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Feb 8, 2010 11:33 AM

Good Instructor, Bad Instructor: what makes a wine class great?

I'm writing an article on elements that make for really great (single) wine classes (of the non-date oriented variety), where beginners or advanced students can really gain great knowledge.

If you have things you enjoyed or could barely tolerate in a class, would love to hear it.

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  1. What makes a good wine class for me:
    -Instructor is an expert, and knows how to present information to the student's level
    -Subject of class is finite - i.e. reds of Rhone, sparkling wine, home wine making, etc.
    -I learn something or a lot
    -I walk out of the session more energized and more curious about wine
    -Wine tastings are well structured and relevant to subject matter

    What I cannot tolerate:
    -If instructor is snobby toward anyone or any aspect of wine enjoyment
    -If tasting does not occur
    -Hard and fast wine pairing rules are given as 'gospel'

    2 Replies
    1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

      As someone who began teaching wine classes back in 1974, I have to say: couldn't have said it better myself!


      1. re: zin1953

        Lots of what Kay said. Here's what I try to be mindful of when I teach:

        Information appropriate to the students' current level of knowledge and interest.
        Information that is organized into easily assimilated bites, one after the other.
        An instructor who believes the goal of teaching is to serve, to be useful, and to open the door to another world.
        An instructor who has no need to show off a storehouse of information.
        An instructor who leaves time for class discussion and questions, and who knows when to return to the lesson plan.
        Food and Wine Pairing Class: the classic tried-and-true rules, covered and tasted; the role of experimentation in discovering unexpectedly great pairings (they usually illustrate a rule).
        For one time classes, especially: An agreeable personality, an instructor who understands that learning should be fun.

    2. A bad instructor is one who takes short cuts and gives "absolute" answers to many questions. As any wine geek will know, a lot of answers are "it depends" with a litany of words following. The food pairing question is just a small example.

      A good instructor will be able to distill an answer so the students can understand and follow without being drowned in technical and esoteric knowledge.

      1. A really good instructor can do all the things listed so far, plus control the classmate that is a wine "know-it-all", so he (its usually a male) can't ruin the class for everyone else.

        1. A good instructor will tell the group what wines are being poured prior to the event with the vintages. Is is 2000 Bordeaux or 2002 Bordeaux?

          Also don't over lecture. The focus should be on the wines with some information instead of all information and a small focus on tasting the wines.

          Also teach the tasting process.

          1. For me, a good instructor need not be an expert, though they should have knowledge of that particular block. They should be enthusiastic, and want to expose the class to to the wonders of wine. They should be good communicators, and also know, and use, various communication tools. They should be able to temper their knowledge to the class, and be willing, and able, to tailor the class to different levels of interest. Along these lines, they should be able to convey the same info in different forms, to accommodate the differences between the individuals in the class.

            A lot of planning needs to go into the syllabus for the class. The "necessary" points need to be made, and the class should be an introduction to a "pathway," and not an encyclopedia of all knowledge.

            Sorry if I am going against others' postings,


            5 Replies
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              You're not, Bill, at least not that I see.

              One of the things I always did was have a detailed and lengthy syllabus for my classes. I knew that covered all the detailed info I wanted to convey, and so I was free to encourage class discussion and -- even if it went off on an interesting tangent, I was free (within reason of course) to let it go.

              1. re: zin1953

                Cristillano Prosecco
                Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava
                MIchel Turgy, NV Blanc de Blanc
                Domain Chandon, Blanc de Blanc Chandon', CA

                This is too often the case with wine classes in the US. $50 per person to try the above. That is crazy! Other then the Turgy the rest are not good examples of sparkling from around the world.

                1. re: redmeatfan

                  And you replied to me because . . . . ???

                  I don't understand: I have never, nor would I ever, teach a class using these four wines alone, let alone charge $50 to taste them. Nor would I use Turgy in a class as the one and only example of a Champagne -- nor any of the above wines as the sole example of their type and origin. So, I hope, you can understand my confusion . . . .

                  1. re: zin1953

                    not to you jason. must have hit a wrong button.

                    1. re: redmeatfan

                      NP -- I was just confused . . . . ;^)