You can still sip in good company.
By Kristy Alpert
The Beauty of Online Wine Tastings
It had been 28 days since I had spoken to or seen anyone other than a family member, so I sprayed some dry shampoo in my hair, threw on a sweater over my tank top and yoga pants, and propped my laptop on a book for a better angle to prepare for my first virtual wine tasting. I clicked the Zoom link and began tussling my hair and checking my teeth in my screen’s self-reflection…unaware I wasn’t the first on the call.
“Good afternoon Kristy,” the voice on the other end started with a laugh, “don’t worry, you look just fine.”
It didn’t take long to realize social distancing had taken its obvious toll on my social skills, but thankfully my tasting guide—Scott Johnson from Clos du Val Winery in Napa, California, had been doing these virtual tastings for weeks, and was as gracious as he was personable. I sat there with four bottles, four glasses, and a Coravin on the table as he began explaining a bit more about the winery and the vineyards themselves.
Pictures of vineyards and dreamy Napa Valley sunsets soon opened on my screen as Johnson walked me through what makes Clos Du Val’s winemaking history and process so special. We swirled and sipped the first wine of the Red Wine Virtual Tasting Pack I had ordered, and, as that Gran Val Pinot Noir danced on my tongue with bright bursts of black cherries and delicate spices, I began to feel my social skills slowly returning…just in time to move on to the next glass.
Virtual wine tastings weren’t common prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as recommendations went from limiting large gatherings to sheltering in place, they have quickly become the new normal. Wine has always been something to be experienced with others, whether at tastings, happy hours, or dinners, and virtual tastings are making it possible for people to stay social during social distancing. Virtual tastings range from public “sip-along” happy hours hosted by a winemaker via Facebook or Instagram LIVE to private tastings hosted by cellar masters via Zoom for customers who have ordered a tasting package from the winery.
“Right now, as consumers turn to Instagram, Zoom, and even Facebook, virtual experiences have proven invaluable,” says Dana Bruneau, founder of Cuvée & Co. “Consumers are making good use of their bar carts and wine fridges. It’s an amazing time to get involved and support the wonderful winemakers and properties who work so diligently to bring us joy in a glass. My hope is the trend continues post-pandemic. I’ve re-connected with friends, family, and winemakers from far reaches of the world. It’s incredible. And 99 percent of the time, we all have various drinks in hand.”
15 Online Wine Tasting Options to Try
Grab your laptop, iPad, tablet, or phone, and check out these 15 amazing virtual wine tastings from around the United States to experience the more delicious (and safely social) side of social distancing.
Rosemont of Virginia
Every grape used in Rosemont of Virginia’s wines are grown on the estate—which has been in the Rose family since 1858. When coronavirus restrictions forced businesses to close in Virginia, the family decided to take their tasting room online to continue interacting and sharing their wines with customers and local wine club members. Their first event drew 92 participants, and they are now attracting wine aficionados from the entire country.
“We still wanted to figure out a way to get in front of our customers and connect with them since everyone was sitting at home,” explains Aubrey Rose, director of sales and marketing for the winery. “So we came up with Winemaker Wednesday Virtual Tastings.”
Each week Aubrey and her husband, winemaker Justin Rose, lead a 30-minute tasting on Facebook LIVE where they focus on two different Rosemont wines—which range from classic Bordeaux varietals like their 2017 Cabernet Franc ($24) to their dry, delicate rosé ($19). Viewers can drink along in this fun and interactive five-week series by purchasing the week’s bundle online (click here for 10 percent off and free shipping on orders over $75) and log in to Facebook to join and ask questions in real time. Previous sessions are available online, so there’s no harm in going back through the weeks you’ve missed.
This Rutherford winery is best known for their luxury-class wines—like their 2014 Dollarhide Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) and their 2018 Napa Valley Estate Virtú ($30)—made entirely from estate grapes grown on certified Napa Green Land. Not only was St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery one of the first certified Napa Green Wineries in the region, but they were among the first to begin offering virtual tastings when the COVID-19 closures swept the country.
The winery is offering virtual wine tastings on Thursdays, where viewers can tune in for one of two time slots (3 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. PST) on Facebook LIVE. The winery sends out a Zoom link to anyone purchasing their Injoy@Home 6-pack tasting kit—a wine bundle that includes the six bottles to be discussed during the series of exclusive chats with one of the estate’s winemakers and a suggested recipe to pair with each wine for the evening. (The first six weeks spanned March 19-April 23 and the latest series began on April 30.)
J Vineyards and Winery
Pairing their exquisite Russian River Valley wines with food has always been a passion for the team at J Vineyards and Winery; which is why, when this Sonoma County winery decided to close their doors to their tasting room, they opened their Instagram account up as a virtual wine tasting and cooking show combo. Every Sunday J Vineyard’s executive chef Carl Shelton invites viewers into his kitchen via Instagram LIVE at 3 p.m. PST where he creates a menu to pair with selected J Vineyards’ wines.
