I miss having drinks with the girls.

Sure, I’ve been to my share of virtual happy hours, but six months into the pandemic they are pretty boring. Part of the fun of sitting at the bar with the girls is dishing over heavy pours. In the age of the coronavirus, we’ve got nothing to dish about.

Maybe I should use this time with friends — and oenophiles — to educate myself about wine, rather than gossip over it. I’m ready to elevate my palate. Perhaps I should host my own virtual wine tasting?

Mary Ewing-Mulligan (left panel) talks wine with Jennifer Pineda, Elizabeth Wellington, and Margaret Wellington (top right); and Amy Mironov.
Elizabeth Wellington
Mary Ewing-Mulligan (left panel) talks wine with Jennifer Pineda, Elizabeth Wellington, and Margaret Wellington (top right); and Amy Mironov.

This is not a novel idea. Wineries have been hosting virtual tastings since the onset of the pandemic to drive business, according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine. But based on anecdotal evidence, most of us are having wine tastings for strictly social reasons. And that was a good enough reason for me to seek an expert to help me plan my own virtual wine tasting.

Here’s how it went, and how you can plan your own.

The expert

I connected with Mary Ewing-Mulligan, president of the International Wine Center in New York. Ewing-Mulligan, raised in Bucks County and a Penn graduate, is also the first American woman to earn the prestigious title of Master of Wine. A master of wine understands the science behind the wine. She studies wine the same way a psychologist studies the brain and behavior. Ewing-Mulligan, who has coauthored several books in the Wine For Dummies series with her husband, Ed McCarthy.

The swirl. The sniff. The taste.

Ewing-Mulligan suggested a red, white, and rosé. The white was a Louis Jadot 2019 Bourgogne Chardonnay, produced in Burgundy. Ewing-Mulligan’s eyes twinkled when she told us the chardonnay was from Burgundy, one of the premiere regions of wine production in France. “A chardonnay is a good, solid, reliable wine that people can find anywhere,” Ewing-Mulligan said. The rosé was courtesy of Marqués de Cáceres Rosé from Rioja, Spain. Rosés are having a moment, so that makes them an excellent choice. And finally, the red: a blend of merlot and cabernet franc from Château Lassègue, a vintage blend.

I invited my mom and sister to the tasting. Ewing-Mulligan instructed us to start with light to heavy. (But you can also drink in order from dry to sweet or least expensive to more expensive, depending on the theme.)

We each poured four ounces of wine into the glass. Swirled it. When you swirl the wine, the scent is released, Ewing-Mulligan said. And then we took a sniff. Discussion ensued. We agreed the chardonnay smelled like green apples, and we enjoyed its silky texture and full body. It featured a citrusy finish that lingered in the back of our throats. The chardonnay was my mother’s favorite, surprising because she doesn’t really like wine (she prefers beer) and when she does drink wine, it’s prosecco in mimosas. (You learn something new every day.)

The swirl. The sniff. The taste. We repeated with each wine. The rosé was surprisingly dry despite its deep pink hue. And though my sister is a white wine fan, she settled on the rosé. The red blend would have been perfect with a steak. “That doesn’t mean it needs a steak,” Ewing-Mulligan clarified. “When people say that this wine needs a food, it suggests the wine is not adequate in the moment. This wine is adequate in the moment.”

Although, a little pricey for my wine budget — it was $30 — I’d definitely invest in the red. Most importantly, I had a great time. And no one had to drive home.

Here’s how to host your own virtual wine tasting:

Choose a theme

Consider how you’d like to set up your wine tasting. Do you love red wine? Maybe the theme of your tasting should be pinot noirs under $20. Or, perhaps you want to lead a tasting of cabernet sauvignons from Pennsylvania wineries such as Chaddsford Winery or Blue Mountain Vineyards. “There is really no limit to the kinds of wines you can choose,” Ewing-Mulligan said. Do you consider yourself a wine nerd? Choose a selection of pinot grigios made by the same producer from three different years.

Tasting tip: You may have a few guests who don’t love wine, but are itching to participate for the camaraderie. There is definitely a vino to suit their palate. For example if whiskey is their spirit of choice, make sure you have an oaky chardonnay in the mix, or a bourbon-infused cabernet, like Big Six Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon.

Choose the wines

You’ll want to choose the right wines for both your palate and your pocketbook. For the tasting, you’ll need to pick no fewer than three, no more than five bottles.

Think about wines before that you’ve truly enjoyed. If you remember a restaurant, but can’t remember the actual wine, look up the menu online to jog your memory. Consult with the experts at your local spirits store, who will know the wines best for tasting.

Consider your budget. Remember that all your participants will have to buy each bottle. Maybe keep your prices at less than $20 per bottle.

Do your research. Once you’ve chosen your wines, learn more about them. Where are the wines produced? What’s special about the vineyard? What kind of grapes make up the blends? Familiarize yourself with the notes or the flavor. Is the producer’s top wine or is it its run-of-the-mill variety? What foods pair well? (Most of this information can be found on the wine producer’s website.)

Tasting tip: Create index cards with bullet points. You will want to have them handy when you introduce the wines to your guests.

Wine-tasting details

  • Set the number of virtual tasters. Ideally, you should have between three and 10 guests.
  • Choose between three and five wines. Too few wines will leave guests feeling unsatisfied. Too many wines and the flavors run together.
  • Include date, time, and duration — you don’t want the tasting to go longer than two hours — of the wine tasting on the invites. There are many platforms to do your tasting, but whatever you choose — whether it’s Zoom or Google Chat — make sure you add the link.
  • List the names of the wines: Be sure to include the varietal, the producer, and the year. Where is the wine available? Can it be ordered online? Include as much information as possible. Make sure your guests have at least a week to get the wine.
  • Make sure everyone has the proper glasses on hand. Ideally guests should have one glass per wine. If you only have one wine glass, be sure to rinse and dry it between tastings. Make sure guests have water on hand to cleanse their palates, too.