My first virtual wine dinner was a disaster (and a lot of fun).

Yesterday evening, a Houston-based wine professional and his wife attended their first-ever virtual wine dinner.

Registered guests were asked to pick up their food and bottles curbside between 5-7 p.m. And the event was to begin at 7:30. So far so good.

After plastic bags were discarded and the to-go boxes and bottles were wiped down with sanitizer, hands were washed, the food was plated, and the bottles were opened and poured.

A mix-up with the Zoom link triggered frantic scrambling to get all the participants the correct credentials. By the time it was all sorted out and nearly everyone was online, many — including said wife — had already begun to eat the food because it was just too tempting with all the victuals laid out before them.

The hosts of the event were clearly flustered by the technical snafu and spent the first 10 minutes apologizing as the guests continued to trickle in. And just as one of the couples logged on, their chihuahuas had an outright conniption and erupted into a burst of barking, huffing, and snarling. They — the humans, not the chihuahuas — had neglected to mute their microphone.

But when the first masterfully Berkel-cut slice of Prosciutto di Parma was wrapped around an oozing chunk of burrata and a glasses of Malvasia Puntinata were first drawn to the participants’ lips, the frustrations and craving appetites all melted away like the thin layer of snow that occasionally falls across tropical southeast Texas in winter.

The foibles of Zoom users and the drawbacks of virtual events like these have been widely parsed in the mainstream media. We’re all learning, warts and all, how to connect in the new world where social distancing is the byword to live by. And although Tracie and I have already taken part in countless Zoom sessions for work and private socializing, we’d never been participants in an end-user-focused event like this — with couples we’d never met before.

And we had a blast.

Tracie wore lipstick at dinner (something that doesn’t happen regularly these days). I shaved and donned a nice shirt (as opposed to my regular two-day stubble and ratty around-the-house t-shirt). We got out some of our better dishes and stemware and set our table properly. Even our daughters, ages 6 and 8, seemed to get a sense that last night’s dinner was special (and highly unusual for them, they went to bed straight away after their own dinner without protest — a miracle!). Our chihuahuas were another story all together.

All in all and despite the mishaps, it was a breath of fresh air that disrupted the monotony and monochromy of self-isolation dining. We laughed, we pigged out, we drank a little too much, and we even made some new friends. In the era before the health crisis, I used to attend dinners like this — in person — at least twice a month. It was great to get a taste of what life used to be like. And the experience reminded me of the important role that food and wine play in creating community.

Last night’s dinner was the second virtual wine tasting event I took part in yesterday. Earlier in the day, I tasted some great Lugana with my buddy Gianpaolo Giacobbo via Instagram live stories — I was here in Houston and he in Montebelluna (Treviso province, Veneto). At the end of our chat, we even busted out our dueling telecasters and played an eight-bar blues (below).

It will take years before life in food and wine finds its footing in the new ordinary. I’m looking forward to that day. But in the meantime, I’m reminded of the great line by George Harrison:

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Arrive without traveling! Stay safe and thanks for being here and supporting Italian wine.

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