(Un-study Techniques) How to Succeed at Wine Studies without Really Trying


Sub-title: Un-study Techniques, or How to learn about wine when you just can’t stand to study any longer.

We’ve all been there. No matter how passionate, engaged, and delighted we are to get to study wine,  take a wine class, or attempt a wine certification…there are times when we JUST CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER. And yet that class, that presentation, or that exam is on the near horizon.

What’s a wine student to do?

Here’s an idea: use what I call un-study techniques—an admittedly goofy term for an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to highlight your text book or flip over a flash card.

I have lots of these little un-study techniques that I share with my classes and on my webinars all the time, but for today I’ll just introduce two of them. More to come soon, I promise.


Un-study Technique—Plan a trip: Everyone knows one of the absolute best ways to learn about the wine of a certain region is to travel. To see the vines, feel the dirt between your fingers, fall in love with a winemaker in a dark, dusty cellar—you’ll never forget it.

But…even if you can’t make that trip to Tuscany this weekend, you can still plan a trip. To make this an effective un-study technique, choose a specific wine region. Plan how you will get there, where you’ll stay, where you will eat, and the wineries you will visit. Pretend you are driving and plot out your map, making sure you learn the important details that can help you in your wine studies later—such as how many miles/kilometers it is from one place to the next, and what vineyards are located on the valley floor, as opposed to up the hillsides. Choose a local restaurant to dine in and (via the magic of the interwebs) check out the menu and the wine list (paying particular attention to the local wines they have have on offer).

I know this sounds a little silly, but there have been many Monday evenings in my life when I couldn’t get the gumption to crack a book…but I learned a lot by plotting my fantasy trip through Bolgheri courtesy of google and their maps


Un-study Technique—Write one multiple choice question: That’s right…just one. Here’s the secret about writing multiple choice questions…it is not easy. But that’s what makes it a perfect un-study technique. Here’s what to do: pick a topic and write a question as well as the correct answer. The question—known as the question stem—should be a direct question, written as a complete sentence, and should be grammatically correct.

Next: do some deep-dive research on your question-and-correct-answer to make sure that is always correct. For instance: consider this question : Which of the following types of wine is produced using 100% Gamay? Is the correct answer Beaujolais? (No, Beaujolais AOC may contain up to 15% white grapes, and may also be white.) Is the correct answer Moulin-à-Vent? (No…while Beaujolais Cru is only produced as a red wine, it is also allowed to contain up to 15% white grapes— Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne, to be precise). So perhaps this question should be re-written as follows: Which of the following types of wine is mostly likely to be produced using 100% Gamay? Using this as the question, Beaujolais or Moulin-à-Vent could be a correct answer.


The next step is to come up with the three incorrect answers, known as the distractors. The more similar the distractors are to each other and the correct answer, the more difficult the question is. Using the question discussed above (Which of the following types of wine is mostly likely to be produced using 100% Gamay?), you could craft a relatively easy question using the following three distractors: Saint-Joseph, Rosé des Riceys, and Musigny. However…and here’s where the “un-study” technique really kicks in…don’t just assume that these appellations do not produce Gamay-based wine. Research it, find out everything they are allowed to produce, and if indeed they are not at all likely to make a wine produced using Gamay, go ahead and use it as one of your distractor.

The following three distractors would make for a more difficult question: Crémant de Bourgogne, Chinon, and Irancy. Can you figure out why?

When writing your questions, make sure to take and keep your notes (after all, you are un-studying), and keep a file of your questions to test yourself with later.

Click here for more posts on study skills and un-study techniques—and as always, enjoy your (un) studies!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Long Time Gonna Study This!

LTGSTLong time gonna study this!

No…this is not the Bubbly Professor slipping up and using poor grammar…rather, it is shorthand for the method I’ve been using for the past several decades to introduce and teach about (region by region) the wide world of wine!

Long Time Gonna Study This is a mnemonic device to help me remember the 5 most important things one needs to know about any wine region – in order to really understand (and not just “memorize”) the facts and figures, grapes and places, and other details about the area. The letters stand for: Location, Terroir, Grapes, Styles, and Terminology.

