How to Host a Virtual Wine Tasting

Article Outline


Social distancing has put quite a damper on social life and wine tasting activities, but it hasn’t stopped us from drinking wine together. Wine drinkers all around the world continue to press forward, finding new ways to connect over a glass of wine. Some have forayed into the world of live-streaming and virtual wine tasting. In this article we’ll take a look at what it takes to put together a great online wine tasting experience.

A virtual wine tasting can take many forms. It can be as simple as you and a friend jumping on Facetime, each drinking a glass of wine and talking about life, you could have a couple hundred people all tasting through a wine list in a web conference app, or you could put on a show with a large audience all watching your tasting via a live streaming service. In the next section I'll show you the different types of virtual tastings you can consider.

Types of Virtual Tastings

Here are the 3 most common types of virtual tasting formats:

  • Small Group Tasting
    Reach out to the people you want to taste with (personal friends or people you’d like to invite), get them to buy the wine, and set a date. Recommend the place where they can buy the wine (or if you’re super nice you can send them each the bottle(s) you plan to drink. Use a web conferencing app (more on that below) for the event. When the date/time arrives, jump in and have fun.

  • Large Group Tasting
    Invite lots of people. Have an easy way for them to purchase the wine for the tasting ahead of time. Host your wine event on a web conferencing platform (more on that below). If you’re organized and plan ahead, you can reach out to a wine retailer and see if you can create a promotion where the retailer offers the wine(s) at a discount for everyone participating in your event.

  • Small Group Tasting with a Large Audience
    Invite a small group of people to participate in a tasting and promote the tasting as if it’s a show that people can tune into. Host your tasting on a live-streaming platform. Make sure to do plenty of promotion to get people to come watch the tasting.

For this article we’ll be focusing on primarily Small Group tastings, and Large Group tastings. Large Audience tastings are essentially the same as a Small Group tasting but you’d be adding a Live Streaming aspect to your tasting event. (more on that toward the end of the article)

What to Do In Your Tasting Event

Make an outline of what you’re going to talk about. Feel free to use the checklist below:

Preparation Checklist:
  1. Prepare a welcome/introduction:
    • “I’m so happy we’re all here”
    • “Thank you for coming…”
    • Share why you picked the wines you did for the tasting and what ideas or concepts you’d like people to think about as they are tasting the wines.

  2. Prepare a high-level introduction to the wine(s).
    Whether you’re just tasting 1 wine or a whole list, you’ll want to do a quick walk through of what you’ll be tasting. Go in the same order that you’ll be doing in the tasting part of the event.

  3. Do a little research on each wine

    • Learn the back-story
      Usually you can find some sort of write-up on the wine producer’s website about their wines, and maybe the individual wines themselves (backstory and/or tasting notes)

    • Get the technical details
      (Even if you don’t use them, it’s nice to know if someone asks any questions)
      • Who’s the producer of the wine?
      • Where were the grapes grown?
      • What year were the grapes harvested? (the vintage)
      • Production process for this wine:
        1. Barrel aged? Cement tank? Stainless steel tank?
        2. Was it also bottle aged?
        3. How long was it between when the grapes were harvested (the vintage), and when the wine was released for sale?
      • What’s the percentage mix of grapes?
      • What’s the alcohol level?
      • Oak barreled or no?
      • Or anything else you think might be interesting for the other people at your tasting.

    • Wine Components
      I highly recommend walking people through the components of the wine, namely the:

      1. Appearance:
        How does it look?
        • Clarity of the wine:
          (cloudy, slightly cloudy, clear)
        • Brightness:
          (dull, bright, brilliant)
        • Is there sediment/particles in the wine?
          (yes, no)
        • Are there ‘legs’ on the side of the glass?
          (a few, some, a lot)
        • What color is the wine?
          (straw, yellow, gold, brown, amber, orange, copper, salmon, pink, ruby, purple, garnet, tawny)
        • Color intensity:
          (pale, medium, deep)

      2. Aroma:
        How does it smell?
        • Intensity:
          (delicate, moderate, powerful)
        • Fruit:
          (apple, pear, citrus, pitted fruit, tropical, melon, red fruit, black fruit, blue fruit)
        • Fruit character:
          (baked, stewed, dried, peel/skin, tart, ripe, fresh, jammy)
        • Non fruit aromas:
          (floral, vegetal, herbal, olive, spice, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, licorice, honey, meat, dairy, nuts, bread/yeast, cellar, band-aid, wood, smoke, tobacco)
        • Organic/In-organic aromas:
          (forest floor, compost, mushrooms, fresh soil, barnyard, stone, chalk, oceanic, petrol, sulphur, rubber)
        • Oak intensity:
          (none, low moderate, high)

