One of the most fun things a wine lover can do is a vertical tasting. That means tasting the same wine – same winery, wine varietal and vineyard designation – from multiple years.
It’s fascinating to experience the differences in vintages, including how a wine ages and how weather can play a factor in a wine’s development.
There are several ways to build a vertical. You could collect the wine each year, buying it as it’s released and storing the bottles until you have at least three vintages represented. Another option is to purchase the bottles from a winery that has multiple vintages available.
Years ago, our friend/wine columnist Ken Robertson pulled out two decades of historic Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. It was remarkable to sense how they aged, confirming our suspicion that these were perhaps the cellar-worthy wines produced in the Pacific Northwest.
Another friend of ours, Hank Sauer, a retired educator in Kennewick, recently donated his complete 37-year vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon by Leonetti Cellar to the Auction of Washington Wines, raising $32,500 to create an endowed scholarship for the Washington State University viticulture and enology program.
Typically, vertical tastings are conducted with red wines because they age better. However, we have had the good fortune to taste through libraries of Riesling, which is equally compelling for wine nerds.
If you have a vertical of wine, you can turn it into a party. Have each of your guests bring a dish or appetizer. You want to have at least two wine glasses per guest, so they can sample some of the wines side by side.
Palencia Winery, which operates tasting rooms in Kennewick and West Richland, has compiled a three-year vertical of its Casa Amarilla, a red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, commonly referred to as a “GSM,” referencing the initials of the three grapes involved.
These blends are common in the central Rhône Valley in southern France. They are some of the most consistently delicious wines to come out of Washington state’s Rhône exploration that began in 1986 when the first Syrah vines were planted in the Yakima Valley at Red Willow Vineyard.
In most cases, a GSM will combine the fruitiness of Grenache with the spiciness of Syrah backed by the sturdiness of Mourvèdre. It’s a combination that’s developed into one of the hallmark blends of not only Washington but also Idaho.
Palencia, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Prosser, made his first GSM blend while he was in high school, before attending the Walla Walla Community College winemaking program in 2003. Within a decade, and while making more than a million cases of wine each year for others, he launched his own project, Palencia Wine Co., near the Walla Walla Airport.
In 2018, he moved his entry-level Vino la Monarcha label to Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village. And recently, Palencia took over a former distillery building at the end of Keene Road in West Richland, calling it Bodega Palencia.
Despite the transition, Palencia hasn’t lost his focus. Last spring, Wine Press Northwest magazine named Palencia Winery as its 2019 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. And the Palencia 2016 Casa Amarilla GSM blend was recently selected as The Seattle Times’ wine of the year. It is at the heart of a specially packaged three-year vertical of GSM for a holiday price of $99.
Whether you pick the convenience of a pre-packaged vertical or start the hunt to create your own consecutive collection, building and tasting a vertical is a delicious adventure in wine.