One of the classes I teach throughout the course of the year is given at the Rudd Center at the CIA in St. Helena (the other CIA, that is). It’s called “Mastering Wine II.” The class is a continuation of, you guessed it, Mastering Wine I which was designed and taught by noted industry author and friend Karen MacNeil. Initially, Karen had me model the second class on Mastering Wine I. But over the years, MWII has morphed into a professional tasting course while still covering everything we planned for in the original curriculum. One of the additions to the menu is “Wine Advice 101.” On the last day of class, after I’ve spent five days brainwashing them, I give the students some final friendly avuncular advice before turning them loose on an unsuspecting world. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from the list.

1. Remember, it’s just wine.

This is perhaps the most important advice of all. If you find yourself sneaking wine into the cellar, hiding wine shop invoices or credit card statements from the spouse, something might be wrong. If your cellar has expanded to the point where you’re considering a bar code system to organize the inventory, things perhaps have gone awry. If you find yourself hanging out full time with wine nerds and neglecting friends and family, something is definitely no bueno. Who knows? Maybe your friends and family have stopped hanging out with you because you’re always driveling on about hopelessly mysterious things like the pros and cons of micro-oxygenation or whether premox is just another geeky myth. Balance, my friend, is the key to life. Enjoy and explore–but do not obsess. 

2. Only 25% of your cellar should be wine intended to be aged for over 10 years.

Guilty as hell on this one. I started my cellar by purchasing California Cabernet from the great mid-1980’s vintages like a fiend, and then woke up one fine evening to find I had cases and cases but nothing I could really drink. Carla and I ended up having burgers with a fine vintage of Stag’s Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet. I was happy but also troubled. After the incident I started to buy other things like simple Côte du Rhone, Zinfandel, and Shiraz blends—things I could open without thinking and enjoy shamelessly. And we did. And it was good. Balance, once again, is key.

3. Don’t take good wine to a dinner party unless you know the count and the amount of diners that will be joining. Otherwise, it will be a complete waste.

Guilty on multiple offenses. Even with the best of intentions, taking a primo bottle from your personal cellar to a PTA pot luck is an exercise in pure masochism. No one but you will care about the wine (see item one) and you might find yourself becoming irritated or even taking offense because the guy with one very large continuous eye brow is pounding down a glass of your wine as if it’s Hearty Burgundy. Ahem. Take a hint—and take something fruity, cheerful, and quaffable to the pot luck; smile as you enjoy some of the strangest meatloaf you’ve ever tasted. One more bit of not-so-conventional wisdom about the PTA pot luck; one of the things no one ever told you about parenthood was the fact that you would end up hanging out with people—as in the parents of your kid’s classmates—that you wouldn’t otherwise share physical space with. Life, indeed, is strange and parenthood is truly one of the great equalizers of life.