This is not the “easy way out” for studying. This is, however, a very effective study technique as it gives meaning and context to what you are studying. As I’ve said so many times before…your brain just does not like (and is not good at) fixing random words and numbers into long-term memory. What your brain is really good at remembering are things that are personal, contextual, spatial, surprising, physical, and humorous in nature.

So…how do we use this knowledge to make our wine studies more effective? We make our studies more contextual (the background story), spatial (how this location relates to other locations), physical (taste the wine, look at the label, pick up the bottle even if you can’t afford to buy it), personal (draw a map, say the words out loud, visit the region). If it can be made to be surprising or humorous along the way, so much the better!

Here is a more detailed explanation of the use of the LTGST study method:

LTGST terroir 2Location:

  • For starters, we need to know the basics: where is this area located?
  • Get specific – latitude, proximity to well-known cities and landmarks, and location in relation to other wine regions.
  • Research the topography – rivers, lakes, oceans, mountain ranges.
  • The best way to do this is trace a map, get to googling and draw in the cities, mountains, and rivers. By doing so you are making your studies more physical, which as we know will greatly improve your memory of the topic.
  • It’s important to study this first, as it sets the stage for the information to follow.


  • What is the local climate, soil, topography, etc and how does it affect the wine?
  • Knowing the details on the location (latitude, near-by mountains, rivers, and oceans) will translate into a better understanding of the terroir (see how that works)?


  • What grapes are grown there?
  • Are they blends, or single varietals?
  • Understanding the location, which leads to a better contextualization of the terroir, will lead to better understanding of what grapes grown in a certain location and why. There’s a good reason that Alsace grows mainly white grapes and Bordeaux can grow botrytis-affected Semillon so well – and it has everything to do with location and terroir!

LTGST terminologyStyles:

  • After we know the overall climate and the grape varieties that are grown in a certain region, we’re ready to study the types of wines made in a region.
  • What styles of wine do they produce? Dry, sweet, still, sparkling?
  • What unique production techniques create these wines?


  • What terms do you need to understand the wines and their labels?
  • Some regions, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, have a vocabulary all of their own and this list can get very long indeed; others are much simpler.

So there you have it…the LTGST method of studying the wines of the world. Like I said earlier in this post, it is certainly not quick or easy, but I guarantee you it’s effective.

Click for more advice on how to study wine and spirits.

Good luck with your studies, and please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or success with this method!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

How to Study for the CSW (Or any other Exam)

Wine 2In the past few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from people asking “How do I study for the CSW?”  It’s a good question, and one that I thought I’d address here on the blog as it seems so universal.  By the way, most of the inquiries I get have to do with the CSW, but having been a professor for decades, I know that these study techniques will work for any knowledge-based set of material…even other wine certifications!

I think the problem stems from people confusing “reading” with “studying.”  Reading is a good first step, but it’s only the beginning.  Studying is so much more….so here’s my advice on how to “really study.”  By the way, if you are looking for the easy way out, you are NOT going to like me!

My Advice…How to Study for the Certified Specialist of Wine (or any other) Exam

Learning, unfortunately, takes time. Unless you have a have photographic memory, learning requires repetition, active study techniques, and concentration.  Here are few simple tips to help you get the most from your study time.

Read and Take Notes:  Reading alone does not do much in terms of long-term learning for most people. Do you remember that little jingle about “people only remember 10% of what they read?” It’s actually less than that. If you want your study session to result in long-term memory, you need to take notes while you study. Read your study guide section by section, taking notes all the while. Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few months or weeks leading up to your exam.

How to study 1Study Actively:  One of the reasons that taking notes is so effective for most people is that writing involves more energy and more of the senses than just reading or listening. The more energy and senses that are involved in studying (or any activity); the more new material will make it to your brain’s “recording disk.” While it might feel silly, reading out loud or reviewing your notes out loud is one of the best ways involve more of your senses in your studying.  Writing, a kinetic activity, also increases memory.  Instead of staring at maps, draw them. Instead of just reading over your notes, copy them over.

