• Wendy, the Wine Writer

How To Host A Vertical Wine Dinner Party

One of my favorite ways to enjoy great wine is to share it with other wine lovers. It’s even better if you can pair the wine with amazing food. I’ve hosted a variety of wine events, but throwing a Vertical Wine Dinner party is one of my favorite ways to bring together special wine, food, friends and lots of fun.

What Is A Vertical Wine Tasting?

If you’ve never heard of a vertical or horizontal wine tasting, let me explain. First you choose a winery that consistently produces fantastic wine. Then you decide if you want to taste vertically or horizontally.

A vertical tasting includes the same varietal of wine, for example Cabernet Sauvignon, from multiple different vintages. You might offer a three bottle vertical, say from 2007, 2008 and 2009, or perhaps a five bottle vertical selection from 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2005.

The vintages don’t have to be sequential, you can skip a few years, and it’s still considered a vertical tasting. The goal is to try the same wine over several years to see how the harvests have changed over that period of time.

By Comparison, What Is A Horizontal Wine Tasting?

According to Andrew Jefford of Decanter Magazine, "A horizontal tasting enables a range of wines from the same year to be compared: the emphasis is on the difference between wines." His article can be found at

In a horizontal tasting you can still choose one wine producer, but instead of sampling the same varietal over several different vintage years, you can choose one vintage and try different varietals from that same year. For example, you could serve three bottles from 2012 but they might be a Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Or you can choose one particular year and sample similar varietals from different producers. If you can find the same type of wine, produced from neighboring vineyards or even vineyards around the world, you'll appreciate how one varietal of grape can evolve into very different final products during the same time frame.

This way your guests learn more about the wine producer and how varietals are produced from different regions. Also, during some years, wine growers experience perfect growing conditions while other years are a challenge. With a little research you can learn which years were extraordinary and serve wines from that vintage to experience the best wines produced from your chosen winery or favorite wine growing region.

Tasting Wine Is Fun, But It’s Even Better When Paired With Food

When you want to open several bottles at a time, it’s a good idea to have food available as well. Why not throw a party to showcase the wines and how well they pair with food? You may even find that they don’t pair well with food.

Hint: when you are sampling multiple wines, keep your pours very small. In this way, you can try a sip of each wine with each dish to see which is the best match. If you pour a full serving of wine, you can’t try each wine with the food and you’ll lose the opportunity to compare each wine in a vertical or horizontal tasting.

If you would like to learn more about the 5 steps of tasting wine, check out my easy to follow tutorial here.

My Recent Vertical Wine Dinner

Having a large cellar has allowed me to buy and “cellar” several older Cabernet Sauvignons over the years. I’m also lucky to have several friends who are excellent cooks, including two retired chefs, who also love and appreciate fine wines. This made the perfect combination for an amazing wine dinner for six a few days ago.

After enjoying a Chilean sparkling wine for a greeting toast, we shifted to the stars of our show. Our winery of choice was Burgess Cellars located in Napa Valley, California. Our vertical lineup featured the Estate Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007 through 2009.

Three vintages of Burgess’ stellar wine ranging from 2007 until 2009

My friends divided the cooking duties and prepared several courses, each designed to compliment the Cabernet. The first course was spinach spanakopita with a light tomato sauce and flaky phyllo dough shell…

Our first delicious taste of spanakopita which paired surprisingly well with the Cab

Next we enjoyed a sliced duck breast appetizer with a sour cherry reduction over a crispy risotto cake…

I was so excited to try this duck appetizer, I forgot to take a photo before I dove in

Finally, the main course included a filet mignon which had been bathed in butter, balsamic glazed asparagus, and a thinly sliced potato terrine with greek yogurt sauce…

This tender filet was complimented by the asparagus and potato sides which brought out different aspects of the three Cabernets

With so many tasty courses, I couldn’t finish the filet so I brought it home for left-overs.

Then the dessert arrived.

We had finished the three bottles of Burgess, so we moved on to a lovely 1994 Vintage Port from Rozés. To compliment this luscious ruby port, we were spoiled with a dark chocolate cheesecake atop an Oreo crust and enrobed in a chocolate ganache shell…

Such a decadent finish to our evening, this dark chocolate cheesecake was really rich, but I still managed to eat the entire serving

Although we could hardly move, we all agreed that the wine was amazing and the fabulous food paired really well with each course. I'm thrilled that I found a perfect group to pull off this event and I’m sure we’ll do it all again soon. Next time we'll have different wines and new, exciting food pairings.

Now it’s your turn. Use your imagination to plan and host your own memorable wine dinner. Send me an email at with all the details. I’d love to hear about it!

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