It was harvest in Anjou on a golden afternoon in September. I had flown from Tennessee to Paris and my friend Toni had flown from New York City to meet me there. We spent a giddy first night together in Paris, eating frites and cassoulet at the classic Bistro Paul Bert, drinking natural Champagne.  It was earthy and bright and we couldn't believe our luck, in France together at last.

Young woman at home drinking red wine and using tablet
Wine is a time-honored way to connect to people and place. The COVID-19 pandemic doesn't need to change that © martin-dm / Getty Images

Toni and I first met when we worked together at the shop where I'm a wine buyer, though she since moved to New York and got a job with a natural wine importer. We strolled along the Seine and drank an Alsatian Pinot Noir – zippy and spicy with a little funk. The next morning we took the train to Anjou, commenting sagely on the scenery as it flashed past. "Regard, la vache!" "Ahh, oui, la vache! La vache est beau!"  

In Anjou, we checked into our rooms in the hamlet of Behuard, and drove over the gentle slopes and valleys of the Coteaux du Layon to St-Lambert-du-Lattay, to the winery of Agnès and René Mosse. We tasted Chenin after golden, minerally Chenin, then peppery and earthy Cabernet Francs tasting of herbs, flowers, currants, and dirt. We bought a Chenin for later, and had a picnic on the wide pebbly banks of the Loire, with pate and cheese, carrot salad, baguette, a huge slab of salted butter and crisp cornichons.  The sun sank low and late while the moon rose, a cold white face in the cornflower blue sky.  

In-person wine tastings are on hiatus like so much of public life, but curb-side pickup at your favorite wine shop is still an option in many cities, as is delivery © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet

Enjoying wine in a time of social distancing

That was wine tasting then. Now, it's a much different affair. Wine country feels like a dream as far away as that remote moon. Your favorite local wine bar may as well be on the other side of the world, and your friend across town may as well be a plane flight away. When drinking wine at wine bars or attending tastings a mile from your home isn't an option, let alone sipping wine in Europe a mile from the vines, we have to get a little creative about incorporating wine into how we connect with people and place.

No matter where you're sipping, drinking wine combines the promise of low-key inebriation, knowledge gained and the company of friends or lovers. There's a reason it's been incorporated in our social functions for millennia. But drinking wine at home can be meditative, too – sitting on one's stoop contemplating a glass of Sicilian frappato, sharing a bottle of Slovenian sivi pinot while chopping onions for dinner with a partner, or indulging in glass after glass of boxed wine while Netflix episodes queue up one after the next.

How to enjoy wine tasting at home

Whether we're cordoned off in our homes or finding creative ways to connect with faraway friends, we can enjoy wine not as a beverage to self medicate or exacerbate anxiety, but instead to connect us to the world beyond our reach.

Enologist evaluating red wine at wine tasting.
Don't be afraid to write down whatever flavors you notice – even if you don't think they sound like 'typical' tasting notes © karelnoppe/ Getty Images/ iStockphoto

Tag your people!  

Use your favorite social media platform to share what you're drinking with your wine-loving friends. Tag close friends or acquaintances you miss seeing at your local wine shop tasting. Use a wine already on your rack if you can't venture out. If you don't have something on hand, many local wine shops are using curbside service and delivery, so call them up and ask them to pick out a great bottle – the staff will be happy to make a recommendation. 

Next, grab a notepad and a pen, and write down the wine's name, producer, region, grapes and winemaking.  Pour a glass and note the aromas and flavors. Wine Folly is an excellent resource, with lots of tasting tutorials and videos. 

Post your video in your story or in your feed, or go live if you're feeling especially frisky.  Talk to your friends about the wine as if they're sitting across from you. Talk about why you chose it, what you like about it, or whether you like it at all.  It's gratifying to see a friend across town or on the other side of the world respond to your video with their own wine thoughts – to share in an experience and be present together even if you're physically far apart.

You may also like: Ten of the world's most intriguing wine regions  

Wine degustation with chocolates
Drink your wines in order, starting with your lightest, driest, youngest and whiter wines and finishing with the sweetest, boldest, oldest, redder wines with more body © Getty Images/Westend61

A good old fashioned tasting party

Gathering friends for a Google Chat or Zoom wine tasting takes a little more planning, but it can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Crack open whatever wine you have at home and take turns describing it. Bonus points if you're interrupted by unruly children or pets! 

Or pick a theme: Rosé from around the world, French reds, obscure Italian whites or sparkling wine. Do a food pairing like cheese – everyone gets one or two cheeses whether from the grocery store, by delivery or a local cheesemonger curbside pickup – and compare notes. 

Does your Riesling match the nutty aged Gouda you bought or does your friend's combination of Champagne and truffled Brie sound more enticing? Take notes, and plan which combinations to try on your next wine Zoom – or when you can all be together again.  

A glass of red wine sits on a oak table next to an open wine atlas
A wine atlas can be a useful tool to better understand how geography influences the wine in your glass © Alice Williams O'Dea / Lonely Planet

Virtual wine study 

This works best for truly wine-obsessed friends.  Pick a region you want to learn more about, like, say, Beaujolais. Someone buys a Beaujolais-Villages and one cru Beaujolais from one of the 10 subregions known for producing top quality Gamay. The others get a couple of crus each. If you're ambitious, you could cover all 10 crus!

Get out the maps, and dive into the flavor distinctions between the different crus. Learn about the soil and expositions that set Cote de Brouilly apart from Regnie, and Morgon and see if you can taste the variations. Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson's The World Atlas of Wine is a fantastic resource if you want to learn more about the geography behind your favorite flavors.

You may also like: Free online classes and resources that give you a deeper look at travel destinations

Woman sitting in kitchen with a glass of white wine, using digital tablet
Comparing what friends pick up on in a wine, or how they choose to pair it with tasting snacks or a meal can be useful information © Getty Images/Westend61

The virtual wine tour

It's inevitable that all this wine tasting and studying will have you wistfully longing to visit the places behind it – to drive the winding back country roads between Regnie and Ville-Morgon in the rain, statues of Mary standing ghostly in the roundabouts in the midst of oceans of vines.

So use this time to plan a trip, and pick your tasting wines around your dream destination. The magical thing about wine is that it's a way to taste the places you miss, even if you can't be there physically. You can also pick wines from a region you and your friends have already toured and "revisit" with wines from that region paired with your favorite travel photos – and assurances you'll be back when it's safe to travel again.

You may also enjoy: These wineries are hosting virtual tastings

A taste of travel at home

Two days after our Chenin picnic, Toni and I met Jean-Pierre Robinot, a magical gnome of a winemaker, who led us deep into his wine caves to taste by the light of his dancing headlamp. We spit Chenin and Pineau d'Aunis into a bucket in the dark and tried to understand his stream of rapid French. He gave each of us an unmarked bottle from his cellar.

We still have those bottles.  We also have a Google Video date set for this weekend. Maybe now is the time to open them, to compare their nuances and laugh about that magical, absurd visit, and to plan our next trip to Italy and Slovenia.

This time has transformed the way we drink and the lives of the people who make these wines – when we make it to Italy, it will be a different Italy from the one it was even a few months ago. But there will still be people in the vineyards, coaxing beauty from the ground into the glass. For now, I'll pour a glass of Pineau d'Aunis and mull over the complexity of red fruit, piquant acidity and earth, with my friend's face on a screen in the palm of my hand.

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