Don’t just Memorize – Strive for Understanding: There are two ways to memorize:  by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Telephone numbers and computer passwords are better learned by rote.  However, anything that needs to be understood must have some meaning behind it. The more association you can elicit for an idea, the more meaning it will have; the more meaningful the learning, the better one is able to retain it. This is the main reason why travelling is such a good way to learn wine…once you’ve driven from Greve to Montalcino, its easy to remember the distances and directions…you totally understand it (and will never forget it, most likely, if you tried to drive yourself)! While you might not be able to travel to every wine region you are studying, you can try to find the context behind the facts.  You can do this by comparing and contrasting, noting similarities in ideas and concepts, tying new ideas to something you already know, and trying to put new information in its proper place in a larger system of ideas, concepts and theories.

Rephrase and explain:  Anyone who has ever taught a wine class knows that one way to really learn something is to teach it.  Teaching requires us to organize and explain material, which just happen to be two of the most important facets of learning. To use this concept in your study sessions, experiment with stopping every five minutes to try and rephrase and explain the material.  This is also a great way to stop your mind from wandering. Remember, if you can’t explain something quickly and succinctly, you don’t really know it well.

how to learn slideUse Spaced Repetition:  Memories fade away rapidly when not reviewed or used. The curve of forgetting is like a playground slide; we forget most of what we learned within the first 24 hours after studying, from there the curve of forgetting proceeds much more slowly.  To combat the “24-hour brain dump,” try to fit in a study session every day, even if it is just ten minutes (although an hour a day is better). The more times around the learning circuit, the longer lasting the impression will be.

Simulate the Required Behavior: When studying for an examination, the most effective approach is to closely simulate the behavior you’ll ultimately be required to perform. What this means is that one way to effectively study for a multiple choice test is to take multiple choice practice tests.  However…what’s even more effective is writing your own test questions. Writing test questions after studying a section of material is also a great way to keep from getting bored or losing your concentration.

I hope these these study techniques – even if you only use one or two, will help you in your studies.  If you have any questions or comments, let me know!!  Good luck with your studies!!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net

My Advice – How to Prepare for the CWE Exam

essay questions 2I first posted an advice column on  “How to Study for the CWE Exam” just about a year ago, and as it has been one of my all-time most visited blog posts, I thought I would post an update.

So…if you are a CWE aspriant and have any questions, this post’s for you!!

As always, I am always happy to answer any questions you have, so send me an email if you do!

Good luck with your studies!

The Bubbly Professor’s Advice on How to Prepare for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) Exam:

1.  Know the CSW Study Guide.  The CWE material obviously goes “above and beyond” the CSW, but it’s a great place to start. (True fact, when I was studying for my CWE it’s the only thing I used for my dedicated CWE study time.)

2. Study at least one other comprehensive wine reference from the CWE Reading List, such as “Exploring Wine”, “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, or “The World Atlas of Wine.” Click here for a copy of the  CWE Recommended Reading List 2014 . If you will be taking the exam in 2015, you can find the CWE Recommended Reading List 2015 here. Sure, I understand that these books are not easy reading, and while I sympathize, I have to say…they are not supposed to be.

3. When I suggest that you “study” a book what I really mean is read it through, cover to cover, and take notes on everything that you find applicable to your study.  Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few weeks leading up to your exam.

4. Keep up with as least one website or periodical from the CWE Recommended Reading List. Current topics, particularly changes in wines laws or regulations, are sure to be covered on the mulitiple choice exam, and might show up in essay topics as well. May I suggest “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom,” the official blog of the Society of Wine Educators. (Full disclosure: I’m the blog administrator…hopefully this advice does not seem self-serving. But…I do try to take the topics from the CSW (and CSS) study guides and go “above and beyond” in my posts on the blog – see point #1.)

Day One Week One Wine Class5.  Get a Wine Faults Kit from SWE and practice with the faults.  By “practice” I mean mix them up, label your glasses and analyze the faults.  Really look at them, smell them, and (if you need to) taste them and write down your impressions.  Then go back and try to “test yourself.”  You probably will need to do this more than once!  It might also be fun, and more educational to do this in a group.  (Just be sure and have some good wine for your friends after all those faulty wines…)

6.  Make your own “wine grape cheat sheets” for the major vinifera varietals and know the following information about each one of them: the major regions where they are grown, and the typical viticulture, vinificaiton, and wine styles made from those grapes in each of their major regions.  This is to prepare you for a compare/contrast essay question as well as many possible multiple choice questions.

