Un-study Techniques: Wine (or Liquor) Store Archaeology

This is the ninth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  Un-study techniques are all about what to do when you need to study…but you just can’t stand the thought of it. Click here to view our other posts on un-study techniques.

The next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of your favorite wine or liquor store, use that time to do a bit of digging. With the right tools, a bit of liquor store archaeology can lead to a valuable educational find!

Here’s a plan:

  • Decide upon a type of wine or spirit that you want to uncover.
  • Visit a (preferably local) wine or liquor store with a good reputation for knowledgeable staff and selection. Talk to the staff members and see what they can tell you about the store selection and how the product makes its way to the shelves. Ask them for their advice on the products and see what you can learn from them. Caveats: be sure and demonstrate humility and gratitude; and please quit before you are tagged as a stalker or a nuisance.
  • Take note of the price range exhibited for the product you are interested in; and purchase a representative (or otherwise interesting) bottle.
  • Taste the wine/spirit and record your tasting notes.
  • Thoroughly read the information found on the label(s) and packaging. It’s particularly interesting to note the information regarding the producer (winery/distillery), place of origin, and importer.
  • Go online and find the producer and/or importer’s website. See what you can learn from the marketing materials that pop up (which will be hard to miss). However, what you really want to find is information on how the wine or spirit was produced. Wineries often post winemaker’s notes and/or technical sheets. Distilleries often provide a link to “how it’s made” and/or pictures of their tanks and stills. Often, the best place to look for this type of information is on a navigation button that reads “trade materials” or “for the trade.”
  • Your goal is to learn as much as you can about the specific product, and well as the product category, particularly regarding the rules and regulations concerning production.
  • Considering the available price range and the price point of the bottle you bought, what factors do you think contributed to the price of your bottle? Why were the others more or less expensive? What is a specific production technique, age (or lack of it), supply and demand, what the market will bear, creative marketing, quality, reputation—or none of the above?

Happy hunting!

Click here to view our other posts on how to study wine and spirits.

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

Un-study Techniques: Trade Tastings with a Purpose

Hint: This is NOT the purpose of trade tastings.

This is the eighth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  Un-study techniques are all about what to do when you need to study…but you just can’t stand the thought of studying. Click here to view our other posts on un-study techniques.

Trade tastings—or consumer tastings—can be an excellent adjunct to your book-and-flashcard-based serious wine (or spirits) studies. With a bit of on-the-ground discipline, tasting events can be used to “fill in the gaps” in your tasting experience and/or to expand your understanding of wine theory. It just takes is a bit of planning.

Here are some ideas to ensure purpose-driven tastings:

  • Decide on an educational goal (or goals) for the event. Focus on this goal for your first hour at the tasting.
  • To focus on theory-based knowledge, prepare a list of questions in advance and ask the same question of each winemaker or rep. Your focus could be anything– wine making, marketing, food pairings, the region, distribution—whatever topic or topics you’d like to explore.
  • To focus on tasting skills, choose one of more of the following:
    • Varietal focus: Choose a varietal to focus on; and come equipped with a tasting grid that focuses on that variety. Taste five wines and record your impressions. After tasting all five, do a compare-and-contrast exercise.
    • Regional focus: Taste five wines from the same region. Record your impressions and see if you can detect a similar character in the wines.
    • Procedural focus: Taste five wines produced using the same technique—such as carbonic maceration, sur lie aging, or cold soak—and see if you can detect any similarity potentially derived from the process. Alternatively, taste five wines of the same “type” (such as rosé or Sonoma Chardonnay), but seek out wines that were produced using different winemaking techniques. Always remember to take notes!
    • Topographical or terroir-driven focus (extra credit for this one): Seek out wines that share a topographical similarity, whether it be high-altitude vineyards, limestone soils, or an exceptionally warm vintage.
    • Organoleptic focus: If there is a certain type of wine descriptor that you just don’t “get” or don’t particularly enjoy—such as floral aromas, salinity, minerality, black pepper aroma, earthiness, or gritty tannins—ask each table if they have a wine that showcases it. See if this can lead to an understanding or appreciation of these types of wine.

Click here to view our other posts on how to study wine and spirits.

