Plan A Virtual Wine Tasting With These Sommelier-Approved Tips

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Looking to elevate your next Zoom happy hour? Instead of pouring yourself a glass of the same-old-same-old you could step out of your comfort zone and plan an interactive event that not only encourages you and your drinking pals to expand your palettes, but also just might make socializing from behind a screen feel a little fancier. With a few virtual wine and cheese tasting ideas from sommeliers and other entertaining experts, even novices can feel like bonafide beverage pros.

Pairing snacks with your wine du jour is probably not a new concept, but when you want to up the ante and feel like you're transported to wine country — or at least a time when you could nibble on charcuterie boards and split a bottle inside a swanky eatery — there are a few things things you can do. One option might be checking for any virtual tastings from your favorite wineries, some of which may be hosting their own events. But if you'd prefer to play host, you should probably brush up on some basic wine knowledge, gather a few no-fail pairings, and exercise some entertaining etiquette to take your next virtual hangout from casual convo to sommelier-approved soiree.

Not so well versed in wine? No problem. The six tips ahead will make the experience easier — and so much more chic.


Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Plan Ahead

This may seem obvious, but to make sure this virtual tasting goes smoothly, you'll want to plan ahead — which involves letting your guests know exactly what to expect and/or how to prepare. "Be transparent about what everyone will need so that no one feels uncomfortable," says Shakera Jones, founder of Black Girls Dine Too, who's been hosting her own virtual events. "The last thing you want is to leave people feeling unprepared."

This could include what wines, meats, cheeses, or other snacks you've pre-selected (more on those ahead), but also preparing a few talking points. And Jones also notes that if your guests aren't quite wine aficionados, make sure they know that all opinions are welcome and no level of knowledge is required or expected for participation.

Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Set the Mood

Maia Parish, sommelier and founder of The Wine Suite, believes that we should embrace the idea of digital events — as they might be the main source of socializing for a while — by creating a little ambiance. "Why not set the mood and create an atmosphere to complement your experience?" she says. How to do that? Adjust your lighting, dress the part, light some candles, and create a playlist to share with everyone that will make you feel like you're at a cool dining spot instead of in your living room.

Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Break Out the Good Glassware

Since such events are on the up and up, you might as well invest in some good glassware to use if you don't have a set already. "The shape and style of the glass can enhance or decrease the flavors of the wine," says Parish. "Brands like Riedel and Zalto are great investment options." A rule of thumb is that most red wines are best served in glasses with wide openings, which can release more aroma and make the wine taste smoother, while white wines work better in smaller-bowled glasses to maintain temperature and acidity. And if you're serving bubbles, flutes keep your wine fizzy longer.

Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Have the "Three C's"

Parish sticks to what she calls "the three C's" for creating the ultimate snack spread to pair with wine: Cheese, charcuterie, and/or conservas (canned seafood). "My staples are charcuterie, hard cheese, mustards, jams, goat cheese, olives, and crackers," she says.

Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Opt for Foolproof Combos

If you want to be a little more strategic about your pairings, Tahiirah Habibi — sommelier and Founder of Hue Society and The Roots Fund (created to encourage and educate budding Black wine professionals) — has a few go-to duos that always impress. Firstly, Sancerre and goat cheese. "The acidity in both cancel each other and what you have left is the creamy texture and pure fruit," she explains.

Next up, dessert wine (Habibi recommends late harvest varieties specifically) with blue cheese. "Salty and sweet are magical pairings," she says. Finally, pair a hard, fatty cheese with tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. "The chemical reaction to the fat and the tannins leave pure, delicious flavors," she adds.

Virtual Wine & Cheese Tasting Idea: Encourage Conversation

Especially if this is new to you and your guests, you'll want to consider ways everyone can contribute to the conversation. "Start with an icebreaker," says Jones. "Pick a fun food or wine-centric question to get people chatting." After your tasting, the entertaining expert suggests closing with a summary of the wines you tasted, and allow for others (or yourself) to make recommendations based on your findings.