Vertical Wine Tastings - all you need to know

Wine ed. Cathy explains why a vertical tasting is such a useful affair.

by: Cathy Marston | 05 Oct 2010
Knorhoek winemaker Arno Albertyn leads a vertical

What is a vertical wine tasting?
No, it’s not a tasting where you try to remain upright after sampling all the wines! A vertical tasting means trying bottles of the same wine over a series of different vintages. Normally you would expect to taste at least 5 wines in a ‘flight’ but some vertical tastings can span decades depending on how long the winery has been in existence and how extensive their wine library is.

Why hold a vertical tasting?
There are several reasons why a vertical tasting would be useful

1.    To give a more accurate prediction of how long a wine will last
2.    To identify vintage differences and how they manifest themselves in the wine
3.    To see how a wine has evolved over the years

In addition, a change of winemaker or winemaking style, advances in technology, market-related factors are more easily identified and learnt about through a vertical tasting.

How can I attend a vertical tasting?
Vertical tastings are usually organised by a winery and are generally serious informative tastings for trade or media since they use up vintage wines which cannot be replaced and require knowledge and skill to be able to interpret the tasting usefully. However, wine estates which have a consistent record of achievement over some time do organise tastings for the general public. Wineries worth approaching if you wanted to attend a vertical tasting include Warwick, Kanonkop, Overgaauw, Jordan, Rust en Vrede, Meerlust. You could also try Die Bergkelder which has many different vintages of wines stored in its cellars -

Knorhoek – ten years of Cabernet Sauvignon
A recent vertical tasting at Knorhoek of ten years of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon amply illustrated the value of tastings such as this. Winemaker Arno Albertyn, now in his 5th year at the estate, was able to point out different techniques such as the use of rotor tanks instead of open fermenters (the two wines where rotor tanks were used lacked intensity and were already beginning to tire), to identify the first year that new coopers were used (the change in spiciness was very evident) and to explain why different clones of Cabernet were used in the different years and what was behind the decision to add some Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the current vintage, 2007.

The tasting showed that the Knorhoek Cabernet is very capable of lasting 10 years or more – the 1997 was still extremely seductive with soft black fruit and whiffs of tobacco. Wines worth keeping for a bit longer include the 2003 (another 2-3 years), 2005 (another 5-7 years) and the 2007 (at least another 8 years).  The current vintage costs R89 at the farm.

Knorhoek doesn’t offer vertical tastings on a regular basis, but it is still well worth visiting this revitalised estate. Their new restaurant, Towerbosch, has been given a new look and now offers stylish homecooking made from fresh local ingredients – this is the only restaurant I have ever been to which can actually cook pork crackling correctly! Their wines are well-priced, particularly their good value Two Cubs second label and it is incredibly child-friendly with a big paddling pool (supervised in summer), jungle gym and lawns. For more information check out


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