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

Un-study Techniques: Conquer the Glass

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This is the seventh post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  Un-study techniques are all about what to do when you need to study…but you just can’t stand the thought of studying. Click here to view our other posts on un-study techniques.

For this un-study technique, we get to gaze deep into a glass of wine or a splash of spirits. However, we are not just going to sip and savor, this is more akin to thinking while drinking.

When dining (whether out-on-the-town or at home) as a serious student of wine, you choose your beverage wisely.  Of course, the delight of your guests and dining companions is the most important thing to remember, but when the occasion will allow, you can use each bottle (or glass) as a learning opportunity.

Use these ideas to develop your tasting skills with each new bottle or glass:

  • Consider the quality of the wine; is this typical of the grape variety, the region, the appellation, and/or the producer?
  • What is the fruit condition; are the grapes under-ripe, perfectly ripe, over-ripe or perhaps affected via botrytis, passerillage, appassimento or other factors? Does this make sense concerning what I know about the wine and/or the region?
  • What are the dominant aromas of the wine? Would you classify these aromas as primary, secondary, or tertiary? Based on what you know about the wine, does this make sense—or was it a surprise?
  • How would you describe the taste components of the wine—sugar acidity, bitterness, umami? Does this make sense, considering what you know about the wine?
  • How would you describe the body of the wine? What components comprise the structure of the wine—alcohol, tannin, sugar, acid? Does this make sense to you?
  • What do you think would be a good food pairing for this wine? Why do you think this pairing would work? If you are having food, how does the wine evolve in relation to the food? Why does this occur?

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Use these ideas to explore theory surrounding the wine:

  • What wine have you had recently that reminds you of this wine? In what ways are the wines similar?
  • What wine have you had recently had that is the opposite of this wine? In what ways are the wines dissimilar?
  • What wine would be considered the Old World/New World equivalent to this wine?
  • Why is this wine the way it is? Why is it so acidic/sweet/tannic or smooth?
  • If you were visiting this winery, where would you stop next? What other wine regions (or associated points of interest) are located nearby?

Click here to view our other posts on how to study wine and spirits.

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

Un-study Techniques: Wine (or Spirits) Map Scavenger Hunt

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This is the sixth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  Click here to view our other posts on un-study techniques.

Un-study techniques are all about what to do when you need to study…but you just can’t stand the thought of studying. You feel burned out, unmotivated, and like your brain can’t handle one more AOC, DOP, obscure grape variety, aging requirement, or other factoid. It happens to the best of us!

The next time you really need to study but you just can’t stand another book, handout, or flashcard…how about a scavenger hunt? Surely that sounds ok!

For just such an occasion, we’ve designed the “Wine (or Spirits) Map Scavenger Hunt” activity. This activity requires the use of the Google Maps search (“get directions”) function and should take between 30 and 45 minutes to complete (unless you choose to go down a photo search rabbit hole—but that’s up to you). The Wine (or Spirits) Map Scavenger Hunt activity will help you engage with and understand some of the regions/places/appellations on your wine and spirits maps (as opposed to just “memorizing” them—which gets exhausting).

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To go on a wine or spirits map scavenger hunt, the first thing you need to do is to pick the region you want to study. We have four scavenger hunts ready to go: Argentina, Bordeaux’s Left Bank, Napa County, and Scotch Whisky (these resources are found below).

Next, you need to download a wine or spirits map of the location you have chosen and print up the scavenger hunt location list. Using the wine or spirits map as a key, trace or draw a rough “blank map” of the region. We’ll be plotting our locations on the blank map as we go.

Then, fire up your internet connection and access Google Maps. Choose one item from the location list and allow the miracle of Google Maps to take you there. Look around a bit and make sure you are in the right place. You might want to click on some of the pictures, zoom out and use the satellite function to check out the terrain (if you are hunting in a wine region the vineyards are likely to be of interest), or zero in on your location and see what you can learn. Mark the location on the blank map you’ve drawn and make sure to note the name of the location and the region (appellation).

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Next, click on the icon for “directions” and type in the location that you think is closest to the first location (you can go in any order on the location list page—the list is randomized). You might want to choose the directions for walking, but it is probably best to choose driving directions. Once you’ve landed on the new location look around a bit (like you did before). Once you’ve satisfied your curiosity, plot the new location on your blank map (the paper-and-pencil version).

