Hey, it’s Emily !

Okay, I know what you’re thinking- the only thing worse than a family Zoom is one with complete strangers. The bad connections, delays and the endless shouting “YOU’RE ON MUTE”: surely that’s heightened with strangers from around the world?

Allow me to humour you into thinking that it is actually a hugely sociable experience !

My very first Virtual Wine Tasting Experience ! Featuring an amazing rioja my flatmates and I discovered from Aldi, as well as the tomato tapa

I’d like to call myself an expert on virtual wine tastings: I have experienced it with friends, family and even participated on my own (more cava for me !).

During the virtual wine tasting, I met people from various places around the world including America, Europe and even down the road to a little village in Yorkshire. As Covid restrictions continue to make it difficult to travel, chatting to people from different countries was not home away from home, but more a holiday away from holiday ! We talked about wine, people’s vineyard adventures and the joys of travelling. The conversations and stories made the whole experience similar to meeting people in a bar on holiday. It was only a few notches away from an in-person wine tasting.

As I attended the wine tastings throughout my final year at university, staring at a screen everyday for the whole week did leave me a bit ‘screen-eyed’ and with a perilous condition of ‘Zoom-fatigue’. Yet, as my flatmates (Hannah and Shauna) and I agree, the virtual wine tasting was the highlight of the week!

It was wonderful to feel part of a community again. After going through successive lockdowns and the dreaded implementation of ‘social distancing’, it’s something that we have all really missed. To share our interests, chat to other people about their experience, and engage with an expert on their specialist subject- ironic coming from university students !

Despite staring at a computer screen (again), it was a really sociable experience. You talk to the people sitting next to you at home about the flavours and aromas they are getting, and comment in the chat function on Zoom to hear about other people’s experiences with their wines. It was brilliant to compare and contrast different brands and years of wine without going to the effort of buying all the wines!

Before each session we were emailed a list of the different brands of wines you can buy for the wine region you were tasting from, with different options from affordable to upscale wines. It was definitely helpful to have options you can purchase from Aldi when you’re on a student budget. Alternatively, my dad really enjoys his vino and so likes to invest in high quality bottles to get the most out of the tasting experience.

My family and I at Christmas (tapas expertly made by dad !)

We were also sent tapas recipes for every session. There were both meat and vegetarian options which allowed us to be flexible in our creations depending on what ingredients and equipment we had in. When it was Christmas and we could get back together as a family, it was a real treat making tapas altogether as my dad is such a fantastic cook. Getting the family together to do something online is normally a real pain; instead, the virtual experiences gave the evening a special feel, more like a mini family event. Rather than scrolling through Netflix for hours, we were able to do something interactive and social and still make jokes between ourselves (thank the Lord for the mute button!).

Hannah and Shauna and I did not tend to join in with the cooking (busy university student trying to cut corners with money!) but we never felt like we were missing out of the conversation. I remember one time there was a bit of controversy about how much sugar he used to caramelize the peppers! In this instance it was interesting to see the cultural divergence between Americans and the Spanish: authenticity over cavities here ?!

The first tapas that I made was the beautifully simple Pa Amb Tomaquet (or, Catalan Tomato Bread). It’s basically Spain’s answer to bruschetta: toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, then grated with tomato. Delicious.

I’m a bit of a nervous cook but thankfully, Raul takes you through the tapas process step-by-step. It feels much more authentic than watching a cooking tutorial on an instagram reel or Youtube video.

Another charming wine tasting (Rioja vs Ribera del Duero) with Raul 🙂

Joanna (the host) and Raul (the sommelier) were warm and conversational- they are clearly great friends. Their amiable relationship immediately put us (the participants) all at ease. Raul created a running joke that by smelling and tasting the wine, you are actually checking if you have got Covid (!). I am sure he won’t mind me saying he can stick to the day-job…

Jokes aside, the wine tastings were compact with information and attention to detail. Hannah, Shauna and I found it really interesting and certainly got a lot out of it. (I have to admit, I made a considerable effort to retain all the facts: hoping I could use them in future to impress my friends at dinner parties when I’m older, more sophisticated, and have a wine cellar).

Raul was very conversational. He unfalteringly executed every wine tasting with such ease of knowledge, you could tell he lives and breathes wine. Not only did he discuss the colour, flavour and grapes of the wine, he also informed us of its history and geography. The demonstrations were followed by a slick powerpoint presentation with photos of the quaint little Spanish wineries as well as impressive, stretching vineyards.

Raul giving a close-up on the bubbles in D.O. Cava tasting (ft. me on Zoom !)


Hannah, Shauna and I learned how to classify the tannins in red wine (the chemicals which make Malbec bitter and astringent), the difference between California and Spanish wine, that sherry is actually drunk by many of the ‘youths’ in Spain as part of cocktails, and how the process of making cava is so much more elaborate than making prosecco.

For the Christmas Party, Joanna organised a private flamenco concert. It was incredible to have a personal flamenco performance inside your living room. I was on my own for this Zoom which made it even better because no one was in the room to laugh at my attempt at dancing. The atmosphere and interaction coming from everyone else’s screen meant that I did not feel alone but rather part of a virtual party.

One of the highlights from the tastings was the anecdotes from the other participants of their experiences of Spain. I asked Raul what was the best bar to go to in Madrid: everyone at Insider’s Travel joined in and recited that the best bar was La Venencia! Interestingly, they said that the staff were so rude and unfriendly, that people actually went to get insulted and treated badly. People sharing stories of the bars they have been to and the behaviour of other cultures is what made the experience come to life. It got my imagination going of the possible adventures I could have when I’m next able to travel. La Venencia is definitely going on my list !

If you’re missing the buzz of travelling, meeting strangers, creating instant communities and sharing stories, the virtual wine tasting experiences bring you all the highlights to your laptop screen.

If you’re interested in learning the nitty-gritty facts of red wine, read our previous blogs ! Why not start with the classic rioja !!

Does the sound of flamenco put a spring in your step? Browse our Virtual Flamenco Experience page for an art history talk, an Insider’s backstage pass with a professional, or even a private dance lesson !