Take a wine course and, in a matter of weeks, you could transform your imbibing from a pastime into a passion

If you want to make your life infinitely more enjoyable this year, invest a couple of hundred quid in a wine course. You can learn on your own, but wine courses offer several things that you can't get from the autodidactic approach. One: the chance to learn methodically under expert guidance. Two: the chance to contrast and compare wines that you couldn't assemble at home. Three: the chance to talk about the wines with people who are there for the same reason as you - and discussing the sensations on nose and palate is itself a uniquely valuable form of wine education.

If you want to make your life infinitely more enjoyable this year, invest a couple of hundred quid in a wine course. You can learn on your own, but wine courses offer several things that you can't get from the autodidactic approach. One: the chance to learn methodically under expert guidance. Two: the chance to contrast and compare wines that you couldn't assemble at home. Three: the chance to talk about the wines with people who are there for the same reason as you - and discussing the sensations on nose and palate is itself a uniquely valuable form of wine education.

Roughly speaking, there are two places to look for wine education, and the first is through an organisation that employs a group of teachers. These include wine merchants such as Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com), whose Wine School courses are mostly for civilians and include both one-day and six-week evening classes. Classes are held in the evening at its London and Basingstoke premises. Prices for a six-week programme specifically tailored for beginners are around £275. Christies has a similar evening programme running for five consecutive weeks (contact Judith Pitcher on 020 7665 4354 or jpitcher@christies.com for more information).

The largest option is the industry's training body, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust ( www.wset.co.uk). The WSET programme was aimed originally at professionals, but ordinary consumers now account for some 40 per cent of those taking its intermediate course. Fees are between £200 and £300 for the Intermediate Certificate, which can be taken in three full, consecutive days or over six weeks with shorter sessions. The WSET HQ is in London but accredited instructors offer official programmes all over the country.

The other approach is through a single individual, teaching either at home or on someone else's premises. There's a lot to be said for this option: you know what (or whom, more precisely) you're getting, and some notable wine writers are moving into education as a sideline. One is Tim Atkin MW, whose Wine Uncorked classes, held at Bank restaurant in central London, are informal but informative (£270 for six sessions, and courses for both beginners and intermediates are starting soon, contact: 020 7379 5088, kristyn.mitchell@bankrestaurants.com). In Scotland, the eminent writer and educator Rose Murray Brown MW gives a range of courses at venues in several cities. Prices are a bit lower than the London-based courses, with four-session courses starting at £99 (visit www.rosemurraybrown.com for information or contact 01334 870 731, masterclass@rosemurraybrown.com).

The courses I know best are the WineWise courses run by Michael Schuster at his home in London. WineWise has been going since 1986 which has given Schuster, one of the country's foremost wine educators, the chance to refine and perfect his method, and has also given rise to the best DIY manual for at-home tasting: Essential Winetasting (£20, Mitchell Beazley). His beginners courses (£175 for six sessions) are already full through March, with the next available course starting 10 May (contact: 020 7254 9734, or www.schuster.f9.co.uk).

Two other good sources are the website of the Association of Wine Educators, www.wineeducators.com, which lists members by region, and the extensive list of courses at Decanter.com, www.decanter.com/specials/47981.html.

These studies are not designed to turn you into a wine bore or wine snob. Wine is there for enjoyment, and the more you know about it, the more you will enjoy it.

Top Corks: Three in the sales

Altozano Tempranillo Merlot 2001 (£3.99 from £4.99, Somerfield) Bargain quaffer from Spain, fruit-rich and soft on the palate. Perfect midweek wine. Move fast, the offer ends Tuesday.

Plan Pégau 2001, Domaine du Pégau (£5.99 if you buy two, Majestic) A Côtes-du-Rhône from an outstanding producer of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Normally £7.59, and a steal at the reduced price.

Barolo 2000 Terre da Vino (£9.99 from £12.99, Waitrose) Recommended last year at full price. Proper Barolo but approachable while young, the tannins not too forbidding. Outstanding buy.

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