Continue using Google Maps to plot your locations. As you find them, re-arrange the items in the list of driving or walking directions so that you are plotting the most efficient way to navigate through the region whilst visiting each of your locations—this will help you learn distances between regions as well as the east/west/north/south orientation of your chosen spot.  When you are done you should have a nice record of your virtual trip through the region.

You can use the scavenger hunts we’ve posted below, or you can make your own. To make your own scavenger hunt, start with the wine or spirits map of your choice, draw or trace it in order to create a blank map, and then search one interesting spot in each area you want to explore. Use whatever type of establishment (winery, vineyard, distillery, historical site, restaurant/bar/wine bar, etc.) that will hold your interest and increase your understanding of the area. As you find your spots, use the Google Maps “directions” tool to map your course! Be sure to “log” each of your finds onto the paper-and-pencil map you made. After all…we do want to make this as (painlessly) educational as possible!

Happy Hunting!

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

Un-Study Techniques: Say it, Scream it, Sing it

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This is the fifth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  Click here to see our other posts about un-study techniques.

An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

If you just can’t stand to study….perhaps you won’t mind a bit of talking? Grab one page of notes or a short stack of flashcards—this is a great time to go straight for the information you can never seem to recall or understand. Just make sure to keep your material to a minimum so there’s no chance of overwhelming yourself.

Once you have your notes, read them out loud. When I do this I like to go all-in. Stand up straight, say it loud, say it proud, repeat it three times directly into the (fake) microphone. Then do it again. Say it, scream it, or sing it until you have it memorized. Then paraphrase it and say it again. Elaborate on it a bit—what else do you know about this topic?

Keep going. Repeat it ten times. Do it with a glass of wine or a shot of Bourbon and it gets fun and silly…and it’s very, very effective.

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Here’s why:

In the vocabulary of memory science, there’s something called the “production effect.” To put it simply, the production effect relates to the fact that a person will remember something that they said (even if it is a random string of words or sounds) much more than something that they read (silently) or something they heard someone else say.

I am inclined to think that this is likely to do with the fact that we like to hear ourselves talk (ahem), but the experts will tell us it is more than that—and the research that proves it is impressive. In a study reported by Psychology Today (as provided by Dr. W. R. Klemm) students who read a list of 160 items silently were able to recognize about 64% of them two weeks later…and the students who read them aloud were able to recall 77%. That’s worth speaking up for.

One explanation for the production effect is distinctiveness—something that is read, spoken, and heard is more distinctive (and therefore more memorable) than words that are “just” read silently. The literature describes this as such: “the additional dimensions of encoding for items read aloud can be subsequently used during retrieval” (Icht, Mama, and Algom, 2014). In other words, it helps us remember.

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Another reason this works is that it involves multiple senses (hearing and seeing) as well as motor activities (speaking). This fits in with the meaning of “production” – in the sense that you “produce something” when you use information rather than just reading it or hearing it. While it might be nice if the “production” created was a cupcake rather than a sound, a sound will do for purposes of your hungry-for-wine-knowledge long-term memory.

In addition to all of the scientific explanations, there is another, simpler one: we are seldom more engaged as when we are hearing ourselves talk.

So, the next time a day (or night) rolls around and you “just can’t stand to study,” well, don’t study. Instead, grab a small section of your notes, and talk it out.

References/for more information on the production effect:

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

Un-study Techniques: Watch the River Run 

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This is the fourth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  An un-study technique is an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to crack open a book or flip over a flash card. An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

This week’s idea is called Watch the River Run.

It works like this: Consider a river. Rivers are so relaxing and beautiful. I’ve always found rivers to be fascinating; they spring to life from someplace high in the hills, find their way to the valley floor, and snake their way across hundreds of miles  until they reach their final destination.

Map credit: Daniel Ullrich (Threedots) via Wikimedia Commons.

Lucky for us, we can contemplate a river all night…and wind up learning a lot about wine as well. Rivers are easy to research via google…Wikipedia will even work, although I’ve had the best luck with the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. To tie this into your wine studies (albeit ever so subtly), have your wine maps handy before you get started. To demonstrate this un-study technique, let’s follow the path of the Rhine River and see where it takes us!

The Journey: The Rhine River begins its journey high up in the glaciers of the Swiss Alps. From there it flows for over 765 miles until it reaches the Netherlands and flows into the North Sea.

