Refining Your Going-Out Palate at Capital Wine School

As I've gotten older, my enthusiasm for going out hasn't waned, but my enjoyment of the passive entertainment of a bar, a restaurant or a movie certainly has. Repetition breeds boredom. I want to engage, to do something, to even possibly learn something while I’m spending my pennies out and about in the world.

 Wine expert Michael Franz chats with students after class

Wine expert Michael Franz chats with students after class

The Capital Wine School provides the chance for an engaging night out with classes that allow you to meet interesting people, learn something new and taste fabulous wines. 

In Northwest D.C., throwing distance from Bethesda near the Mazza Gallerie, the Capital Wine School offers a variety of two-hour evening classes that explore all facets of wine knowledge. You can learn about Pinot Noirs from different parts of the world or you can explore the characteristics that make the wines of Bordeaux, Tuscany or Washington great. You can even take an introductory class that helps you understand wine better and eases the panic when you’re handed the wine list at a restaurant.

 Jay Youmans

Jay Youmans

The Capital Wine School was started by Jay Youmans who is A) Washington, D.C.’s only Master of Wine and one of only 30 in the U.S., and B) one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Well known in the wine world, Jay helps to train professionals in the wine industry at Capital Wine School with wine business classes and master classes for sommeliers.

He also taught two beginner classes that I took: Introduction to Wine Basics and the three-part Wine Basics: Comparing Grapes, Regions and Styles. As a newbie, getting instruction from someone with his depth of knowledge was a real honor. But neither he nor my "Secret Spain" wine class instructor, Michael Franz (editor of Wine Review Online and wine writer for the Washington Post until 2005) made me feel like I’d better be glad I was receiving such an honor.

What I’ve appreciated most about the Capital Wine School experience (besides incredible 1 oz-ish tastings of wine) is the lack of the pretension that you can run into in the wine world. Sommeliers, tasting room hosts and – the worst of them all – wine drinkers who fashion themselves "experts" can sometimes be complete butts. But the Wine School’s experienced instructors work hard to engage new wine drinkers, draw out honest opinions and share what they know for the benefit of the student.

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The classes are held in a room above a dance studio, so the muted rhythms of salsa or hip hop will sometimes accompany your wine tasting class. Long tables face the instructor and clean glasses are arranged in front of each seat, ready for a pour. These are tasting classes, and while I seldom want to waste the incredible eight or more pours we get, I generally drive there and must get home. Small buckets are available for spitting or dumping your glass, and you’re encouraged to use them, if you’d like. Or you could metro and plan on a nice dinner after.

The classes aren’t cheap at $65-$85 per person for the two-hour tasting courses. But I paid that much for a concert ticket last week, and I certainly walk away from the wine class with more than a t-shirt. The class schedule is limited in the summer, but picks up again in September. I have my eye on two upcoming classes: Comparative Tasting of Pinot Noirs from Around the World on Nov. 29 and Michael Franz’s Eight Favorite Champagnes on Dec. 6.

I’m emailing my husband right now to let him know I’ve got a perfect night out all ready for us.


Capital Wine School

5207 Wisconsin Ave., Washington, DC 20015

In-Between Tip: Take advantage of the Capital Wine School's location just a couple of blocks south of Friendship Heights Metro station and take the Metro there. Then after your class, try one of the multitude of restaurants this area on the border between Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md., has to offer.

Want to discover more interesting and fun going-out activities in the DMV? Make sure to subscribe to In Between in D.C., where I post twice a week about fun things to do for us 40-55-year-old In-Betweeners.