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Wine Not Take A Class?

Not long ago I took a 3-day Intermediate Certificate wine class at The International Wine Center in New York. Although I was possibly the most experienced student in the class, I still learned a lot – not so much wine “facts,” but really just having the opportunity to focus on wine without distractions, and getting new and different points of view. And the three days of tasting really was a great refresher for me, not having been in a formal class for awhile. The class was organized by geography, with an hour lecture/presentation followed by an hour of tasting wines from that region. We covered the US, Spain, France, and Italy among others.

For beginners as well as experienced wine students, I recommend the solid but friendly approach of Keith Wallace, founder and President of The Wine School of Philadelphia. Keith knows, as I do, that wine has been made into something mystical and, as wine writers sometimes say, “unapproachable.” He and his team have a way of fusing fun with practical knowledge, and his Foundation Course, one of the best available anywhere, is always sold out. I know…I took it a few years ago, and it’s gotten better and even more popular. The Wine School also offers a full range of intermediate (Certificate of Global Wine Studies) and advanced classes, including The Diploma Oenotrope, an advanced program that requires completing three certificate programs (Foundation, Global, and Advanced) along with a a senior project and a four month internship. All of Keith’s classes include tasting, which is an important part of any rigorous, professional wine course.

In New Jersey, I teach classes, too, and here’s a brochure that details some of them. I’d love to have you in a class soon!

And here’s something you should know about tasting wine in a professional or academic setting: it’s not all fun. That may sound absurd, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t just “taste” – you need to record your specific impressions using an accepted vocabulary, and then explain and justify your evaluation in front of your fellow students. You learn a lot in a tasting class because you’re required to describe what you’re tasting in meaningful terms, rather than just say you liked or didn’t like it. And when you’re tasting, say, 60 wines in an afternoon – or even a morning – you can’t actually drink them, or you’d be horizontal within a half hour. You taste and then spit, which frankly gets kinda gross after awhile.

I’ve also taken three professional wine classes at The Rudd Wine Center of the Culinary Institute of America, in St. Helena, California in the very heart of Napa Valley. Great classes, instructors who make and sell wine for a living (such as Jeff Morgan of SoloRosa and John Buechsenstein of Sauvignon Republic), and there you are surrounded by wineries and vineyards!

So, what I’m saying here is that if you’re really interested in wine, go take a class, or attend a true structured tasting. There you’ll get tasting notes, write down your own impressions, and usually get some good info from the instructor about the vineyards, climate, the country where the grapes come from, the styles of wine from that region, and comparisons with similar wines from other regions, countries or continents.

Another great way to learn about wine is simply from reading. My website, sure, and thanks for visiting – but there are a lot of good books out there. I personally wouldn’t read Wine for Dummies or any of the other “Dummy” series, as I don’t like giving money to people who insult me at the start – at least wait until you know me a little bit. And I’m not a dummy, and neither are you. You’re probably just new to wine, or perhaps you’ve been around the vineyard a bit but just not had the time to focus.

So perhaps start with a half-hour or hour of reading at night before you tune into The Daily Show with John Stewart (which I never miss), or instead of watching the dismal 11:00 pm news programs with stories of market and automobile crashes. There’s a host of good books out there, some of which I mention in “Wine Books.”

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