Twitter: @jstrelitz

Tips on Hosting a Vertical Tasting

Last night we went through a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Phelps (known for the steakhouse sweetheart Insignia) with a mix of wine wonks and neophytes at my first-ever home vertical tasting. Everyone had a great time because we had useful information that sparked good discussion and the star of the night -- the wine -- was well curated and cared for by our generous hosts.

A few tips on how to make a home vertical tasting a success:

  • Keep it small: We had 6 people tasting four vintages. It was plenty of wine per person without requiring more than one bottle per growing year, and four wines spread out over 2+ hours of tasting and noshing allowed for tasters to differentiate between the vintages without muddying the flavors.
  • Decanting & Serving: If you don't have enough decanters, consider using an aerator. Red wines should be opened in advance of the start of the night to 1) give them some time to open and 2) check to see if they are still good. Try to find proper stemware for the wine; we didnt have balloon glasses for all of the vintages, but the ones we did have were smartly saved for the oldest bottle.
  • Order: We tasted an '01, '03, '04 & '05. Our hosts reached out to the vineyard in advance and their experts suggested we taste from youngest to oldest. My thoughts -- that way you don't get spoiled early, but it also allows tasters to see the progression of aging and its impact on the bottled product. 
  • Notes: The four stages of wine tasting are Look, Smell, Taste, Finish. I add a fifth: Talk. Discuss what you are drinking and have paper and pens nearby to take notes. Your memory will get foggy and you'll want to have something to giggle about later when you try to decipher your scribbles about the fourth glass.
  • Inform: Our hosts distributed tasting notes on each vintage a few days before the dinner. While tasting, we noted the flavor profiles and checked to see if our observations matched with the vintner's expertise.
  • Snacks: My favorite part! Everyone contributed food, including traditional pairings like grilled steak and fresh chimichurri, tagliatelle with truffles and goat/cow/sheep cheeses -- I am officially in love with truffle salt, olive oil and goat cheese, for the record. Food gives everyone a chance to contribute to the fun and experiment with pairings (bacon-deviled eggs and sparkling wine -- try it!) and a potluck format takes some of the planning weight off of the hosts.

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