Viewers can purchase bottles ahead of time from their local liquor store or on the J Vineyard’s website, where they can find the recipe for the next week and take advantage of free shipping on purchases of three bottles or more (no promo code needed). Past menus have included a mixed mushroom strata with spinach and swiss cheese paired with their 2017 Strata Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($55) and a smoked salmon and crème fraiche quiche with puff pastry paired with their Brut Rose sparkling wine ($45).
Veteran winemaker Rachel Martin and her husband and co-proprietor Kurt Deutsch chose their vineyard’s location in San Luis Obispo specifically for the region’s cool climate and ideal conditions for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The San Luis Obispo region is one of the great up-and-coming wine regions in California—where Oceano Wines’ vineyards are among the few Sustainable In Practice (SIP) certified vineyards in the Central Coast AVA—which is why Martin decided to launch virtual wine tastings in an effort to unearth the region’s intricacies for viewers.
Every other Thursday, Martin will be hosting virtual tastings at 5 p.m. PST on Zoom, where topics will include comparing and contrasting various San Luis Obispo wines of different styles, highlighting the differences between cool climate regions, showcasing wines from the Spanish Springs Vineyard, discussing no-malo and malo Chardonnays, explaining the different clones used in Pinot and how they affect the tasting experience, and more. Viewers can purchase Oceano Wines on the website(purchases of four bottles or more get free shipping), and any other non-Oceano wines included in the tastings will be released on Oceano’s Instagram at least 10 days in advance in order to give followers time to purchase the wines online.
America’s oldest wine shop, Acker Wines, celebrated its 200-year-anniversary just moments before the “stay at home” orders took effect. Thankfully, this renowned wine shop is no stranger to online offerings—they have been hosting monthly wine auctions online for years—so they were quick to launch a new virtual wine tasting series to help foster community amongst wine lovers practicing social distancing.
Tune in for their digital “BYOB” happy hours every Monday and Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST on Zoom or 6 p.m. PST on Instagram LIVE to join Acker’s resident sommeliers for 30-minute sessions exploring everything from “Austria’s Great Grape” to “Sauvignon Blanc Around the World.” Nationwide delivery options are available, so consumers are able to purchase wines in advance or use any bottles on hand around the house. Check out the Acker Facebook page for specific details and themes of the upcoming tastings and for access to the Zoom links.
Priority Wine Pass
Jamie Cegelski-Gaebe has been organizing customized tastings for her clients since 2012 through her concierge-style business, Priority Wine Pass, a membership program for the wine industry with a network of more than 400 winery partners in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Taking the tastings online was a no-brainer for Cegelski-Gaebe, who notes that many of her wineries are smaller and rely primarily on tourism to stay afloat. Priority Wine Pass now offers one-on-one tastings with the winemakers themselves, where customers can select from a menu of tasting experiences—like the incredibly popular Rose & Cabernet Tasting Set ($115) with the world-renowned female winemaker of Brigitte/Courtesan in Napa Valley and Prime Solum’s Explore 2012 Tasting Set ($432) with second generation wine grower and professional artist Elana Hill—and set a tasting time that works best for them once the wine arrives. Tastings are held via Zoom, where many corporations have begun organizing private virtual group tastings as a social event for clients or employees during social distancing.
Gregory + Vine
This woman-owned company represents some of the top names in wine, spirits, and beer, and recently decided to share their industry knowledge with the masses by hosting virtual happy hours every Wednesday at 6 p.m. EST. Gregory + Vine happy hours take place on Zoom, but are promoted through the company’s Instagram account.
Simply send a message via Instagram to receive details and a link to RSVP for upcoming tastings. Past happy hours included an “Intro into Spanish Wines” with Rick Fisher (a.k.a. @thespanishwineguy) and “All Things Beer” with Jeremy Kosmicki of Founders Brewing Co.
The drive up to Dr. Becker’s Texas Hill Country estate often feels like driving through the countryside of Provence, where lavender fields and lush vineyards lead to a German stone tasting room and limestone event barn. Becker Vineyards began offering virtual tastings for customers three days a week via Facebook LIVE. A tasting schedule on their websitedetails which three bottles were selected for each week and offers a Club Member pricing on each week’s Virtual Tasting 3 Pack (free shipping).
Customers can tune in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 5:30 p.m. CST for a 30-minute tasting led by founder Dr. Richard Becker, winemaker Jon Leahy, and many other special guests. Previous tastings are available on the vineyard’s Facebook page—check out their “Rev it Up with Roussanne” with their 2018 Roussanne Reserve ($24) from April 6—making it easy to revisit the stories, conversations, and wine notes.
The Coravin wine preservation system revolutionized the wine industry when it came out in 2013—offering a way to pour any wine, in any amount, without removing the cork—and they recently pulled off another impressive feat. The company hosted what aimed to be the World’s Largest Virtual Wine Tasting on April 17, 2020, hosted by Coravin founder Greg Lambrecht and a panel of winemakers, sommeliers, and influencers; they raised $50,000 for the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. (You can still watch the event on Coravin’s Facebook page.)
