A horizontal tasting is a wine tasting that focuses on tasting wines made in the same year or vintage. It’s really a way to compare wineries, and may focus on one or more varietals produced by wineries close by or far away depending upon preference. For instance, you could hold a horizontal tasting of five to ten Cabernet Sauvignons produced in 2003 by different wineries. This way you can find out which Cabernet you like the best in a diverse group.
The contrast to a horizontal tasting is a vertical tasting, where you taste wines of different varieties and vintages that usually come from the same winery. The vertical tasting often occurs in wineries, where you can sample their available varietals in all the years they have available for purchase.
When you plan a horizontal tasting, you need to be certain that you provide something to smooth out the palate in between wines, particularly when you’re sampling only red wines. Many professional wine tasters say you really only taste a few red wines before the palate becomes less sensitive. You may want to be sure to have crackers on hand, plenty of water, and possibly conduct the horizontal tasting during a meal of complementary food.
If you plan to do a tasting of several varietals, perhaps chardonnays and then merlots, you want to start with the lightest wines first. Never start with reds if you plan to taste whites too. Most suggest tasting no more than five to six wines, as the palate can only taste so much, and tasting no less than three wines, since a comparison between only two wines doesn’t really make up a tasting. On the other hand you could do a horizontal tasting between two wineries and taste two whites and two reds to see which ones you prefer.
If you’ve never attended a wine tasting, there are a few things to go by. Though some tasters do spit the wine out, you certainly are allowed to drink it. Just don’t drink too much of it. Generally two or three sips of a wine are enough to appreciate its flavor and notes. If you’re pouring wine for a horizontal tasting, you want to fill wine glasses of a medium size to about a third full. As a taster, listen to what others have to say, but let your own palate be your guide. What you enjoy and what tastes good to you should be the deciding factor in which wines you might purchase in the future.
If you’re planning a horizontal wine tasting, be certain that you allow your red wines at least 30 minutes to breathe. They should also be served at near room temperature. Don’t serve white wines extremely chilled. The wine should be cool, but not cold, as cold wine obscures some of its taste value.
There’s a lot of different ways to structure a horizontal tasting. You could do it by region. Perhaps you’d like your guests to taste Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Santa Barbara Cabernets. Since each of these areas, though they all are in California, has its own unique climate, each wine will have its own unique taste. Anther way you could structure such a tasting is by country. You could, for instance, taste Pinot Noir from Australia, Chile, France and California to see which is the best. To keep the tasting horizontal, be sure that each wine was made in the same year.