Monday, November 29, 2010

The Vertical Shuffle

Her lips were pursed ever so slightly, anticipating the silk-like liquid that would soon envelop her throat.  A raise of the elbow, with fingers firmly but gently gripping the stem, she swallows.  “I’ve never done this vertically,” she whispers.  I assure her vertical can be just as enjoyable as horizontal.  Her eyes flickered, I can tell which she enjoyed most.  The more recent while lacking in complexity and interest was fresher, more lively apparently that’s what she liked. 
“And…?” I question though I know the answer, “Which performed better?”


Several days earlier I was on my way to work.  The glory of a Vancouver fall was in full swing as small rain drops attempted to extinguish my cigarette.  My mind was scattered as usual; when do I get paid? When I get paid will I have enough to pay rent, eat and drink wine? If not should I cut out food or shelter? What difference does vintage make?  All these thoughts and more ran through my mind, my gait keeping pace with my thoughts.  An idea struck me.  I’d never compared vintages of the same wine.  What difference does vintage make?  I had heard differing opinions; some think vintage is of great importance, others thinks it matters only in certain climates.  I’d never thought to try the same wine twice from different years.

Apparently my thoughts dictate the composure of the universe.  I arrived at work only to find a new vintage of a wine I had bought no less than a week earlier.  It seemed I would be comparing a sauvignon blanc from ’05 and ’08.  The ’05 had performed fairly well a week earlier, it showed nice tropical fruit flavours along side a distinct and pronounced olive character.  Admittedly the olive component was odd, and most (including the producer) would probably agree that it is an undesirable trait, but I liked it, it made the wine interesting.  I had theorized that the oliviness was due to the excessive age of the wine, Sauv Blanc is not generally meant to be drunk 5 or 6 years after the vintage, this is when it starts to develop grey hair and requires the use of dentures.  With the arrival of the ’08 I would have a chance to test my theory.

I invited a lady friend over for an, admittedly small, vertical tasting.  Budget and availability were the only hindrance to the night.  To do a proper tasting, be it vertical or horizontal, there is generally a proper amount of cash that is needed.  If there is no rush years could be spent collecting new vintages of the same wine as it is released.  Waiting as the years go by will save you money and provide for a nice vertical tasting but may take half a decade or more to achieve a modest collection.  That half decade of work will eventually pay off with 5 vintages of the same wine and the opportunity to compare and contrast the merits of each vintage.  Failing extreme patience a little detective work may be required or in my case luck and and ability to feel satisfied with even the most modest of wine tastings.  Horizontal is somewhat easier, a comparison of different wines from the same year(vintage), all that is required is a half competent liquor store.

Two vintages of the same wine is not very vertical, it’s like a staircase with only two steps but I didn’t have time to search out other vintages nor did I have money to spend on more wine.  My lady friend clearly was less impressed with my tasting set up than she was with the wine.  While the ’05 was austere and olive like while maintaining some fruit flavour the ’08 was fresh and lively with almost nothing but fruit.  There was an ever so slight hint of olive to the ’08 which confirmed my suspicion that the ’05 had an extreme olive character because of its age, as the years had worn on the fruit slowly died out and the olives became king. 

It’s hard to say how much of a role vintage plays in creating a wine.  One problem with vertical tasting is that by definition all the wine being tasted will be at different stages of maturation.  Does the olive character come with age or with the particular weather the grapes saw that year?  In this case I’m going to have to argue that the olive character was due to age.  As far as the difference in vintage goes ’05 was, according to the legendary Robert Parker, a better year than ’08 for Chile.  Olive is not really a desirable quality in a sauvignon blanc by most peoples standards and while both had some the ’05 had a hell of a lot more.

If  ’05 was a better year one would assume it would produce a better wine(by traditional standards).  I’m willing to bet if time travel were possible and the ’08 was brought back in time to the year 2007 so both wines could be tasted at the same point in their maturation (2 years off the vintage) they would taste the same or very close to the same.   Chile with its warm consistent climate produces consistent wine.  For my money ’08 and ’05 were equally good.  I stashed a bottle of ’08 away so I could try it in 2013 and compare it to the ’05 I drank in 2010, I’ll let you know the results.


“I prefer the second” she grabbed the bottle with enthusiasm.  She poured me a couple ounces of the ’08, commented on the ‘pathetic’ wine tasting I had arranged, slid what remained of the bottle into her purse and slammed the door on the way out.  The night may not have ended where I would have liked but I was content with my mild buzz and the knowledge I had gained from my first attempt at doing it vertically.

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