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I don’t know anything about wine; I just know what I like.

That’s the almost-apologetic, sometimes-defiant reply I get when I tell people I teach wine classes. I’m not sure why they rush to profess their ignorance. Are they afraid I’ll give them a pop quiz at my kid’s soccer game or as we mingle at a party?

Well, that’s all anyone needs to know, I say with a smile.

Hello? How can a card-carrying member of the Society of Wine Educators say you don’t need to know lots of wine stuff, like appellations and yeast strains and the name of every winery dog from here to Healdsburg? Before you call out the sip-and-spit police, hear me out. Yes, all you need to know about wine is what you like. Leave it at that if you want. But to find out what you like best, and to enjoy what you like even more, wine classes can make a big difference. Here’s what wine classes offer:

* Shopping tips. Classes that teach you how to read labels, recognize regions and grape varietals, and snoop for savvy buys are worth twice the price of admission.

* Information about new wines. I always learn best when I can drink my lesson, and most classes serve interesting wines I haven’t tried.

* Wine terms. All that wine jargon you learn is not so you can impress (or bore) your crush at the next cocktail party. Rather, wine words help you describe what you like so you can get exactly what you want from clerks and sommeliers who speak winese.

* A healthy workout. Keep your sensory side in shape with regular sessions.

* Winey friends. Swirl with some interesting new people. Maybe they’ll invite you to their next cellar party.

Why know about wine?
Sometimes a little knowledge can come in handy. Take the film Diamonds Are Forever. While dining in style, James Bond, British secret agent 007, tastes a ’34 Mouton Rothschild brought by a nemesis disguised as a room-service waiter. Bond says knowingly, The wine is quite excellent&emdash;although for such a grand meal, I would have expected a claret. The bad guy responds, But of course. Unfortunately, our cellar is poorly stocked with clarets. Mouton Rothschild is a claret, seethes Bond. And I’ve smelled that aftershave on you before, and both times I’ve smelled a rat.

What To Look for in a Wine Class
* No know-it-alls&emdash;The vast world of wine holds few universal truths and many controversies. This leaves wiggle room for egomaniacs who’d rather be wrong than speechless and blowhards who make up fun facts and pass along dubious but colorful stories. A good wine educator presents opposing points of view fairly and knows enough to say, I don’t know, I’ll get back to you when stumped.

* Follow the money&emdash;Is the wine educator independent or trying to sell you something? While some wine shops and restaurants put on great tastings, most do it solely as a promotional event. Support the store if you like their programs, but don’t feel pressured to buy.

* Find your niche&emdash;Look for a class that fits your personality and learning style. In the Sacramento area, we’ve got everything from informal walkabouts at a store to university courses complete with a final exam.


Discover California! Wine Tasting Room
Teacher: John Hicklin, The Wine Guy
Location: 114 J St., Old Sacramento
Cost: $15 per class
Information: (916) 443-8275;

Donal’s Wine Appreciation Class
Teacher: Donal Smith, wine buyer, Corti Brothers
Location: Evan’s Kitchen, 855 57th St., or Cafe Milazzo, 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento
Cost: $90 for three sessions
Information: (916) 203-4641; e-mail

Elk Grove Parks & Recreation Department
Teacher: Michael Williams, wine judge
Location: Boulevard Bistro, 8941 Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove
Cost: $25 per class
Information: (916) 405-5300;

Enotria Cafe & Wine Bar
Teacher: Michael Chandler, wine director
Location: 1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento
Cost: $40 per class
Information: (916) 922-6792;

Learning Exchange
Teacher: varies; includes Elaine Corn, cookbook author and food journalist, on Fearless Food and Wine Pairing
Location: 1111 Howe Ave., Suite 125, Sacramento
Cost: $75 per class
Information: (916) 929-9200;

Mission Oaks Recreation & Park District   
Teacher: Michael Williams, wine judge
Location: Orville Wright Park, 2331 St. Marks Way, Sacramento
Cost: $25 per class
Information: (916) 972-0336;

Sierra College
Teacher: Rod Byers, certified wine specialist, wine judge and marketing director, Nevada City Winery
Location: Sierra College, Rocklin and Nevada County campuses
Cost: $118 for 16-week semester
Information: (916) 624-3333;

UC Davis Extension
Teacher: John Buechsenstein, winemaker
Location: Da Vinci Building, 1632 Da Vinci Court, Davis
Cost: $495 for two-day wine appreciation class, including two lunches and all wine
Information: (800) 752-0881;

Wine FUNdamentals
Teacher: Roxanne Langer, wine educator
Location: Granite Bay Market, 8230 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay
Cost: $50–$65 per class
Information: (916) 663-2858;

Wine Savvy
Teacher: Elaine Smith (yours truly), wine educator
Location: various restaurants and art galleries in midtown and downtown Sacramento
Cost: $35–$65 per class
Information: (916) 444-1909;

The Wine School
Teacher: G.M. Pooch Pucilowski, certified wine educator, chief judge, California State Fair Wine Competition
Location: Delta King Pilothouse Restaurant, 1000 Front St., Old Sacramento
Cost: $99 for three classes; optional fourth class is a five-course dinner with 12 wines for $85
Information: (916) 961-6080;

If You Want To Go Pro
The Certified Sommelier Program at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, Calif., is a full-time, 10-week program taught in conjunction with the Court of Master Sommeliers. The institute also offers seminar programs for people who are not in the business. For more information, call (888) 724-5327 or go to

Elaine’s Pick of the Month
2005 Morgan Pinot Gris Santa Lucia Highlands R&D Franscioni Vineyard
After judging 85 California Pinot Gris at the State Fair Wine Competition, I came home and opened this one. My personal panel of one gave it a Double Gold. ($16, Lake Forest Wines, Corti Brothers, Taylor’s Market, Nugget Markets)

Wine Trivia Contest
In James Bond movies, what is Agent 007’s favorite brand of Champagne?
E-mail your answer to by Sept. 15. The winner will receive an insulated two-bottle wine tote from Built NY. Make sure to include your name, address and telephone number. The winner will be selected by random drawing from all the correct responses.