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Lessons: Classes with Glasses | Wine Schools

Thirsty for knowledge? Go to wine school. Here, the top seven across the country.

Copia

NAPA VALLEY In just three years, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, named for the goddess of abundance, has become an important center for culinary education. Its wine program, under the direction of Master of Wine Peter Marks, is the only one west of the Mississippi to offer the full Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) curriculum, the gold standard of British wine programs and a prime incubator of Master of Wine (MW) candidates. Since many students come from outside Napa, Marks, a refugee from the dot-com world ("I went from one nonprofit to another," he quips), often compresses the introductory course into one weekend. In addition to the WSET program, Copia hosts tastings and seminars; guest lecturers include local winemakers and faculty from the enology school at the University of California, Davis.
DETAILS Two-day introductory course, $595; average class size, 40; 500 First St., Napa, California; 888-51-COPIA or copia.org.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

NAPA VALLEY What began at this branch of America's premier professional cooking school as a five-day course taught by wine writer and educator Karen MacNeil has become a comprehensive wine program. It offers about 40 courses a year taught by a 21-member faculty (which includes Robert M. Parker, Jr., who gives occasional lectures). A recent seminar on Cabernet Sauvignon featured, among other things, a lecture by Bill Harlan of the eponymous cult winery and a field trip to Shafer Vineyards, which included a tasting of multiple vintages of Shafer's Hillside Select. MacNeil favors the immersion approach; classes are usually all-day affairs. The basic course, Mastering Wine, given six times annually, assumes some knowledge of wine characteristics and wine terms; it is not for the completely uninitiated.
DETAILS Five-day introductory course, $895 (the fee includes some meals); average class size, 36; 2555 Main St., St. Helena, California; 800-888-7850 or ciaprochef.com.

Chicago Wine School

CHICAGO Wine educator Patrick Fegan, who founded the school in 1984, showcases all the major varietals in the introductory course, offered six times a year. The price is modest, and the wines tend to be modest, too. Beginners can learn as much from a $10 bottle as from a $100 bottle, Fegan says, especially since they're likely to do most of their buying at the lower end of the price spectrum. The classes are held in Chicago-area wine stores and restaurants, including Courtrights, in the suburb of Willow Springs, and Wine Bar 404 in the city.
DETAILS Five-week introductory course, $170; average class size varies depending on venue; 1942 S. Halsted St.; 312-491-0284 or wineschool.com.

International Wine Center

NEW YORK CITY This was the first wine school in the United States to offer professionals and serious amateurs the British WSET curriculum, and the center's president, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, was the first American woman to pass the notoriously challenging Master of Wine exam. In the introductory Intermediate Certificate course, given about a dozen times a year, students taste six wines of varying price and grandeur at each session. "The point is not to serve trophy wines," says Linda Lawry, director of the center, although she notes that the representative Châteauneuf-du-Pape in one recent class was the excellent 1999 Château Fortis.
DETAILS Eight-week introductory course, $598; average class size, 35; 350 Seventh Ave., Suite 1201; 212-239-3055 or learnwine.com.

Windows on the World Wine School

NEW YORK CITY An institution for nearly 30 years, Kevin Zraly's wine school has survived the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center that destroyed the restaurant that was its home. Zraly, who founded the school in 1976, excels at finding just the right analogy to help students grasp a particular concept. Just as there is skim milk, whole milk and heavy cream, he explains, wines have similar gradations of density—generally, Rieslings have the lightness of skim, Sauvignon Blancs the heft of whole, and California Chardonnays the body of heavy cream. Zraly discusses viticulture and enology only if asked; he's mainly concerned about what's in the glass—which is invariably excellent. Nearly half of the wines come from his own cellar; he shares his prized possessions, like Lafite and Latour, with his students. Zraly teaches his introductory course twice a year.
DETAILS Eight-week introductory course, $895; average class size, 125; Marriott Marquis Hotel, 1535 Broadway; 845-255-1456 or windowswineschool.com.

Executive Wine Seminars

NEW YORK CITY Executive Wine Seminars caters to bankers, lawyers and other movers and shakers. It primarily showcases the bluest of blue-chip wines. Whatever the theme of the frequent tastings, be it the 1982 Bordeaux or the latest Burgundy vintage, the lineups are jaw-dropping. In addition to their renowned seminars, Howard Kaplan and Robert Millman, former retailers who founded EWS in 1981, conduct five introductory courses annually, with an emphasis on the practical, such as how to negotiate a restaurant wine list; the wines are stellar—first growths, grand cru Burgundies, Tte de Cuvée Champagnes, even the illustrious Château d'Yquem. The rationale for serving novices such venerated wines: The best way to learn is to taste the best.
DETAILS Two-session introductory course, $275; average class size, 19; The Warwick Hotel, 65 W. 54th St.; 800-404-WINE or ewswine.com.

Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center at Boston University

BOSTON For nearly a decade, B.U. offered the full WSET course as part of the university's Division of Extended Education, but director of wine studies Rebecca Alssid says the school decided that the British approach was too Eurocentric. So this fall, she and her colleagues Sandy Block and William Nestor, both MWs, introduced a curriculum that places a greater emphasis on New World wines. That global tilt hasn't significantly changed the wines served in the introductory course (which is offered twice a year); Old World wines are still well represented. Most bottles are in the $15 to $25 range. Block and Nestor teach all the classes, along with guest speakers.
DETAILS Eight-week introductory course, $800; average class size, 30; 808 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-353-9852 or bu.edu/lifelong/wine.

Michael Steinberger is the wine columnist for Slate.

Published December 2004
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