Sommsation is a wine shop as well as an experience — an online store which doesn’t just sell you the wines you’re drinking but can also guide you through the tasting process if you’re so inclined. While you can fill up your cart with individual bottles, Sommsation — not “Sommstation,” as I often call it erroneously — is distinguished by its tasting sessions, wherein a professional sommelier will guide you — or you and a group of friends who all purchased the same wine — through a Zoom-based tasting experience.
Launched by an investment company focused on hospitality, the idea grew out of the Zoom happy hours of the pandemic era, which many of us probably indulged in to the point of becoming sick of them. The idea: Rather than everyone sitting around and getting drunk, maybe friends or colleagues could actually learn something about what they’re drinking.
Serving a collection of about 50 smaller but premium wineries in the U.S., plus a handful overseas, there’s a decent selection of wines to choose from — and they come in kits of 2 or 3 bottles each and at a wide range of price points — and hundreds more wineries coming online soon. To try it out, Sommsation sent me three bottles from winery Authentique in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA and paired me up with Elyse Lovenworth, the company’s lead sommelier, who manages about 30 tasting guides on staff to get the full experience.
Lovenworth was a delight to speak with and was well-versed in wine geekery, but she promised that sessions are always geared toward the level of knowledge in the room. If you’ve never operated a corkscrew before, she’ll dial down the minutiae and take the audience back to basics. The live tasting includes all the stuff that makes Zoom worthwhile — not just a talking head but screen sharing that can showcase maps and other ephemera as needed.
My experience with Sommsation was great, though I can understand that buyers may not want to crack open three bottles all at once. A Coravin can help, or you can get a crew together (in one place; pricing is per physical address) to help make shorter work of multiple bottlings.
As for Authentique, I was sent three bottles from this very small winery, which would run a retail shopper $158 plus shipping, about $40 for the cheapest option. (Retail prices for each bottle, available on the site, are noted below.) That total represents no markup over the retail cost — essentially you’re getting the guided tasting session for free.
If you’re looking to mix up happy hour — or just want to get a wine tasting experience without the headache of travel — I recommend giving Sommsation a try. As for the wines they sent, here’s how they acquitted themselves.
2020 Authentique Leisure Barrel Aged Pinot Gris Keeler Estate Vineyard – Leisure is a second label for Authentique, but there’s no reason it should be from what I can see. This is a skin contact version of this popular wine. Creamy and lush, the experience is boldly peachy and floral, with a lush layer of vanilla backing it up. The wine evokes peach cobbler, but also honeysuckle, blurring the line between pinot grigio and chardonnay in a beautiful way. I doubt you’ll ever see it unless you get it here. 74 cases produced. A / $38
2019 Authentique Chardonnay Fond Marin Eola-Amity Hills – The most challenging wine in this collection, here we have a sharper expression of chardonnay, slightly reductive — with a camphor note taking hold with time. The oak here — 30% is new — disappears into the wine, letting it speak through layers of vanilla informing its tart green apple core. Ample acidity throughout makes for a bright and lively experience, though shaking that light rice vinegar note requires significant warming, almost to room temperature. That said, it’s worth the effort. B+ / $60
2019 Authentique Pinot Noir Keeler Estate Vineyard – A classic expression of Oregon pinot noir, featuring blackberry prominently over cherry, layered with plenty of leathery earth and a bit of licorice in the mix. Lean but expressive, the tartness on the finish evokes cranberry sauce, with a swirl of strawberry gastrique. Serve at cellar temp. A- / $60