Vertical, Horizontal or Blind…It’s All in the Taste
Hosting a wine tasting can be a perfect opportunity to both socialize and learn about new wines, and there are as many types of wine tastings as you likely have friends to invite. Take a look at these options and decide which type of wine tasting you and your guests might enjoy most.
Vertical Wine Tasting
A vertical wine tasting is one where an assortment of the same wine, from the same producer and vineyard, but of several different vintages (the year the grapes were harvested) is explored. For example, you may choose to taste a Chenin Blanc from 2001, 2003 and 2006, all from the same vineyard. With this type of tasting you can get a real feel for a particular producer's varietal style and composition, and an appreciation for how dramatic or subtle a vineyard’s wine can change from year to year.
Horizontal Wine Tasting
This type of tasting puts various wines from the same vintage to the test. Ideally the wines chosen will be from the same region and of the same general style. This option allows you and your guests to focus on one wine variety from a single year yet from multiple vineyards and producers. For example, you might focus on a 2003 Pinot Noir from four to six different wineries.
As you would expect, a blind tasting involves hiding the identities of the wine by either wrapping them or putting them in paper bags. The bottles are numbered and scored without the tasters having the benefit of label, price, producer or any other kind of information.
Tasting a wine blind is one of the best ways to formulate a truly unbiased opinion about the wine. Any knowledge you have about a wine can cloud your judgment – if you don’t like a Riesling then any Riesling you taste will already have one strike against it before it even hits your lips. But only if you know ahead of time what type of wine it is. Tasting blind also forces the taster to concentrate on every tiny aspect of the wine, looking for identifying aromas, flavors or styles.
Old World vs New World Tasting
Here you compare a grape varietal grown in the “Old World” (i.e. Europe – France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal) with the same varietal grown in the “New World” (i.e. North America, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). In general, your guests will likely notice that Old World wines tend to be more subtle in flavor and more reserved in profile, as compared to their bolder, expressive counterparts found in many New World wines. This is a great way for newer wine connoisseurs to discover how they can best navigate the wine aisles the next time they’re looking for a good bottle of wine to enjoy.
Priceless Wine Tasting
A priceless wine tasting keeps the bias out of the wine tasting exercise. Here the price of the various wines is withheld, allowing your guests to be completely objective about the wines as they won’t know if they’re drinking a $120 bottle or a $15 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be natural that people perceive higher priced wines to be better tasting wines, when in fact there are wonderful, good quality wines to be enjoyed at every price point.
The “Big Eight” Wine Tasting
When it comes to wine, the “Big Eight” refers to the world’s eight most popular and influential wine varieties on the market. The goal of this tasting is to allow guests to systematically work their way through these popular varietals and experience their nuances for themselves. This is one of the more “educational” types of tastings.
The red wines that make up the Big Eight are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz. The white wines include: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio.
So now that you have more options than you ever thought possible for the type of wine tasting you can host, here are some final tips for how to make your wine tasting party organized, well-appointed and enjoyable:
If you have the room, set up three wine tasting stations: one for red wine, one for white and a third for dessert wines.
At each wine tasting station, have on hand:
• Measured pourers (serves exactly 1 oz. each time)
• Bottled water for rinsing mouths and glasses between tastes
• A container for rinse water
• Crackers for cleansing the palette between tastes
• Ice bucket to keep the wine chilled (for white and dessert wine stations)
Scoring the Wine
Exactly how wine-savvy your guests are will determine if you score the wines during the tasting and if so, how you go about scoring them. Keeping things casual is good if your tasting event is more social than educational. For the more serious tasters, wine scoring cards are widely available on the internet for download. You may also consider having a laptop or computer available so participants can record their thoughts and favourites at their very own Wine Journal.
• Organize the wine tasting so your guests move from whites to reds, from sweet to dry, and from light-bodied to full-bodied reds.
• If you can, avoid using paper or plastic cups. Wine glasses allow you to hold the glass by the stem and swirl without spilling, and are also easier to clean between tastings.
• Ask your guests not to wear perfumes or heavily scented products, as detecting aroma is one of the more important aspects of wine tasting.