Lambrecht will also be hosting two weekly virtual series on Instagram LIVE, Wine O’Clock (Thursdays at 4 p.m. EST) and Wine O’Clock Behind the Wine (Tuesdays at 4 p.m. EST), where his Tuesday Instagram session will include conversations with some of the world’s greatest winemakers and his Thursday session will range from food and wine pairings to digging into the different wine regions.
Clos Du Val Winery
This celebrated winery has been producing exceptional wines since its inception, in fact, Clos Du Val’s inaugural wine, a 1972 cabernet sauvignon, helped put Napa on the radar for serious wine drinkers when it topped French wines in a blind taste test at the legendary 1976 Judgement of Paris. Clos Du Val is now bringing the entire Napa experience into the homes of viewers around the world with its bespoke “Tasting at Your Table” virtual wine tastings.
Customers simply purchase one of the winery’s tasting packs online (like their Ultimate Virtual Tasting Pack – Reds for $395 that comes with tasting notes and a Coravin Model One Wine System), or any four Clos Du Val bottles of their choice, to receive a complimentary tasting via Zoom booked at any time that’s convenient for the customer. The company already has plans to continue these already popular tastings long after social distancing, and soon the experience packages will also include some nibbles from local Napa producers, like everyone’s favorite Panevinobreadsticks.
Named after the rare blue stones that are only found on the shores of nearby Lake Michigan, this family-owned Leelanau Peninsula winery has been producing exceptional wines since bottling their first unoaked 2010 Chardonnay—which went on to win a Double Gold at the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition that year. Blustone Vineyards held their new release party virtually earlier this year via Michigan By The Bottle, where the first 50 customers to respond received an invitation via Zoom for an interactive tasting with owner Tom Knighton to discuss growing conditions and how the wines were made. More virtual events are on the horizon for this award-winning winery, so grab a bottle of their dry 2018 riesling ($18) and keep an eye on their Facebook page for updated virtual tasting opportunities.
Good Life Wine Collective
This is the Rolls-Royce of virtual tastings. The Good Life Wine Collective’s wine club members around the country have enjoyed in-home tastings for years, where personal wine experience managers flew in with bottles of their finest Jessup Cellars and Handwritten wines to host private wine tastings in customer’s homes. Although travel restrictions put a halt on in-person tastings, they opened up the chance for anyone to experience a tasting virtually.
Simply sign up for a tasting on either the Jessup Cellars website or the Handwritten website, and one of the company’s experience managers will follow up with a phone call to set things up, including helping customize the perfect bottles for each consumer’s specific preferences. Tastings include six bottles with all necessary items for the tastings and are held via Zoom with one of the WSET-certified wine experience managers.
Taub Family Selections
This highly revered wine importer began distributing wines in 2010 and has continued to focus on introducing wine drinkers to fine wines from the top appellations around the world. Taub Family Selections will be hosting Instagram LIVE streams and conversations later in the month with wine portfolios like Domaines Barons de Rothschild.
The company will announce the wines to be tasted in advance on their Instagram account, so viewers can sip along while getting the inside scoop from industry celebrities like Diane Flamand, winemaker of Légende in Bordeaux, Claudio Naranjo, general manager of Los Vascos in Chile, and Philippe Rolet, estate manager of Caro in Argentina.
This Sonoma winery has become a household name over the years, and now Kendall-Jackson is becoming part of household life with its latest At Home with Kendall-Jackson program. Broadcasting live on Facebook and Instagram, the winery is offering virtual wine tastings with wine master Randy Ullom on Sunday evenings, and plans to host virtual events like Virtual Vino & Vinyasa yoga classes, Virtual Wine and Painting, Virtual Concerts, and even Virtual Cooking Classes and Wine Pairings with the Kendall-Jackson culinary team. Viewers can sip along with what the team is drinking by ordering wine from the Kendall-Jackson website (get 20 percent off with code KJSPRING).
Buttonwood Grove Winery
Owners Dave and Melissa Pittard had only been in charge of this Finger Lakes Wine Country winery for three years before their wine—a 2016 Riesling—was selected as the best wine in New York State at the 2017 Governor’s Cup. Although their tasting room closed its doors during social distancing restrictions, they are now bringing their tasting room directly to homes every Friday for a 4 p.m. EST “Virtual Happy Hour” on Facebook LIVE. Each episode will feature guided tastings of different Buttonwood Grove wines, and viewers can taste along by purchasing bottles from their website (10 percent discount for purchases of six or more bottles).
Kristy Alpert is a freelance travel and food writer on the hunt for the obscure and untold stories around the world. Her passion for savoring the local flavor of a destination has led to her unearthing bread baking secrets on Muhu Island to chiseling ancient ice for martinis in Antarctica. Kristy has won numerous international awards for her writing. See her bylines in Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, Fodor’s Travel, American Way, and more.