The return of the Willetts on Wine: A Virtual Winetasting

My wife, Margaret Anne, and I have off and on over the years written a wine column called The Willetts on Wine. The new Regina magazine Toast asked us to resume it, and so we have. Here’s the first one!

Having a glass of wine is a very sociable activity, whether it be a drink with friends, enjoyed with a family dinner, or in celebration of some special event. So, what to do when two metres of separation has become the new normal?

Many have turned to the online world to conduct business meetings, take in developmental webinars, or enjoy livestreamed performances. That same technology allows us to indulge in enjoying and learning about wine in a virtual wine tasting with friends anywhere in the world.

Anyone can have a drink with a friend online, but that’s too easy. We want to share some tips that will provide the full winetasting experience.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Mutually select a time and means of networking (e.g., Microsoft Team, Zoom, House Party, FaceTime).
  • Decide if you want to taste the exact same wine (producer, grape varietal, vintage), or explore other options: same vintner, same varietal, different vintages; same vintner but different grapes; same grape but different vintners; old world vs. new world; different price points; or, or, or… the combinations are limitless.
  • To add challenge, once you have selected the wines, decide if you want to taste them blind (by wrapping them in a plain brown paper bag and then revealing them later).
  • Set up clean glasses for each wine sampled (don’t go crazy or you’ll have too much open wine — one, two, or three bottles is plenty).
  • Make sure everyone has pen and paper.

There are six basic steps to winetasting: look, swirl, sniff, taste, react… and (most importantly) enjoy!

A winetasting is all about putting into words what your sight, scent, smell and taste reveal to you. There are no wrong answers, but it can certainly be challenging to describe what is literally on the tip of your tongue!

An online winetasting, like many a video conference, benefits from a designated facilitator and a bit of structure.

There are many resources available with some Googling. Our favourites are the UC Davis Aroma Wheel and the UC Davis 20-Point Wine-Judging Form.

The form steps you through the tasting experience, offering a point scale and descriptors as you look at, smell and taste the wine. It also has a couple of points where you can let loose and express what you really feel about the wine.

The aroma wheel gives you clues to what you can expect to smell and taste, sorted into categories: fruity (tree fruits or berries), vegetative or woody, floral or spicy. After identifying the initial category on the wheel, you can go a level deeper and be specific: peach, apricot, bell pepper, tobacco, orange blossom, cloves and more.

There are other resources online to help you refine your descriptions of colour — this is when you realize how many shades of red and yellow exist in wine!

We like to add cheese to our online tasting. There is also a Wine and Cheese Wheel, which makes it simple to find good contenders for a blissful match

Enjoy your virtual tasting and a little bit of normalcy!

Wine Trivia:

Q: Which word is a synonym for “wine connoisseur”?

  1. Vinologist
  2. Oenophile
  3. Vitiphobe

A: 2. Oenophile, which comes from the Greek oinos, meaning wine, and phile, meaning lover.


Margaret Anne and Edward Willett are long-time oenophiles. Members of the German Wine Society, the Opimiam Society, and the (now sadly defunct) Society for American Wines, they love to tour wineries and taste wines, and have conducted numerous formal winetasting events over the years.

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