Virtual online tastings? Tom Cannavan investigates

xI was contacted by recently, who informed me of their new wine website. The idea with Virtualwine is that they will stage regular tastings hosted by knowledgeable figures from the wine trade, which are broadcast live on the Internet. In that way anyone can join in a “virtual” tasting with them by powering up their PC and logging on to the Virtualwine website to view the broadcast. I was also sent a half-case of the wines to be featured in their next event so that I could evaluate their quality.

I applaud this use of Internet broadcast technology in the field of wine appreciation, and it looks to me as if Virtualwine are executing this with some style. The wines I tasted were also very well chosen and of a high quality, which all augers well for the Virtualwine concept.

To be honest however, I have a niggling disquiet over the way Virtualwine are pitching this idea. It is being sold very much as a “club” for the wine lover to join in. Now that grates slightly, given that the cost of participation for a single tasting is the purchase of a case of wines from Virtualwine (two bottles each of the six wines to be tasted) plus £30 to cover delivery and “tasting fees”. Virtualwine suggests a guideline total of around £120 for each event.

Now the wines are not bad value, and I have absolutely no problem with people making a living selling wine, but that appears to me that strategy of this commercial enterprise, not running tastings as part of some online “community”. In some ways this has shades of the shameful “Richard & Judy Wine Club”, where the jolly “let’s all learn together” pitch actually conceals a massive business that has made a fortune for wine supplier’s Direct Wines, with all concerned part of cynical marketing machine.

Virtualwine is not in that league, and its wines are better in my opinion, but I would urge them to pitch their operation as what it is: a wine business using a clever new way to sell product. It is possible to participate for £20 without buying the wines, but why would you?

Unfortunately I could not participate in the online tasting to which the selection of wines below applies as I was overseas at the time on business. But the wines were good, and I’m sure some people will enjoy the novelty of participating in a live online tasting (your ticket also buys a special code to access a real-time chat session around the broadcast). I wish Virtualwine every success. Their next online tasting is on January 29th 2006.


Mandrarossa (Italy) Fiano 2004
I’m a huge fan of Fiano, a speciality grape of the Italian south, and in this case, from Sicily. This example has that typically attractive nose of honeysuckle, oatmeal and ripe pear fruit that has plenty of ripeness, but also little floral and herbal hints. On the palate it is juicy and nicely textured, with masses of ripe and sweet, but clean and crisp, pear and melon fruit, with an edge of apricot. Acidity is fine, in a really easy to drink and delicious wine. £87.00 per case (£7.25 per bottle)

L’Archet (France) Sauvignon Blanc 2004
This Vin de Pays d’Oc falls firmly in the passionfruit and gooseberry spectrum of Sauvignon Blanc, rather than the overtly herbal or tropical styles of some. It has a composed, attractive nose, and a palate that is quite full and rich for a Sauvignon, with a slightly oily texture and then a burst of fat, lemony acidity pushing through. A well-balanced wine, and food-friendly. £78.00 per case (£6.50 per bottle)

Zondernaam (South Africa) Chardonnay 2002
Tokara is a no-expense-spared ultra-premium wine project set up near Stellenbosch. The owners have refused to release a wine under the Tokara label as yet because they believe their vines are too young and the wines not quite “worthy” of what will be the Tokara label. So meantime they sell wines under the Zondernaam (“wine with no name”) label. The Sauvignon Blanc is a terrific wine, so I was looking forward to trying this. It has a fine nose, with plenty of classy French oak giving notes of toast, butter and green fig, and a mellow, succulent fruitiness. On the palate it is powerful and ripe, with plenty of spice and toasty warmth, but fine white fruit and peach core and crisp, mineral and lemon zest acidity. This is lovely stuff. £102.00 per case (£8.95 per bottle)


Mandrarossa (Italy) Nero d’Avola 2004
Another very typically southern Italian grape for this red partner to the Mandrarossa Fiano above. The colour is a dense, dark crimson, and the nose offers modest aromas of dark, black cherries and plum, with an edge of something charcoally and earthy. On the palate it is has a very firm, grippy character, with liquorice and juicy, hard plum and plum-skin flavours, a warming core of spiciness and coffee, with a mulberry warmth and a bit of bite. £75.00 per case (£6.25 per bottle)

Spice Route (South Africa) Mourvèdre 2004
Charles Back’s Spice Route estate in Swartland is set up to make high quality wines. The fruit for this Mourvèdre was hand harvested and aged in barriques (second and third fill American oak). The nose is brimming with toasty, quite cedary oak and nutmeg and clove spice. There is deep mulberry and winter berry fruit and plenty of plushness and warmth. On the palate this doesn’t quite have the broad and upfront appeal suggested by the nose, but that warming, dark, clove-scented mulled-fruit character pushes through, with big, ripe, spicy tannins and plenty of oaky warmth. This does have good balancing acidity, and a long finish. £99.00 per case (£8.25 per bottle)

L’Archet (France) Syrah 2002
Another Vin de Pays d’Oc wine from L’Archet, this Syrah has an overtly fruity nose, with some baked plum pie aromas, a little note of beetroot, and solid red fruit and red liquorice notes. On the palate there’s quite a sophisticated structure to this wine, with the balance of blackberry fruit, cedary toast and fine, supple tannins and acidity. It perhaps lacks a little fruit concentration on the mid-palate, where the oaky spice dominates, which is probably a result of the 2002 vintage being rather wet. At £10 per bottle that’s a bit of a problem, but this is a good wine for the vintage. £120.00 per case (£10.00 per bottle)