Wine tastings have changed during lockdown, but what we might have initially considered restrictive can actually make learning about wine easier and more accessible.
I must have taught and hosted several hundred wine tastings over the past decade. From professional Wine and Spirits Education Trust courses at their HQ in London, luxurious ‘wine experiences’ in Marylebone, and most recently Mummy Wine Club tastings in my own home– there have been too many to count. The wine selection, the budget, the size, the level of technical detail required all varied from one event to another, but the human aspect remained a strong reason why I loved what I did. Teaching others about wine and seeing the sparks of interest and enthusiasm around the table while we discussed what was in the glass, (along with vineyards, producers, cuisine, and so much more) is what fuels me to do this job.
Presently, we have all had to adjust our day-to-day lives post-coronavirus and, in many ways we’re still longing for life to feel ‘normal’ again. Some temporary solutions might stick around though, and I think virtual wine tastings will be one of them.
Connecting in a new way
Recently I hosted two back-to-back virtual wine tastings as part of the Bedford Park Festival in Chiswick. Normally a 2-week affair on the Chiswick Common organised by St Michael and All Angels Church, the festival is not only a brilliant chance to connect with your community, but to enjoy the creative folks that put on performances and shop from local businesses that pitch up on the green. When the lockdown was at its strictest the festival organisers had to decide whether to cancel this year (like many other local fetes have done) or try another way. Luckily, they persevered with an online version of the festival experience. I can’t say it wholly replaced the fun of the real thing, but it brought the community together in what was a very challenging, and potentially lonely, time. Locals participated online by voting in the photo competitions, bidding in the gifts and promises auction, listening to live stream talks and recitals, and best of all they managed to raise money for local and international charities.
The virtual wine tasting model turns out to be extremely family-friendly which is perfect for Mummy Wine Club and all it stands for.
I was thrilled to see a mix of locals tune in for my first evening’s wine tasting and give us a glimpse of their home-life. Some sat at the same office desk where I imagine they have been participating in work video conferences earlier that day, and now finally having a more exciting use of their Zoom account. Another couple joined as part of a birthday celebration, multi-tasking as they kept one eye on the screen and tasting the wine, while feeding their toddler his dinner. Next-door neighbours sat together and tuned in on a shared screen. One lovely family united across London over a shared wine experience–the parents in Chiswick, while their daughter and partner tuned in from Greenwich.
We all tuned in at 6pm sharp, everyone ready with their wines chilled according to my instructions, wine glasses out, and beautiful platters of charcuterie and cheese prepared to nibble as we taste through. A round of introductions and a few words about what everyone is currently drinking made us feel one step closer.
I presented the wines one at a time. First taking the group through a step by step guide on how to taste wine paying attention to appearance, aromas, palate, and the after taste. The beauty of virtual wine tasting became evident as we made use of the group chat. I encouraged everyone to ask questions- and where otherwise some might feel shy to ask something in real life- typing it into the group chat must have felt a little easier. I had many excellent questions pop up but seeing them on screen allowed me to weave the answers into my explanations more seamlessly. In real life while the questions are always welcome, they can lead us far off topic, take a lot of time to cover, and knock my train of thought as I present, so this was a welcome alternative.
Towards the end I invited the attendees to make comments about the wines and ask further questions. We chatted about what they were eating with the wines in their own homes, and then took a vote on which was our favourite. There was plenty of laughter and note taking, not too different from a real-life tasting.
Another perk of the virtual wine tasting was how much we managed to cover in under 50 minutes. We dived deep into all the important technical information for both wines but also discussed other wines worth trying that are similar in style, talked about food and wine matching principles and suggestions. Add that to the fact that there was no commuting to and from the tasting other than walking to the computer, it really was an easy commitment to make on a Wednesday and Thursday night!
Although I miss the days of the lavish spreads of shared food and wine, sitting side by side, and clinking glasses in real life, the ease, efficiency, and accessibility of virtual wine tastings is very attractive for connecting Mummy Wine Club members who are otherwise busy and live all over the country.
For this reason, I am already offering it as a benefit for subscribers of the Monthly Wine Subscription Club to tune in and taste the wines together in a fun and informal video call. Besides hearing from me directly and being able to ask questions, they can also connect with the other members of the club in this virtual space. There are also exciting opportunities like inviting winemakers from all over the world to join our virtual tastings that I am already exploring for future virtual wine tastings. So, although there are certain limitations compared to the real life experience there are also a great deal of advantages and opportunities. Here’s to the next virtual cheers!