The pandemic does not have to get in the way of sipping, learning and enjoying a glass (or few) of your favourite varietal. By Nivedita Jayaram Pawar
No one can keep wine lovers away from their favourite drink, not even a pandemic! After the lockdown put a stop to in-person wine tastings and visits to wineries, the wine industry got creative and found ways to bring the experience into your living room. Enter virtual wine tastings.
While there’s nothing quite like an in-person wine tasting, having the option to do so from the comfort of your own home certainly has its appeal. “In this pandemic where people are yearning to meet other people but cannot, online meetings are a great way to de-stress, especially with a glass of wine in hand. I have done a few private sessions on wines and spirits where participants from the US, UK, Middle East and India bonded over wine,” says Ajit Balgi, a wine educator.
How online tastings work
Participants are sent the wines before a virtual tasting session, which can involve hundreds of tasters. Everyone sits down in front of his/her computers with some open bottles on the designated time. These virtual tastings are held on easy-to-use platforms like Zoom, Facebook Live and Instagram Live. In these tastings, hosts walk through each wine, including tasting notes, the creation process and ideal pairing ideas. Some wineries even send food and wine pairing guides and also throw in live cooking demonstrations.
Aperture Cellars in California has had to temporarily close its tasting rooms but it has pivoted to offer virtual wine tasting experiences instead. Their bespoke wine tasting package comes not just with a demonstration from a winemaker via Zoom, but also a cooking session led by a Michelin-starred chef. The tasting package comes with a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Bordeaux Red Blend and a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc. With relatively little work on the seller’s part, virtual tastings enable wineries to reach a lot of people. There’s a tasting for every budget and palate. The best part? No dress code is required. And, if you can’t make it to the live tasting after you’ve signed up and purchased the wines, don’t fret; you can watch the whole tasting later on YouTube.
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Apart from possible food pairings, and learning how food and wine transform each other in various ways, some wineries even play a little trivia game for a chance to win a bottle of wine. These tastings are an excellent option if you’re looking for something personalised and private, either as a date night, a get-together with friends, or a remote team-building activity with colleagues or clients.
“Virtual tastings can’t replace the experience of tasting wine with other people,” says Vaniitha Jaiin, Founder of The Perfect Pour, a consulting firm. “But they show how fast the wine sector is embracing digital possibilities. Virtual tastings are a great way to enjoy an entertaining activity together with friends and family—even on different continents—while meeting a winemaker from the comfort of your own home,” she adds. Jaiin has experimented with two online experiences formats during the lockdown: one with wines, and one without. “Naturally, the sessions where we arranged wines, snacks and nibbles for participants as part of the virtual tasting format was found to be more effective and engaging!”
Those looking for something more intimate can opt for a one-on-one private virtual tasting with a host from the winery. All you have to do is select your wines from their website and they’ll be shipped directly to your home. You can then schedule a Zoom meeting with the host and settle in for a conversation about the wines you taste. You can, of course, invite friends and family to join you. “Despite my initial misgivings, it ended up being an enjoyable evening and I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know earlier about my favourite Sauvignon Blanc. The interactive aspect of the session meant that we could ask questions as we went,” says Divya Khurana a Mumbai-based wine enthusiast.
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While these online sessions are a great way to keep up with social distancing while sampling great wines from across the world, they are not without challenges. Apart from access to the said spirit or wine, costs can also be a challenge. “People don’t want to open multiple bottles, especially in the case of wines. And due to legalities, we cannot have the said wine delivered in smaller portions for a tasting. Sometimes a few enthusiastic participants can take up a lot of screen time to share stories, and as a speaker, we need to manage time and egos to keep things on time and engage with all,” explains Balgi.
A trend that’s risen out of necessity, these tastings are also an ideal way to take your taste buds on a mini-vacation without dressing up. Sip up a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or relish a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley; who knows, you might even get some inspiration for your next post-lockdown trip!