Only a few years ago if you had told me that sitting at my desk with a glass in my hand watching a group of people taste the same wine as me, while being tutored on the wine by a convenor of this group - I would have thought you had been watching too many episodes of The Jetsons.
While as futuristic as virtual tastings may have sounded before a pandemic forced us back into our homes and away from the cellar doors, wineries, breweries and bars we love, they have become an on-trend normality.
One of the main reasons we love to visit cellar doors and wineries, breweries and bars is the fact that we can get away and see new places, taste new products and enjoy time with our friends, none of which looks like being feasible in the near future.
But with the advent of advanced technology, online hangouts and digital conferencing, sitting in the comfort of your home-office, with a line-up of stunning wines and chatting to some virtual (sic) strangers, is actually a whole lot of fun - plus you don't have to drive anywhere afterwards.
Sprung out of our first lockdown the idea behind these tastings is that a wine company or liquor business will send out a range of products to be tasted at the event. The wines/beer or spirits sent out to your home usually run to a theme or across the range of the producer's menu.
You don't have to worry about finishing off a 750ml by yourself either. The initiative of using small-bottle format or even sending out spirits and cocktails in made-to-measure vials makes sense from a delivery point of view. It also makes sure everyone stays semi-lucid during the event. These smaller formats allow you to taste a range of different wines, either through the company that convenes the event, or a winery you may like. So far, I have yet to hear of any wines not arriving in time for the event, however it is best to book well in advance as postal services are compromised during lockdowns. It makes waiting for your online tasting event even more anticipatory - the same feeling you would get when you know you and your friends have booked in for a weekend away tasting wine.
Ian Ratcliffe, of Drinks With Dave, a rocketing on-line, digital presentation business, is thrilled by the success of their virtual tastings and the direction the business is heading in.
"During the most recent outbreaks and with lockdowns around Australia, we are seeing between 500-650 people each week joining us for our hosted group tasting," he says.
"In addition our clients enjoy the ability to purchase a tasting experience and engage via our online platform 'Dave's Place'; which again increases the amount of people who are able to enjoy a Drink with Dave.
"We have been blown away by the amount of new enquiries, partially due to the restrictions, but more so due to the amazing community of people who join us for a tasting and then recommend us to their mates."
Ratcliffe said for their business, the quality of products they offered was essential to their success.
"Yet the story of the brands and people behind the drinks is key to the experience we provide," he says.
"From the team down in Margaret River at the Colonial Brewing Co, to Trav and the team at Kilikanoon, through to some new opportunities we are exploring with Aussie gin brands. We are all about great products, interesting brands and awesome people."
It's a really great experience even if you are not a passionate wine anorak who loves to talk about wine. In the comfort of your own armchair you can engage or simply observe, whichever mood you are in. It's a great way to learn about wines, beer or spirits and experience a few new ones as well.
And all the work is done for you. The organiser sets you up on Zoom, sends a link, ships the wine and tasting notes. All you have to do is find a clean glass (es) and settle in for a tasting with a twist. And of course, it's not only wine that works well in this format. There are brewers, spirits and even some restaurants that are sending out food and wine packages and hosting collective, online tastings sessions.
You could also host a virtual tasting yourself with a few friends this weekend. Arrange to visit the same local bottle shop if you are able to get out, pick up a couple of wines then sign yourselves up on Zoom and watch the magic unfold. The same rules apply as if you were holding a tasting in your own home, just a bit more remotely. And be inventive with your choices. Set a theme such as Italian white varieties, or only wines from one region.
Many wineries are offering their own virtual wine tastings as well - so ask around and see if any of your favourites are offering this service.
This is really the best way we can support our small producers while we can't travel in person and will help them keep operating.