If I had made resolutions, however, one would have been to keep expanding my horizons in the field of coffee. If you're in the same mood, you may be interested in a pair of new initiatives launched by Costa. At their central London roaster the coffee bar chain is holding Saturday "Coffee College", three-hour tutorials with a maximum class size of six. You'll learn about the origins and types of coffee and the principles of roasting, and receive instruction on brewing. If the course delivers what it promises, the pounds 50 fee (including lunch and a goody bag) does not seem exorbitant. For more information, ring Lorraine Miller on 0171 840 2058.
Those with more money, who want someone else to do the brewing, can hire a Costa "barista" for the evening. Throw a dinner party and the barista will come along and make filter, espresso or cappuccino for up to 20 guests. This ultimate yuppie entertaining accessory costs pounds 150 for the evening, and includes all the brew (including liqueur coffees) everyone can drink. The service is available only inside the M25, if you have the disposable income (and inclination) to take advantage of it.
I would rather spend the money on cut-price wine from the sales. The list from Laytons (0171 388 4567) is a nice one for claret-drinkers especially: 10 to 15 per cent reductions on 111 bottles, starting at pounds 3 for halves of the estimable Cotes du Castillon Chateau Pitray 1995. Please note, however, that the sale started at the end of last month and some parcels will have been sold off by now.
A sale is also in progress at Fuller's (0181 996 2000 for branches), where 30-odd bottles are knocked down. Most of the globe and price scale is covered, but my eye is caught by a clutch of Burgundies including a mature Latricieres Chambertin Camus Grand Cru 1987 (pounds 9.99 from pounds 11.99). Or, better still, Boillot's Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 1994 (pounds 19.99 from pounds 24.99). Boillot is usually regarded as one of the best producers in this appellation, and any wine of his from a good year, for under pounds 20, has to be worth a splurge.
Elsewhere in the world of wine, my request for news of interesting wine- related activity on the Internet has brought in several leads. The one I've explored most is a gem of a site (http://www.gla.ac. uk/tbc1b) operated by Tom Cannavan, IT Training Manager for the University of Glasgow and owner of a 600-bottle cellar. "The site started life 18 months back", he writes, "as a project to get my cellar notes online to share with friends. It has grown alarmingly since then to include over 300 tasting notes, introductions to some of the great wine regions (including maps), wine- related links, wine book reviews, an 'everyday drinking' best buys guide, Scottish restaurant guide and much more. It also includes the entire set of notes for a wine appreciation course I run for adult learners at the University of Glasgow."
Everything is of high quality. Cannavan's tasting notes are clear, comprehensible and (with the wines I've drunk) reliable. His computer expertise makes the site a model of design and production. And he has the right attitude: "What I love about this hobby is that it is endlessly fascinating and constantly renewing itself." Worth a detour on your cyber-travels.
And finally ... Burns Night is on the menu over in the food pages, and naturally your thoughts should be turning to single malts. For my part I will contribute a list of Derek Cooper's favourites. An impassioned malt expert, his personal list comprises Talisker, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Highland Park and Balvenie. Without pretending to one tenth his knowledge of the subject, I can only say that I like all of them.
If you too are a relative novice, you may want to pick up Classic Malts of Scotland, a box of 50ml miniatures representing the major areas of whisky produc- tion. Talisker and Lagavulin are included, along with Oban, Glenkinchie, Craggamore and Dalwhinnie. There's no more than a taste of each, but it's a good opening shot (pardon the expression) for beginners. Available from Victoria Wine and Threshers stores for around pounds 16 for the set, or individually from Oddbins. While I can't say which will go best with the Burns Night supper, I guarantee that you'll enjoy conducting your experiments.