The difference is that although all their top quality wines from around the world are designed to be taken away, you can also drink them in-store, in normal times, for a small corkage fee.
But these are hardly normal times.
We’re perfectly happy drinking wine at home, of course. But what we really miss is the company of other wine lovers. The buzz of laughter. The guidance of someone who knows their stuff. The unbeatable high of discovering a new favourite veeno.
Now, however, you can get all that – and more – without leaving the house, thanks to Grape to Grain’s live virtual tasting sessions.
Grape to Grain started these live sessions right back at the start of Lockdown 1.0, and have held over 150 in the intervening period – hosting over 4000 people on the public tastings so far, not to mention a number of private corporate social events, birthdays and cancelled hen dos.
Intrigued, we signed up to a couple to see how it all works.
First up, you pick a session – and whether you’re into winter warmers or fizz and cake, Merlot or meeting the makers, you’ll find something that tickles your fancy. There are sessions every weekend, and even more throughout December.
Then, you pick how much wine you want. You can go for a modest 100ml ‘taster’ of each wine, a 500ml carafe, or even a full bottle. Many of them come with matched artisan cheeses or other local produce, which is an added bonus.
The lovely people at Grape to Grain then deliver the selection directly to your door prior to the live tasting, with national delivery available for a small fee and free delivery for many Greater Manchester postcodes.
Then you just log into Zoom with the passcode details they provide. And it’s way more fun than any Monday morning work Zoom meeting, that’s for sure.
Though, talking of work meetings, they do actually offer live private sessions for small or larger groups, whether that’s a virtual office get-together or a birthday celebration. An excellent idea for Christmas parties, too.
But back to the live public tastings. We couldn’t resist a Bonfire Night session, mixing juicy, smoky reds with fine chocolates from renowned local chocolatiers Slattery’s.
Hosted by Tom and Baz (who you’ll get to know very quickly, along with fellow team member and regular host Jen), in front of a virtual roaring fire (“we were going to hold it in front of a real fire pit, but we weren’t confident enough about the weather”), it’s been one of their most popular tastings so far, they tell us.
Around 75 households are in the session, a mixture of couples, flatmates and singles, but everyone is on mute, so it doesn’t get messy. Well, not until you take into account the chat function, where you can type messages either to the group or privately.
And of course, the more people drink, the funnier the comments get.
The wines themselves are superb – an intense Mandrarossa Bonera Cabernet Franc Nero D’Avola from Menfi; a rich, spicy Juan Gil Blue Label Monastrell from Jumilla in Spain; and a Cline Live Oak Zinfandel from California.
We learn how to judge the appearance of the wine using a white sheet of paper, how to appreciate the aroma, and how to taste it and pick up on the developing flavours from the top notes to the finish – as well as how to describe the wine without feeling intimidated.
But what makes the tasting really fun is the convivial hosting. There’s lots of laughter, a bit of swearing, and a whole heap of knowledge – including some slides showing maps and photos of the vineyards.
Who needs a holiday when you can virtually travel the world of wine while sitting at home in front of the fire in pyjama bottoms (that’s the beauty of Zoom calls, right? You only need to get your top half properly dressed).
And it’s great to see people joining in with the comments, especially after trying a couple of hefty 15.5% reds. It gives the whole session a really fun, interactive feel, with people joining in via Facebook and Instagram too.
The tasting notes people type as we go are inspired – “smells like a chic coffee shop in Paris” is my personal favourite to pop up on the screen – but equally, there’s no pressure if you’re not feeling brave enough to offer an opinion, or you’d rather just watch and soak it all up.
There’s no right or wrong answer to any of this. If it smells like your Grandad’s greenhouse or tastes like Parma Violets, that’s all good. Just don’t say it smells like wine, the hosts joke, because you might find yourself back in the waiting room.
And because one wine tasting is never enough and we’d had far more fun than should be allowed sitting at home in front of a laptop on a Friday night, we also signed up for International Merlot Day the following evening, which matched four wines with some incredible cheeses and saw the lovely Jen join as a host.
The wines were again superb – including a peachy South African white Merlot that had us all swooning, alongside a fresh Vina Leyda Merlot Reserva from Chile, a St Emilion Grand Cru from Bordeaux, and a drop-dead gorgeous full-bodied Bogle Merlot from California.
Whether you’re a nervous novice or confident connoisseur, you’re bound to get something out of these fun, informative live sessions as well as discover some new favourites.
And when you invariably do find the wine that you just have to have in your life again, Grape to Grain offers a 20% discount code off everything you’ve tried in the session.
Handy with Christmas fast approaching. Or just to get yourself through Lockdown 2.0.
Get 20% off all live tastings
I Love MCR readers can also get 20% off any of the live tastings using the code ILOVEMCR20. Click the button below to find out more and book a session.