope and understanding of the different wine regions of the world—and especially the different grapes that are grown in those wine regions,” says Brandner.
That ability to learn something new is the best reason to attend either a vertical or horizontal tasting.
“Not one opinion is correct, but it’s a very interactive way to learn from each other,” says Goldstein. “The beauty of drinking wines is all about sharing wines and sharing opinions.”