With September quickly sneaking up, I’m starting to get that annual back-to-school feeling: part excitement, part dread, but mostly end-of-summer blues. Yet despite the bittersweet emotions, I do love how the cool fresh air often brings with it a desire to learn something new — even for those of us well beyond high school. Fall is the best time to delve more deeply into a subject that has always interested you whether it’s studying Italian, learning how to cook paella, brushing up on photography skills, or learning how to navigate a wine list.
I’m often asked to recommend wine classes by friends who want to feel more confident navigating a wine list. Here’s my suggestions for ten of New York’s best wine classes, ranging from beginner to advanced, and offered at culinary and wine education centers, restaurants, and wine stores. If you don’t live in or near New York, many of the suggested schools offer classes online and in other cities.
And don’t forget, the best way to learn about wine is by simply tasting it. The more you taste, the more you will learn. As a bonus, scroll down for six Manhattan wine stores that offer regularly scheduled tastings.
The International Wine Center (IWC) is one of the most prestigious wine and spirits educational centers in the country. The school offers WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) courses for wine-loving consumers and more advanced classes for wine-industry professionals. (WSET classes can be found worldwide. Check out the September 9-15 Global Wine Education Week classes.)
The IWC also offers courses on spirits and sake. 350 7th Avenue.
International Culinary Center (ICC) was founded in 1984 as The French Culinary Institute and has campuses in New York City and San Francisco. There’s an intensive 3-day program on the fundamentals of wine, as well as a more advanced 10-week program with an option to take the Court of Master Sommeliers introductory exam upon completion of the class.
The ICC also hosts Wine Scholar Guild’s Italian Wine Scholar program for a first-of-its-kind boot camp (October 19). And coming up (November 14) is Bodegas Lustau’s Certified Specialist of Sherry class, taught by Lucas Payà, former sommelier of the legendary, now closed, elBulli Restaurant in Catalonia, Spain. 462 Broadway at Grand Street.
Sommelier Society of America, offers a five month sommelier certificate course with a 2-hour exam at the end. The course is for those interested in working in the wine industry or for serious wine lovers who want to expand their wine knowledge. I took this course and it gave me an excellent foundation of wine knowledge. Tuesdays, from 9-11 AM or 6-8 PM. 724 5th Avenue.
Astor Center provides a wide range of wine classes, whiskey tastings, sake seminars, cocktail workshops, and food pairing seminars. Sign up for the September 18th class on orange wines to learn about and taste these amazing wines. 23 E. 4th Street, just around the corner from Astor Wines & Spirits.
Kevin Zraly’s Advanced Wine School promises an evening of fun while learning about wine. Choose from a variety of 2-hour classes including ‘White Wines of France’ or ‘Red Wines of Italy.’ Kevin, founder of the popular Windows on the World Wine School, rates wine by asking, “How long does this wine give me pleasure?” and is known for his skill at entertaining an audience while sharing his vast wine knowledge. Sherry-Lehmann, 505 Park Avenue.
Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) offers classes on wine, beer, and spirits, including a beginners Introduction to Wine and more advanced classes with a narrower focus like Wines of Veneto: Prosecco, Valpolicella, Amarone, and More. Whether you’re training to be a Master Sommelier, or you want to up your game on riesling and cab franc, ICE has the right class for you. 225 Liberty Street.
Corkbuzz Restaurant & Wine Bar hosts a variety of wine classes, perfect for beginners and connoisseurs alike, with interesting topics like Old World vs New World Chardonnay (September 4) and Exploring Terroir: Volcanic Wines (September 15). Take the awesome blind tasting classes to learn the difference between the many classic grape varietals. Corkbuzz has a location in Charlotte, NC and holds classes during the summer on Shelter Island. 13 East 13th Street, or 75 9th Avenue in Chelsea Market.
Chelsea Wine Vault offers excellent 1.5-hour wine classes that include tasting six different wines, and with printed handouts, a wine aroma wheel and wine evaluation chart. Afterwards, shop for wine and receive 10% off your order. Chelsea Market at 410 West 16th Street.
Murrays Cheese, the iconic West Village shop, offers entertaining pairing classes where you will get insider tips on how to find “wine and cheese harmony.” 254 Bleeker Street.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels has a 50-minute Wine Boot Camp class. Take a deep dive into grower Champagne on September 17th where you’ll blind taste a selection of top cuvées, paired with snacks, while a sommelier instructor guides you through the lesson. 249 Centre Street.
Check out the following wine shops that offer free tastings — almost like going back to school, minus the sharp pencils, and a lot more fun!
Grape Collective, listed in The Grub Street Guide to Drinking and Buying Natural Wine in New York, believes that a good wine becomes better the more you know about it. This hip and friendly wine store (of course it is — I work here!) offers free tastings on Friday and Saturdays from 5:30 to 8:00 PM. 2675A Broadway at 102nd Street.
Flatiron Wines & Spirits offers a wide selection of wines produced from mostly small winemakers, many who farm organically or biodynamically. Call the store (212-477-1315) for more information about wine tastings. 929 Broadway (between 21st and 22nd Streets).
Burgundy Wine Company offers free wine tastings every Saturday from 2-4 PM. They open a few bottles, mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Taste a wine you love? The store sells the bottles at a discounted price during the tastings. 143 West 26th Street.
Discovery Wines is a great shop for those interested in finding new, undiscovered gems, many organic, biodynamic, or natural. Stop in for free tastings on Friday and Saturdays from 6 to 8 PM. 16 Avenue B.
Urban Wines is located in the heart of the East Village and specializes in organic, biodynamic and natural wines, as well as offering a vast selection of craft spirits. Call the store (212-477-1003) for updated tasting information. 45 1st Avenue.
Sherry-Lehmann is a traditional, slightly stodgy, wine and spirits shop on Park Avenue. But don’t let that deter you! They offer frequent free tastings of wines from classic regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Napa — a good starting point on your wine journey. Join the email list to find out when tastings are held. Tip: Stop by in December when a different top-notch Champagne is poured every day. 505 Park Avenue at 59th Street.