I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual wine tastings lately, ever since attending one last week. (Write-up here.) There are pros and cons of these which I want to dig into a bit more.
A few places around Edmonton have started doing virtual tastings during 2020, as they seek to find ways to adapt to the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Get Cooking did the one last week that I attended, which was a combination cooking class and wine tasting. Vines Riverbend Wine Merchants did a few virtual wine tastings earlier in the year. RGE RD did at least one virtual winemaker dinner (maybe more; not sure) and I’m sure some other places have done similar events too. I’m sure we’ll see more of these events in 2021.
Logistics and cost are the trickiest parts of virtual tastings. Somehow you need to get the wine to people. Under AGLC provincial legislation, stores are not permitted to sell pre-portioned samples from an opened bottle. So, people have to buy whole bottles of each wine being tasted, which increases the cost and reduces the number of wines you can try. Instead of trying six or seven different wines for $50, for that same price you’ll only be able to buy about two bottles of wine. (Or one really nice wine; or several really cheap wines.)
On the plus side, this means you get whole bottles of wine to enjoy instead of just a couple ounces to taste. However, that might not actually be a good thing if you’re single, not a big drinker, have to work the next day, and/or don’t like the wine.
Private tasting groups could get around the issue of having to make everyone buy whole bottles. (Which the AGLC might also technically prohibit, but how are they going to know?) The logistics would be super annoying, however. Someone would have to source the wines, portion them out into spill-proof smaller containers, then somehow get those delivered to the other members of the group within an hour or two of the tasting itself. This doesn’t really work well for wine, but I could see this working for Scotch or other spirits.
I don’t mind the idea of virtual tastings that do a deep dive into two or three wines only. Sure, it’s cool to be able to try half a dozen wines side-by-side, but even a comparison of two different wines can be interesting and instructive. That’s kind of fun and could be a really good way to learn more about a particular producer, region or varietal.
Another way of approaching these could be to choose a more general topic, like a certain grape varietal or region, and then let people choose their own wines. You wouldn’t be able to give people specific tasting notes but this could still be interesting. Then again, there’s really not much difference between that and drinking along with one of the innumerable wine YouTube channels, except for being able to ask questions in real time. The wine store hosting the wine tasting needs to make a profit somehow (they are a business, after all), so if they were to do this tasting model, somehow they’d have to ascertain that participants actually purchased the wines from their store. Maybe a private Zoom link with your receipt?
The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension is doing a five-week Canadian wine appreciation course taught by Mike Angus of Pip. It costs $100 to register and then you have to buy the wines ahead of time. I can’t find the exact cost of those; the event just says: “six types of wine will be available for purchase through Color de Vino to participants prior to the class start date.” So it’s pretty expensive, though it sounds quite informative too.
I’m going to keep my eye out for other virtual tastings in the coming weeks and months. I’m curious to see if they will become commonplace, or if they’ll remain an occasional oddity to help us get through the lockdown periods. If you know about any happening in Edmonton, or if you’re hosting one yourself, drop me a line.