I need your advice

I am sorry that this post is low in content value, but I do need your collective wisdom:

We are having a tasting with friends of ours next week and this time, we are doing a vertical tasting. For those unfamiliar with the term, a vertical tasting is a tasting of wines from the same vineyard and producer, but different vintages. The idea is to see how these wines that are made with the same skill and craft fare due to different weather conditions and hopefully also find common characteristics that could form an idea of terroir. It further gives you a unique chance to see how a wine ages.

Before our California trip, I picked up five bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon’s from 2002 until 2006 on Wines Till Soldout which have now arrived at our place. While WTSO provided me with helpful vineyard and winemaker information, I have done some research and am a bit confused about one thing: In what order should I do the tasting? Young to old or old to young?

The all-knowledgeable internet gives differing advice, and I cannot for my life recall how the verticals I have done were conducted. My initial intuition was to do it young to old, but then I got concerned about the fruit in the younger wines ruining the (hopefully!) more subtle flavors in the older wines. But will the older wines pale in comparison when the younger wines are tasted after them?

So, I need your informed wisdom: How should I conduct the tasting? I am planning on opening all bottles and having them accessible at all times, but I still would like to have a certain order in which to taste. Your opinion matters to me, so please let me know in the comments section!

Thanks so much!!

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33 thoughts on “I need your advice

  1. […] for taste and not look at the vintage) and had tremendous feedback and help from many you, see here. I decided to go with Anatoli and Jeff’s advice and try the wines first and then arrange the […]

  2. Since you said you’re opening them and airing them out first (good choice) you should taste each of them and decide the order based on the strength of the bottles. Take a quick peak at how my friend, and professional wine connoisseur Mark Oldman ordered the wines for a show at the Aspen Food And Wine Classic in his blog post here:

    See that he has them ordered not by year, nor price, but based on some other criteria? I actually had the good fortune to attend the Rose show in that post. He uses the time in between each wine (while the guests are eating cheese, fruit, and drinking water) to talk about why he chose the next wine to follow the previous wine. I would suggest that you do the same: order the wines subjectively, and give your guests a bit of your opinion on why you chose that next bottle to be the next bottle!

  3. Are you considering offering any blind tastings? It might be fun for your guests to guess which one is an older vintage and which one is a younger one. Have them write down their answers then reveal the vintage at the end of the blind tasting. You might have to taste them first to pick out 1 or 2 sets of wines that would be “hardest to figure out” the vintage. Happy tasting!

  4. Stefano says:

    Oliver, I second what Kasper and others have mentioned before: all the verticals organized by the ISA and even by specific producers (e.g., Nino Negri) that I have attended have always been youngest to oldest. The reason is that, generally speaking, younger vintages should be “easier” to taste than older vintages that should add extra layers of complexity to the flavor palette of the wine due to its in-bottle evolution. Known bad years excepted, you want to save the “wow factor” for last! ;-)
    That’s what I would do, anyway! :-)
    Either way, have fun and let us know your findings!

  5. Normally, I would say young to old, unless there is a known bad year, then you might want to move it to the front of the line. This is where a preliminary tasting on your part may help the progression. I would make sure that there is plenty of water, cheese, bread and crackers to nibble on, between each round, and there is no need to rush the tasting. All in all, however you do it, I am sure that it will be a fun evening, and we are all looking for the results.

  6. You’ve gotten several good responses here. I would agree with Jeff in that you need to taste first and then decide.

  7. Oenophilogical says:

    The vertical tastings I’ve experienced – only a couple – have been young to old.

  8. lolalovelola says:

    I agree with the drunken cyclist – vertical tastings are almost always conducted young to old, but if you get a bad or spectacular vintage in the middle, it can completely alter the tasting. In my mind it is too simplistic to taste from young to old, and a more sensical approach would be to judge the vintages because that’s what affects the wine dramatically in character and ageability after all. Looking at how the vintage of the general area rates and also how the individual bottle rates (which should of course mimic the former), working your way to the best, should make for an interesting and intelligent tasting.

    I hope it goes well, whatever you decide!

    • Thank you so much! I am getting more and more excited about this tasting and figuring it out. Rules of thumb are rules of thumb for a reason, and a more individualistic approach seems to make total sense here.

  9. Agree with talkavino. Without knowing the strength of each vintage, my normal rule of thumb is older to younger, but have weaker vintage before strong vintage. Simply put, a young wine from a good vintage will well an truly overpower an older wine from a weaker vintage. Older wines have subtle nuances that might be lost if you have a young tannic wine first.

  10. acrusteaten says:

    I know very little about not a lot, and you probably already know this as you are much more knowledgeable than I in wine, but I learned recently from a friend of mine that older wines need less time to breathe than younger wines as they’ve had longer in the bottle (which makes sense, I just never thought about it before), so make sure you take that into consideration. (Unless it’s wrong and then just ignore it completely.)

  11. I forgot to add that since you are opening them all ahead of time (good idea), I would take a small sip of each one and decide the order yourself. This will further help the wines in the bottle to get some air on them (called the Andouze method)

    • Oh, yes, that is a great idea! That should help on the spot, too! Thanks.

      • talkavino says:

        I can only agree with Jeff. You need to do it based on the year. For the California Cab, I would probably start with 2003, than 2004, then 2006 and then 2002 and 2005 (this is the biggest year from this list, I believe). Keep in mind that California Cabs need an average of 13 years of ageing to reach their fullest potential : ) so you will be in for a lot of surprises :)

        • A-ish, as they say in Botswana! 13 years?? You gotta be kidding me…I won’t be able to store them for that long. :)

          Thank you so much for your valued opinion!! Will definitely take your ranking in consideration.

          And: I am always up for surprises! :D

  12. I would say all things being equal, I would go from young to old. However, it depends quite a bit on the individual characteristics of the wines. Simply put, I would drink the bad vintages before the good ones (drink the ’65 Bordeaux before the ’61). Having said that, California usually only has good vintages and great vintages.

    • Thanks for that helpful comment! I think the booklet describes the 2004 as a rather weak vintage, so maybe we should tackle that first. Will dive deeper into the vintage descriptions.

  13. Kasper says:

    All the vertical tastings I have attended has always started with the youngest and progress towards the older. I have never really questioned the approach until now… But I think I would stick the usual way of doing it.

  14. I say old to young because if what you said – the older ones will have mellowed a bit. Definitely have them open at the same time- dont finish one before going to the next

  15. I think you should start out with the younger wines and work your way up to older, fuller wines. I’d take them a bottle at a time, ensuring everyone tastes the same in the same order so that their palates are pretty much on the same page. Makes for better, solid taste test, don’t you think? Any food going to be offered, or is it a liquid taste only? Best of luck.

    • Thanks so much!! We’re having food before, so not to completely ruin our taste buds. But there will be cheese and bread while tasting these wines.

      The plan will definitely be to have everyone taste in the same order and at the same time, makes conversation easier, too! :)

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