When the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central, my longtime client, first contacted me about helping out with a virtual trade tasting, I have to admit that I was skeptical.
The concept was as simple as it was ambitious. The project leader planned to convince producers in Italy not to send just a handful of bottles for each of their labels but rather multiple cases of each one. He and his team (I’m a member) would then reach out to leading Texas wine professionals across the state to set up one-on-one virtual conferences where the Texans and the Italians would each have the same wines in front of them. Using a time-tested logistics partner on the east coast and a new digitally based importing platform, the wines would be gathered in Florence and then sent to Texas to be distributed between trade members and media in Houston (where the chamber is based), Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.
On paper and in practice, it was nothing short of a herculean effort.
I was surprised that the producers were willing to ship so much wine for the uncharted waters of a massive virtual wine event. But ultimately, when they factored in all the money they were saving by not traveling to the U.S., scores of wineries were eager to participate.
And when you explained to incredulous Texas-based wine and restaurant professionals that the wine would be delivered to their doorsteps and that all they had to do was log on to a virtual 30-minute call with producers they selected, they were happy to take part. After all, not only did you get to taste the wine, but you had the opportunity to “spend some time with it” later in the day and at dinner. That’s something that rarely happens at a conventional trade tasting where you line up to get a small pour in a crowded and often chaotic ballroom or events space.
My ah-ha moment came when I sat down to taste a line of sparkling wines with a newish producer from Modena, Venti Venti. We had a great chat about the use of copper in organic farming as we tasted through their classic-method Lambruscos.
The wines were very good but I was the most curious about a still rosé they included in the flight. It was from Sorbara grapes, they told me.
I’ve been working in the wine trade for more than two decades now and Lambrusco and sparkling wine in general are some of my main interests. But I had never tasted a still wine made from a Lambrusco clone in all my years.
The day after the two-day event, I caught up with a Hosuton-based importer who was raving about a Gutturnio from Piacenza producer Zerioli.
That was when it struck me: if two veteran wine professionals can learn something new in a virtual tasting like this, there must be something to it.
I have seen the future of trade tastings and it’s name is “virtual.”