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Virtual wine tastings let you share your thoughts in online chats with sommeliers and other enthusiasts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I lined up six bottles of wine, turned on my laptop, and entered the password that came inside the shipping box. So began a virtual wine tasting, streamed live on the Internet from Waltham.

From my hotel here, three friends and I watched British sommeliers James Booth and Ben Llewelyn as they led a tasting from Gordon's Fine Wine & Liquors on Moody Street in Waltham. The password allowed me to create a screen name. It also gave us access to a chat room filled with other wine enthusiasts who'd ordered the same six bottles of wine.

Within minutes, approximately 100 participants, in groups of four to 14 from around the United States, were getting guidance from the sommeliers, tasting the wines, and typing madly. Some were well-versed in wine lingo, others clearly novices:

Apr 14 20:01:22 Red Oak Red head:

Do you guys find this wine at all vegetal? Apr 14 20:01:43 erin:

definitely vegetal Apr 14 20:01:46 Debra:

what do you mean by vegetal? Apr 14 20:01:57 Red Oak Red head:

Like bell pepper Booth is the co-founder of Virtual Wine, a British company that started streaming wine tastings on the Web in 2005. When Booth met American high-tech marketing expert and Providence native Catherine O'Rourke the next year, they created Tastoria.com, a sister operation in the United States.

Last month was Tastoria's official launch, streamed live from the new 1,300-square-foot culinary center at Gordon's, which opened in the fall. Tastoria will hold tastings and stream them live from a variety of locations.

"I look at myself as an education and entertainment company," said O'Rourke. "The American market wants to be entertained, seduced, and have fun."

Fun is the operative word. In addition to the wine tasting, chefs were whipping up dishes at Gordon's to pair with the wines. Online participants were encouraged to do the same at home and recipes were posted online.

O'Rourke's research showed that people liked the option of taking part in a wine tasting in the privacy of their own home because it's less intimidating.

During the 90-minute tasting, Booth and Llewelyn answered as many questions as they had time for and took viewers through some of the vineyard histories. A graduate of Nottingham University, Booth spent two years in Burgundy. Ten years later, he launched a fine-wine buying service, which has since merged with UK wholesaler New Generation Wines. Llewelyn heads up sales and marketing for New Generation and is resident wine pundit on Virtual Wine in Britain and Tastoria in the United States.

The sommeliers seemed to have the answers that participants were looking for.

Kathleen Efflandt, 47, of Providence admitted after the event that she was skeptical when she first learned of the virtual wine tasting from a Google search. Still, she decided to give it a try.

"My girlfriends commented that a wine tasting was a lot less intimidating and more relaxed at a friend's home than if they had attended an actual event," she said. And with the package of six wine ringing up at $125, "it was also very cost - effective."

Andrea Papazoglou, 29, an executive producer at Finish Editorial , said she enjoyed hearing the variety of opinions from across the country with her group in Boston. "Generally you'd just be [at a tasting] with your own friends," she said, "and have your own ideas and be limited to whatever your knowledge is."

Back Bay resident Jason Abrams, 28, who learned of the event from an e-mail sent out from Gordon's, said enjoying an online winetasting has another benefit. "This was great for us," he said, "because we didn't have to drive home."

The next virtual wine tasting event will take place on Saturday at 7:p.m. ET. For more information log on to Tastoria.com. Susan Chaityn Lebovits can be reached at Lebovits@globe.com

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