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Virtual Wine Classes
Online wine classes are nothing new. 5Highly respected wine institutions like Wine Spectator and the University of California at Davis have offered online courses for years. Interest in such programs was high initially, but ultimately these programs did not attract a large audience. The truth was they were clunky and confusing for the end-user.
Those days are gone, and online learning has been transformed. What used to be a dry attempt to imitate a serious classroom is now a fun and engaging experience. Today, there are many online wine classes worth attending. The impetus for the sudden change came with our communal need for social connection and distraction during the COVID-19 shutdown. We hope to see it continue.
The virtual wine tastings listed on this page are short (one or two hours) events. If you are looking for online wine courses, we recommend checking out the “Best Online Sommelier Courses” article.
The Top Online Wine Classes
The following are our favorites for virtual wine tastings. This list is specifically for live-streamed wine classes run by a certified wine instructor. We’ve been attending these classes during the worst of COVID-19, and we’ve found four excellent instructors who have their unique perspectives on wine. The fact that all are women is heartening, and we hope to see more from each of them in the future.
1. Online Wine School (WSOP)
A relative newcomer to the online wine class experience, this project seemed to drop fully-formed from The Wine School of Philadelphia (WSOP), one of our top-ranked wine schools. Alana Zerbe, the Director of Education at WSOP, led the program, presenting topics ranging from Sommelier Secrets to South African Wines. Alana speaks about wine with passion and humor, while Keith Wallace, WSOP’s founder, is often in class offering color commentary and responding to questions. The high quality of the content and interactivity puts them over the top. These classes were originally $15, but are now free—the only caveat is that you have to be a member to attend. That said, it’s only $20 a month fee, so this could be a good deal. Link.
Anyone looking for a high-quality wine class should seek out Laura Maniec Fiorvanti and Corkbuzz. Since this NYC wine school-cum-wine bar hit the scene, they have been knocking out home runs. While they don’t offer professional certification classes, many Corkbuzz’s classes are geared toward the wine professional. These online classes are polished, organized, and offer plenty of social interaction. Priced at $15, the value is hard to beat. There is a lot of respect for Laura’s focus on the students’ experience, considering her fame in the wine world. Link
3. Wine For Normal People
We like the programming, and the instructor is engaging; with a newly upgraded experience, WFNP is earning rave reviews. Elizabeth Schneider teaches these classes. She’s the host of the super-popular podcast Wine for Normal People, the author of the titular bestselling book, and she’s one of our favorite wine people. Elizabeth speaks truth to power, so that very few people dare to in the trade. At $25/person, the pricing is on par with industry standards. Link.
4. The Cellar Muse
Tanya Morningstar Darling is an excellent wine educator. She is on the teaching staff at the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seatle College. Her online wine classes are well-structured and dynamic. They do a touch of the academic lecture vibe, but only a hint. We did find it challenging to navigate the website. Online wine classes are listed under “Online Learning.” Tanya has dropped her online classes’ pricing (as of February 2021) from $39 to $35 per person. Tanya also creates recorded content for Napa Valley Wine School. Link
5. San Francisco Wine School
SFWS offers a wide range of virtual wine classes. Many are of the type covered by our Online Sommelier Course article. However, they do offer several excellent virtual wine classes as well. These are based on the “Trade Tasting” format that this wine school also offers in person. These are underwritten courses by a PR Agency or a wine trade group to promote a specific wine region or brand. Some of these events are excellent, but they are best enjoyed knowing you are being marketed to, not educated. It’s a significant difference. Link.
How the Pandemic Changed Wine Schools
While the pandemic helped launch this new type of wine education, it was not the only cause. The phenomenon could not have happened without two pieces of ubiquitous business software: PowerPoint and Zoom. The near-universal acceptance of those technologies reduced the friction of adaptation. As a result, nearly every wine lover could intuitively understand the new online environment.
For attendees, virtual wine tastings are a great way to learn about wine from the comfort of home. Students also socialize with people who share the same love of wine. In addition, pricing is usually a fraction of a class at a brick-and-mortar classroom. For instance, a Bordeaux class at a top-ranked wine school typically costs around $100, but the online version only costs $25. Finally, we found that students get more one-on-one time with instructors during online classes than the traditional ones.
The Graveyard of Online Wine Classes
Many schools that started to teach online wine classes during 2020 stopped. Mostly, this was due to the time and resource demands of running these classes. Some changed their delivery system or started offering pre-recorded classes.
Napa Valley Wine Academy I am surprised these classes ended up this far down from the top of this list. This wine school is one of our top-rated schools. Their use of technology led us to believe these classes would blow everyone else out of the water. Sadly, the content and delivery were not up to the level of their other offerings. At $49/ticket, it’s also the most expensive virtual wine class on this list. That is not to say these programs are not worthwhile. Their speakers are engaging, and much knowledge can be taken from these classes. However, there were many technical and organizational issues around their programming. Once those issues have been addressed, we expect these classes to jump to the list’s top. Napa Valley Wine Academy is now only offering pre-recorded material. Vino To Go There used to be a great wine school in Toronto called iYellow. One of their former instructors Tasha Taylor opened up a school/wine event company in 2018 called Vino To Go. Her classes are pure fun and pizzaz. Not the most in-depth of classes, but they are really great social events with plenty of wine education in the mix. Tickets are reasonably priced at $13/person. For someone who is looking for more in-depth education, though, I would suggest looking elsewhere. Currently, the website is not online. Gastro Local Originally called NYC Food and Wine Trails, Gastro Local is the brainchild of Tatiana Gana. These classes are fun and have hit the top three largely because they are comparable to other online wine classes on this list, but with one big difference: they are free. Sadly, these classes are no longer offered.