Tastings and Ready to Drink

By / Magazine / May 15th, 2013 / 3

What’s the difference between a vertical and a horizontal tasting?

I know what you want me to say: if I’m having only a few glasses, it’s a vertical tasting; more than a few, and things get horizontal.

I’ve never figured out why we can’t just call a tasting “a tasting,” and forget about adding snooty descriptors. Of course, that’s not the way the wine world revolves. It wouldn’t be a proper analysis of vino without a trip on the light bombastic — not to mention an obnoxious abundance of over-the-top sniffing and slurping.

Don’t get me wrong; no one likes a good side-by-side comparison of juice more than I do. I just think posh terminology has a way of keeping the average wine joe in his place and out the bigger picture.

Now that I’ve got that off my keyboard, you had a question.

When like-minded wines gather together, there’s a great opportunity to really dig deep into the glass, depending on how you approach what you’ve got uncorked in front of you.

If you’re lucky enough to have a selection of wines that have all been produced from the same vintage, you’ve got yourself the makings of a horizontal tasting. Sounds easy, right? Think, though: for this kind of exercise to really work its magic, there has to be some thought put into the lineup.

You wouldn’t want to mix colours or styles, and if you’re hoping to learn something about the year from the experience, the selection of wines should have some relationship to each other. My preference is to keep things national (say, wines from France) and regional (and then, wines from Bordeaux), so you can put the vintage under a microscope and discover how it influenced specific wines.

In those countries/regions where fruit mingles, you might think about going one step further and tasting individual grape styles together.

A vertical tasting is harder to pull off; it needs all bottles to be from the same line and made by the same winemaker from consecutive vintages. This way gives you a real historical view of the winemaking process as it relates to one producer. Unfortunately, finding liquid that meets those criteria usually requires a visit to the winery or having a friend with a very impressive cellar.

How do I know when a wine is ready to drink?

My expert answer is … it depends on the wine. Modern winemakers know one thing for sure about their customers (that’s you, btw). It’s that they like to drink wine and usually can’t wait more than 20 hours before uncorking or uncapping whatever they toddle home with from their local liquor store.

With this knowledge firmly in mind, most juice squeezed out nowadays for mainstream sale isn’t meant to be hanging around for more than a year past the vintage date. Will the majority of popular, everyday wines survive longer than 12 months? Sure.

The question you need to ask yourself is why you would let them.

Since they’re designed for drinking rather than keeping, the average bottle of wine won’t get much better than the day you bought it. That said, if you keep it too long (especially a white wine), you may wind up with a glass of something that’s beginning to fall apart (excessive sediment or discolouration are telltale signs of over-aged liquid).

The best rule of thumb is to let the price tag be your guide. For the most part, wines under $20 should be drunk within that one-year timeframe (arguably longer, if they are being kept in an ideal wine cellar environment).

Bigger-boned wines have a price tag to match, so if you’re spending the big bucks, expect that your dough equals longevity. When you drink them is up to you. You’ll want to stay close to vintage charts and supplier websites to see how your collection is maturing. If you need help drinking what you open, you can always email me.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on Alliant.net to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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