Life & Culture

Virtual Wine Tastings

In these stay-at-home times – where my local radio station jokes “bar hopping” now means placing a different bottle of wine in each room – many wineries have offered online tastings on Facebook, Instagram and Zoom for weeks. Many are free. You often don’t need to buy the wine to watch (but of course it’s more fun to sip while each is discussed), and can type questions during the tasting. They can be formal or casual, and some feature cooking demos. Some let you book a private custom tasting for you and your friends. Many tastings remain online, so you can watch the long whenever the urge for Happy Hour strikes. As Jimmy Buffett once sang, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” 

Seeing the list of virtual tastings in Napa, Sonoma and Washington State is a terrific way to introduce yourself to new wines. Let’s compare a few:

Hess Collection

This Napa winery offers free guided wine tastings (the Hess tasting room is pictured below left) of its many red and white wines with chief winemaker Dave Guffy on Facebook (link here). A recent summer white wine showcase featured its Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s leading white wine but rare in Napa, Pinot Gris, a mineral-tasting wine that’s a signature white of Alsace, Albarino, a Spanish white with lemon-peel notes, and scenic videos of morning fog on Mt. Veeder, where the vineyards are located, and suggested food pairings, like macadamia nut-crusted goat cheese crostini with asparagus and fennel. Other videos offer cooking demos from its executive chef of, say, chicken sautéed with spring onions and tarragon, and virtual tours of the winery’s museum. The artworks, from contemporary artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Rauschenberg, are a fraction of the private collection of winery founder Donald H. Hess, also found in museums worldwide. 

Marimar Estate

This Sonoma winery in the Russian River Valley offers free Spanish cooking classes paired with their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs Fridays at 5 PM (PST) on Facebook (link here). Learn to make paella, chocolate-fig loaf or potato omelets from winery founder Marimar Torres, author of The Spanish Table, and her daughter Cristina, who discuss the foods’ history and how-to and their wines. The mother-daughter duo is from Spain’s acclaimed Torres winemaking family, who also owns wineries in Chile. In real life (oh, how we miss it), Catalan antiques and crockery adorn the winery reception room, and whimsical 10-foot metal dog sculptures of the winery’s spaniels are near the patio.

Pigs & Pinot

Sonoma winemakers pick their Pinot Noirs to pair with pork-based dishes in free cooking demos from chef Charlie Palmer Thursdays at 1 PM (PST) on Instagram (link here). The weekly series, starring the James Beard-winning chef famed for Charlie Palmer Steak and Dry Creek Kitchen restaurants in New York, California, Nevada and Washington DC in his home kitchen in Healdsburg, began early April. You can watch the videos for 24 hours after they air. Wineries include Bollinger Champagne and Mauritson Wines. BBQ spiced pork tenderloin, burgers au poivre and miso pork are some of the meals prepared.

Domaine Roy & Fils

This Oregon Willamette Valley winery lets you book a custom virtual tasting for up to eight people on a day of your choice, as long as your group buys three bottles (starting at $110 total) of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Allow 7-10 days for the wine to ship. You’ll get a private link to Zoom before the tasting, which also includes a video tour of the vineyards and wine cellar’s production facility.


Photo by David Köhler for Unsplash.



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