      3. Taste:
        How does it taste?
        • Sweetness:
          (bone dry, dry, off dry, sweet, very sweet)
        • Tannins:
          (low, moderately low, moderate, moderately high, high)
        • Acid:
          (low, moderately low, moderate, moderately high, high)
        • Alcohol:
          (low, moderately low, moderate, moderately high, high)
        • Body/texture:
          (light, medium, full)
        • Fruit tastes:
          (straw, yellow, gold, brown, amber, orange, copper, salmon, pink, ruby, purple, garnet, tawny)
        • Fruit tastes character:
          (baked, stewed, dried, peel/skin, tart, ripe, fresh, jammy)
        • Non fruit tastes:
          (floral, vegetal, herbal, olive, spice, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, licorice, honey, meat, dairy, nuts, bread/yeast, cellar, band-aid, wood, smoke, tobacco)
        • Organic/In-organic tastes:
          (forest floor, compost, mushrooms, fresh soil, barnyard, stone, chalk, oceanic, petrol, sulphur, rubber)

      4. Finish:
        (short, medium short, medium, medium long, long)

      5. Overall:
        • Is the wine balanced?
          (yes, no)
        • If not balanced, what sticks out?
          (alcohol, acidity, tannin, oak, sweetness, fruit concentration)
        • Complexity:
          (low, moderate, complex)

    • Prepare your summary/closing remarks.
      Return to your intro ideas/concepts and use that to prepare an official wrap-up of the tasting event.

Start the Event
  1. Start up your web-conference or live streaming software 5 minutes ahead of time to make sure you’re the first one there.

    NOTE: It’s good to test it out ahead of time so when it comes time for the actual event you know what buttons to push etc.

  2. Welcome everyone to the event. Use your prepared intro to help remind you what you want to say.

  3. Make introductions
    1. Groups Small to Medium in Size:
      Have everyone introduce themselves
    2. With Large Groups just let it ride. :)

  4. Start off with your tasting by introducing the first wine
    1. Invite everyone to pour a tasting in their glass.
    2. Tell the back-story from what you did in your preparations (above) and anything else you’d like to point out about the wine
    3. Break down the wine (sharing time). Feel free to use the ‘components’ list from above in the preparations checklist.
      1. Visual:
        What do people think about the appearance?
      2. Aroma:
        What does it smell like? What aromas can people pick up from it?
      3. Taste:
        What flavors can each person detect?
      4. Finish:
        How long does the wine flavor linger after swallowing?
      5. Overall
        Is the wine balanced or does something stick out stronger than the other aspects of the wine? Would you buy this wine (again) or not?
    4. Bonus Fun Questions:
      • If this wine were a car, what kind would it be and why? Or...
      • If this wine were a movie star which one would it be and why? Or...
      • If this wine were an animal what kind would it be and why? Or...
      • Feel free to make up your own questions too.
    5. For large groups, call on a couple people to share their thoughts on one of the above aspects of the wine, then take turns and call on a different couple of people for the next one and so on. You could ask for volunteers instead of picking people out as well.

      For small groups you can have everyone take turns to discuss each of the 5 components of the wine.

  5. Repeat the process for each of the wines on your list.

  6. After you’ve finished tasting through the list, use your closing remarks you prepared (from your preparations checklist).

Wrap it Up
  1. If there’s any actions you’d like people to take feel free to mention those here at the end. For example:
    1. Invite them to sign up for the next tasting event you might be planning.
    2. Or any other announcements you’d like people to know about.

  2. Thank everyone for participating and give the official sign-off.

  3. If you have time and there’s a good vibe going on feel free to let people hang out and talk for a little while longer. :)

Some Tips and Tricks from Experienced Virtual Tasting Hosts

Dini Rao

  • Location:
    East Coast, USA

  • Currently:
    Hosts regular virtual wine tastings with

  • Experience:
    • Wine Specialist at Christie's Wine Auctions
    • Hosted wine tastings for 20+ years including ones for British Royalty, at Julia Child's house and celebrities
    • Helped start Amazon Wine, Lot18 and The Tasting Room wine club
    • Pioneer in virtual wine tastings, starting over a year ago

  • Wine certifications:
    • Diploma (Level 4) with Merit from the Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust
    • Sat Master of Wine exams once, passing 3 of 4 theory papers

  • Dini’s Tips for hosting virtual wine tastings:

    • Most important thing to do in preparation:
      "Think about what your guests want out of this tasting - are they aspiring wine geeks that want all the technical info or are they looking for a fun experience with a little knowledge tacked on. This will lead you to choose an appropriate topic, wines and the pace and structure of the tasting. I also have a thoughtful checklist of the little things like chilling your wines, decanting wines where needed, snacks to pair and preparing your glassware. These tactical things are often forgotten."