7.  Study and be prepared to compare/contrast some of the basic wine making techniques and viticultural topics: stainless vs. oak, the various methods of cap management, single varietal vs. blended, warm weather vs. cool climate viticulture, etc.  This is also to prepare for a possible essay question.

writers block8. Be prepared to discuss some of the more recent trends in wine via an essay question, such as enclosures, high-alcohol wines, orange wines (old but new), emerging wine regions in Asia, fraudulent and “fake” wines, global warming, new rules and regulations via the EU, former Soviet Bloc wine regions re-invigorating their wine industries, the 100-point scale debate, etc.

9.  Speaking of essays, if you are not 100% confident in your writing abilities, spend some time researching the basic format of a “five paragraph essay.” (Obviously, disregard those written for fifth graders and find one from the website of a college or university.)  The “Five Paragraph Essay” is the basic format for just about any type of persuasive or informative writing, and if you are unsure of your writing skills it will help you organize your thoughts and statements, especially when you are faced with attempting to answer an essay question in an hour.  For a great overview of what the essay graders are looking for, click here for a copy of the CWE Essay Rubric – 2014 .

 10 To prepare for the wine identification portion of the exam, taste, study and take notes on the basic, well-known wines of the world.  In my opinion, these would include:  German Riesling, Vouvray, Alsatian Gewurztraminer, New World Chard, White Burgundy, White Bordeaux, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Lodi Viognier, Fumé Blanc, Sancerre, Muscadet, Rías Baixas, and Torrontés.  For the reds, I’d study Beaujolais, Red Burgundy, Oregon Pinot, Red Bordeaux, Napa Cab, Napa Meritage, Paso Robles Zinfandel, Rioja, Chianti, G-S-M, Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, Cahors,  one of the Nebbiolo-based wines, and a varietal Grenache.

wine class11.  Get a copy of the SWE Tasting Rationale 2014 Wine sheet and practice using it.

12.  As you make your way to the presentation skills demonstration, take a look at the Tips on Writing a CWE Presentation Skills Outline that will be Approved and the CWE Presentation – Rubric 2014

More information may be found on SWE’s website. 

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice, based on my own experience and that of my friends.  This is not to be considered “official” advice from any school or organization.  I hope that you enjoy your wine studies and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net

How to Pass the CSW: How Well do You Know France?

map france citiesI love maps, because they make me dream of travel!  Someone once said “maps are the foreplay to travel.”  I don’t know where I heard that, so I can’t credit the source, but it’s a great line and I wish I had said it first!

Being a wine person, maps also make me dream of wine – or have nightmares about the study of wine.  

I think we would all agree that understanding a region’s geography sets the groundwork for really understanding their wines. Note that I said “really understanding” and not just memorizing lists of rivers, towns, and grapes.  If you are a regular reader of The Bubbly Professor you know that in my classes, I try to  emphasize learning – emphasizing understanding, context, and meaning – as opposed to just “memorizing factoids” or “trying to pass a test.”

In an attempt to help those of you who are studying – and hopefully, really learning – about wine for the CSW Exam or other wine certification, I’ve put together a set of map exercises.  I’ll give you a blank map and you get to fill in the rest! 

This first exercise might just be the hardest, as I’ve chosen to head straight to “ground zero” for wine study and head to France! If you take some time to do this exercise, trust me, doing some research and referencing a good map will go a long way to your understanding of the geography of France.  However, the act of actually drawing in the towns, rivers, mountain ranges and wine regions on the map takes this activity from passive learning (looking at someone else’s work) to active (drawing it yourself) and turns it into a “whole brain learning” experience.  Trust me, this exercise will increase your retention and understanding of the geography of France, laying the groundwork for understanding the geography of the wines produced there. Note that I did not say it would be fast or easy, but I guarantee it will be a worthwhile way to spend an evening.  (Perhaps a good swap for a night of watching re-runs of Mad Men???)

BeaujolaisIf you dare, click here to download the So You Think You Know France ExerciseEnjoy the study session, and let’s see just how much we know – or have yet to learn – about the geography of France!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texasmissjane@prodigy.net

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!