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posted: 10/7/2011 6:00 AM

Wine education never stops

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You're never too old to take up a new hobby, so I decided to learn the play the guitar.

Several weeks later, when I decided to quit the guitar, I realized that my utter frustration may be shared by folks exploring another hobby: wine.

So, here are tips we can all use to keep our self-esteem intact while venturing outside our comfort zones:

Find a teacher: I can pound out "Kumbaya" as well as the next girl, but to move beyond 60s folky tunes, I needed a teacher.

To grow beyond "I know what I like when I taste it," you need a teacher.

For a bimonthly newsletter of classes offered by the Chicago Wine School and other educators throughout the area, contact pwfegan@aol.com.

Learn techniques: The first thing to learn is a technique practiced by top palates worldwide: the "see, sniff, slurp and spit" method. You employ this system for twin goals: 1) to discern wine's basic components of fruit, alcohol, acid and sugar and; 2) to stay sober. Once you've learned the technique ...

Practice, practice, practice: It took six hours of drill to learn a 10-second refrain, but now, I expand it to pluck whole tunes with ease.

To calibrate your palate to wine's flavors requires tasting on a regular -- if not daily -- basis. You don't even have to enjoy it; you just have to do it.

Wine retailers are happy to support your practice with in-store tastings. These stand-up events are casual, with three and more wines and no obligation to buy. Check with area merchants about the dates and time of their tastings.

You're mastering the technique when you automatically swirl and sniff every glass given to you, even if it's a glass of water.

Expanding horizons: I'm not a country music fan, but as I learned "Travis picking," played throughout pop and rock music, I learned to appreciate country legend Merle Travis.

You may not like merlot or Rose or other styles, but if you avoid them, you will never appreciate some of the world's most exciting flavors. Taste everything dispassionately; drink what you enjoy. You'll be surprised by how much more you enjoy and how quickly.

Listen up: There are snobs in all endeavors and over. I'm just learning music, so if someone has something to stay about it, me ears perk up. Even in wine -- about which I know a lot -- if a person talks as if he knows more than me, I listen up. Maybe he does.

• Contact Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@dailyherald.com.

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