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Yes, wine tastings are back, but not the crowded, elbow-to-elbow, stretch-your-arm-for-a-miniscule-sample wine tastings. No, I refer to the innovative, consumer-oriented, structured tastings now being offered at some of our favorite wine and food destinations.

With social distancing and other virus-related protocols in mind, local restaurants and stores have made plans to adjust to the new Covid-19 normal and create enticing events. Whether you prefer a sit-down wine tasting with hors d’ourvres or a special offering of wines with dinner, you will find a good reason to return to tastings at one or more of the following events:

  • Grove, in Lakewood Ranch, is offering Wines Around the World events in its socially distanced ballroom. Each week, guests will be poured four wines and served light bites to accompany them. Dates and topics in December are: Tuesday, Dec. 1, California; Tuesday, Dec. 15, bubbles; and Tuesday, Dec. 29, Italy. The restaurant is also hosting wine dinners: Thursday, Nov. 12, Silver Oak Winery (at Grove's sister restaurant, Pier 22); and Saturday, Nov. 21, Stag's Leap Wine Cellar. At 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, Grove will host a Glow Table Dinner. Guests will enjoy a festive outdoor dining experience showcasing the restaurant's glowing LED tables. Accomplished cirque performers will entertain between the courses. The cost is $140 per person.
  • Structured, Covid-protocol-following tastings originated with Michael’s Wine Cellar in July. Now, on alternating Thursdays, the Wine Cellar Social Club offers six wines (three white, three red), presented with accompanying hors d’oeuvres. A wine director moderates the event and usually provides a qualified speaker. I have found them to be entertaining and enjoyable. Cost is $35 per person. Upcoming dates are: Thursday, Nov. 5, and Wednesday, Nov. 18, and Wednesday, Dec. 16, and the events run 5-7 p.m. Also: A holiday Champagne tasting will be held 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9, with more than 20 Champagnes and sparkling wines. The cost is $90, and discount vouchers will be given for wines featured that evening.
  • Total Wine & More, meanwhile, is offering private wine classes. Packages that cost $20-$30 per person are available for groups of 14 or more. Participants can choose one of eight wine themes and Total Wine provides the wine and a speaker.
  • Thewinetobuy.com in Gulf Gate is hosting Wine 101, with six incredible wines, on Saturday, Nov. 14. The cost is $100.
  • The Ortygia Wine Club is hosting exclusive VIP tastings and events. A wine membership program comes with five tasting events, five bottles of wine and other perks. The kickoff party takes place Thursday, Nov. 12. The cost is $300.

For similar events in St. Pete and Tampa, check out localwineevents.com.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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