    • Tip for how to keep things interesting:
      "I make my tastings as interactive as possible. While I am the expert and will ultimately give them answers, I ask lots of questions and include quizzes and games for the party. Nothing is more boring than watching someone rattle off facts! I also focus on the experience of tasting in my events. I don't spend lots of time on things you could easily learn in a book, but rather I spend time on what you can learn from tasting with an expert that is hard to replicate on your own. If you aren't an expert, this can be a group process. How can you learn from each other?"

    • What app or software do you use to host your tastings?
      "I've been testing all sorts of platforms from Zoom to Instagram LIVE, House Party, Youtube and Vimeo. I'm excited to try Winetracker!"

    • What was your favorite virtual wine tasting to date?
      "I hosted a Wine Tasting Brunch recently that was so heart-warming. The group all dressed up, decorated their tables and served themselves a delicious brunch and then I joined to lead a tasting of three wines. Even though they can't go out for a much-missed brunch out, they were able to create a fun, social experience for themselves and were so engaged in the tasting. They have already signed up to do more tasting experiences."

    • Any additional advice?
      "The wine is just the medium - the real focus and fun is the celebration, so how can you enhance that?"

Craig Katz

  • Location:
    Washington State, USA

  • Currently:
    Hosts regular virtual wine tastings in the Seattle area, collaborating with local restaurants and wine businesses.
    Craig's Linkedin Profile

  • Experience:
    • 30 Years in the wine industry
    • Chateau Ste Michelle
    • E. & J. Gallo Winery

  • Certifications:
    • Certified Sommelier (CS)
    • Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

  • Craig’s Tips for hosting virtual wine tastings:

    • Most important thing to do in preparation:
      "The first FIRST thing is to consider the audience and make sure they know what to expect. Most of my events are marketed through wine bars and restaurants that will sell participants the bottles to be tasted. I have the good fortune of collaborating with those business owners on themes that will resonate with their customers.
      -Showcase solid wines that have good stories behind them.
      -Build in a combination of digestible, greatest hits of facts and graphics to keep them engaged without having their eyes glaze over!"

    • Tip for how to keep things interesting:
      "Keep things moving somewhat fluidly between straight dialog/education, showing images, prodding for questions & opinion sharing, and tasting. Rinse and repeat."

    • What app or software do you use to host your tastings?
      "So far I have just used Zoom as that seems to be the app with which people are most comfortable and experienced. I am just starting to evolve my events to include live interviews with wine makers/owners, so I may consider other platforms that might be more visually pleasing."

    • What was your favorite virtual wine tasting to date?
      "The most engaging one so far might have been the Tuscan Reds program. We covered the three major faces of Sangiovese with a Chianti Classico, a Vino Nobile, and a Brunello. That theme gave us the framework to show gorgeous photos of the area, talk differences between old world and new world, see how different the same grape can taste from nearby regions, and of course taste great wine. And everybody loves Italy!"

    • Any additional advice?
      "-Let folks get on the call early in case they want to socialize (and to ensure they can get connected and set up).
      -Make sure participants feel satisfied.
      -Be willing to run a little late if they want to learn or talk a bit more.
      -Zoom records the session, so I have even emailed folks afterwards with answers to questions I missed during the event."

Example Virtual Wine Tastings To Watch

  • Vignobles K Winery
    Virtual Tasting of two wines from their lineup.
    View replay

  • Trending WWWandW
    Hosts regular virtual tastings. Here’s one of their recent ones featuring Halleck Vineyards.
    View replay

  • Jordan Vineyard & Winery
    A spoof test of a wine tasting. While they didn’t do the tasting in this video, it gives a good sense for what the experience would be like.
    View replay

  • John-Charles Boisset
    A flamboyant wine celebrity who hosts a weekly tasting show with a different guest each week.
    View replay

What Apps, Websites or Software Should You Use?

Interactive Video Conferencing Apps:
Here’s a list of some of the most popular video conferencing apps that work well for hosting an interactive wine tasting:

  • Zoom
    Up to 100 people in an event, but the free version limits to only 40 minutes. Paid plans give you longer times and start at $14.99/month USD.

  • Google Hangouts Meet BEST FREE OPTION
    Up to 100 people in an event and no time limit to how long you can host your event. They have a pro option (GSuite) that expands your capacity up to 250 people. Plans start at $6/month USD.

