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By Kristen Shirley | April 30 2020
Looking to spice up your self-isolation routine and learn more about wine? Many wineries are now offering virtual wine tastings, bringing vineyard experience into your home. Once you pick the wine do you want to try and place an order, the winery will ship the wines directly to your doorstep. You can do the wine tasting with people in your home, or you can gather a virtual group and everyone can order the same bottles — it’s a great way to spice up your regular Zoom happy hour. We tried two virtual tastings and are here to tell you how it all works.
First, pick your wines! Most vineyards will have a suggested range that you can order from. If you want to do special vertical tastings, they can arrange for that as well. Once you receive the wine, there will be instructions on how soon before the tasting you should open them, so the wine has time to breathe, if necessary. You don’t want to waste your time with the winemaker opening bottles, so be sure to do everything except sparkling wine ahead of time.
Next, it’s time to taste the wine. If possible, be sure that you have enough wine glasses so each person has one glass per wine, so that you can come back to different wines and see how they compare to the others. If you are in a small group and you don’t want to open all of the wines, I recommend Coravin or other wine-saving techniques. If you’re opening sparkling wines, you need several high-quality champagne stoppers on hand, or you might only want to open two bottles and save the others for a later date; the winemaker can still go through the bottles you don’t open. When the time comes, open your Zoom link and get ready to taste some fabulous wine. We did two virtual tastings: one with Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma Valley, California, and one with Antica Terra in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Read below to see how each one went.
Hamel Family Wines was started by Pamela and George Hamel in 2006, and today they run the winery with their family. In a charming touch, the wine labels feature a badger, because three generations of their family have graduated from University of Wisconsin. You can expect plenty of Midwestern hospitality, even through a virtual wine tasting. I tried the 2016 Isthmus (rhymes with Christmas), a smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; a surprising good Zinfandel from 2017 that will change your opinion of the varietal; the family’s namesake wine, the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon 2105 Hamel Family Ranch; and a very fresh 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. They recommend aging some of these wines for many years for them to properly develop, so if you use a Coravin, you’ll be able to store them after the tasting and revisit them years later. In addition to the wines, Hamel includes the recipe for its world-famous popcorn.
Antica Terra is a beautiful winery run by an enigmatic winemaker, Maggie Harrison. Harrison tells me that she is taking the closure as a way to reimagine parts of her business, and she’s finding it really wonderful to connect with so many people through virtual wine tastings. It’s known for exceptional Pinot Noir, which thrives in Oregon’s cooler climate, and doing the tastings is quite interesting as you can really see the range when doing a side-by-side tasting of the different Pinot Noirs, like delicate Ceras and lush Botanica. Antica Terra is also hosting blind blending seminars and nationwide blending competitions, as well as conversations with its renowned chef Timothy Wastell. Be sure to check out its Instagram, as it is selling special wines to benefit Covid-19 relief funds.