  • GotoMeeting
    The free version allows only 3 people and is limited to 40 minutes. But there is a free 14-day trial for unlimited time meetings and up to 250 people. Plans start at $12/month USD.

    Free version lets you have up to 100 people with no time limit. Paid plans start at $13.50/month USD.

  • UberConference
    The free version allows up to 10 people in an event and cuts off a 45 minutes. Paid plans give you unlimited time and up to 100 people. Plans start at $15/month USD.

One other pro tip is that you can record your virtual tasting with any of the above apps and post it online for people to watch. (Make sure you let your wine tasters know ahead of time that you are going to record the tasting).

What about Instragram Live or Periscope?
These apps are great easy ways to live stream an experience, but you can't broadcast from your laptop or computer with these apps, only from your mobile device or tablet. If you wanted to share something on your screen you'd have to point your phone camera at your laptop and hope that people could see it okay. These type of apps are great for live streaming and an easy quick way to put on a 'show' but aren't as well suited for an interactive, collaborative tasting experience.

Inviting a Larger Audience to Watch Your Tasting (Live Streaming)

If you want to really dial things up and broadcast your virtual wine tasting to the world you can use a Live Streaming service. Essentially you’re taking whatever you’re seeing on your screen, and using a LiveStreaming app to let anyone else watch along as an audience member. The bonus is that most live streaming services automatically record the stream so you can post it online for people to view afterwards. Below are a few Live Streaming services you can choose to use.

  • YouTube Live
    Broadcast your tasting live on YouTube
    Cost: Free
    How to use it

  • Facebook Live
    Broadcast your tasting live on Facebook
    Cost: Free
    How to use it

  • Restream
    Broadcast your tasting live on up to 30 sites at the same time
    Cost: Plans start at $16/month USD
    (requires that you have accounts set up for each site where you want to have your tasting broadcast)
    Read more

  • Other Live Streaming Options
    Here is a list of several additional live streaming options to consider if you're serious about doing a live stream.
    Read more

As you might imagine Live Streaming is a whole other world where you can go deeper and deeper. It can be almost like you’re running your own TV studio. There are even software options where you can mix the various visuals on your desktop, having smooth transitions between video of each of the tasters, graphics, and other documents, websites, or visuals you’d like to show during your tasting (example: free option called OBS Studio). But if you just want to keep things simple, just let your audience see what you see on your screen. That will keep things relatively easy and straight-forward.

How the App Can Make Your Tasting Easier and More Fun

To help your virtual tasting event be more interactive, easier, and fun, use the app. We have a Group Tasting feature that is perfect for hosting virtual tasting events.

What is it?
With the Group Tasting feature you can get your own multiplayer, real time wine tasting with a list of the wines you'll be serving at your get-together. You get a custom link to send to all your event attendees. People score each of the wines with our fun and easy-to-use scoring screen and everyone gets to see each other's scores pop onto the screen real time as each person drinks and scores the wine.

Does it cost anything?
No. It’s free!

Is it difficult to use?
No. It takes just a couple minutes to set up an event. Here are the 4 steps:

  1. On the Group Tasting screen in the app tap the “Create a Group Tasting” button.
  2. Enter an Event Title and Intro Message for your guests.
  3. Add photos and titles for each of the wines you’ll have in your tasting.
  4. Share the link with your tasting event guests.
    (There’s also a view-only link if you’re having a larger audience who wants to watch your tasters score the wine)

What’s it like for my virtual tasting guests to use it?
Each of your virtual tasting participants will do the following for each wine:

  1. Score each wine (with the magic sliders).
  2. Add their own personal comments to each wine.
  3. Watch as other people’s wine scores and comments automatically show up on the screen in real time.

When your tasting event participants score the wine with Winetracker they get to focus on the Aroma, Taste, Finish, and Overall Impression. It really helps bring a deeper focus and stir up lots of good conversation about what they like and don't like about each of the wines.

Tasters and audience members can use from the iOS or Android app, or even right from their web browser on their laptop or computer.

Feel free to give it a try. :)

Closing Remarks

Hosting your own online virtual wine tasting event could be even more fun than in-person tasting events. They are much easier to organize and with everyone participating from home they tend to cost less than regular tasting events. Some virtual wine tasting hosts are even using it to bring in extra income.

Dive in and make it happen. It’s super fun and easy to do. Cheers!

If you're hosting a virutal tasting and would like to invite people to attend, feel free to post a link about it and tell everyone in the comments below. Likewise if you've recently hosted an online tasting and have a replay video of your virtual tasting, feel free to post that below as well.