The Source: The Rhine is actually formed from two headstreams, both beginning in southeastern Switzerland. The Vorderrhein River emerges from Lake Toma at an altitude of 7,690 feet (2,344 m).  The Hinterrhein Rivers begins at a place called San Bernardino Pass—about 20 miles away from Lake Toma—at an elevation of 6,775 feet (2,065 m).  These two rivers join at the Swiss village of Reichenau (elevation: 1,946 feet/593 m) to form the Rhine.

Switzerland to Liechtenstein to Austria: From Reichenau, the Rhine flows north to form the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Slightly further north, the river creates the border between Switzerland and Austria (in Austria’s far west, mountainous zone).

Stein am Rhein—a small town just west of Lake Bodensee in the Swiss Canton of Schaffhausen

Onward towards Germany: Just south of the northern border of Austria, The Rhine blends into Lake Bodensee—only to emerge by taking a sharp turn to the west. At this point, the Rhine is forming the border between Switzerland (to the south) and Germany (to the north) with just a small detour that means Rhine Falls (the largest waterfall in Europe) is located entirely within Switzerland.

Between Alsace and Baden:  After a 20-mile run on fairly flat land, the Rhine takes a sharp turn north near the Swiss city of Basel, and forms the border between France and Germany. The French wine region of Alsace is just to the west of the river, and just beyond the vineyards lie the Vosges Mountains. The German wine region of Baden, and beyond that the Black Forest, are located on the eastern side.

Beyond Baden: Once north of the French Border, the Vosges Mountains become the Hardt Hills, and the Rhine River continues northward between the the Pflaz and Rheinhessen regions to the west, and the small Hessische Bergstrassethe region to the east.

Rüdesheim am Rhein—a German wine-making town in the Rheingau Region

Sharp turn west: After the Main River flows through the Franken Region, it flows into the Rhine. Here, the Rhine River takes a sharp turn and flows westward alongside the Rheingau and a corner of the Nahe region.

The Middle Rhine: Just beyond the small town of Bingen, the Rhine turns again—this time to the northwest—and begins its journey along the 90-miles of the Middle Rhine. This is the area where the river flows through the Mittlelrhine wine region, cutting between the steep, slate-covered Hunsrück Mountains to the west and the Taunus Mountains to the east. This is also the area where the Mosel River (flanked by the vineyards of the region of the same name) flows into the Rhine.

Cologne and beyond: Once past the vineyards of Germany, the Rhine River passes through the German city of Cologne. Just beyond the German border, as the river flows into the Netherlands, it breaks into several wide branches and makes its way to the North Sea.

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If you want to make your session more interactive, try “free-style” drawing the course of the Rhine River from its source to the North Sea. See if you draw in the surrounding countries (and try not to forget tiny little Liechtenstein), and then pencil in the wine regions of Germany and Alsace. If you are feeling a touch less ambitious, use one of these Blank maps – rivers of Europe to get you started.

References/for more information on the Rhine River:

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

Un-Study Techniques: Your Five Minutes of Fame

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This is the third post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies. For our first post, click here.  For our second installment, click here.

An un-study technique is an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to crack open a book or flip over a flash card. An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

Here is this week’s idea; we call it Your Five Minutes of Fame. It works like this:

Instead of studying, pretend that you have an assignment to give a five minute presentation on wine (any wine, any subject). If you work with wine, assume that you are going to present to your employees or co-workers. If you don’t work in wine, let’s assume this is a five-minute talk given to students in an intro to wine class.

Your first step: Choose a topic. We’re just talking five minutes here, so you’ll need to choose a very specific topic. Here are a few ideas:

  • The white grapes of Bordeaux
  • Anjou rosés
  • Subregions of Champagne
  • Terroir of the Sonoma Valley AVA
  • The noble grapes of Alsace
  • Vin Santo
  • Soave
  • Chile’s east-west appellations
  • Vinho Verde
  • The Great Dividing Range
  • Cool-climate regions of Australia

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Narrow it down: As you can see, it’s easy to come up with a topic. Your next challenge is to narrow your focus down so you can create a five-minute presentation! Keeping your presentation short will force you to focus on the most important pieces of information concerning a topic…in other words, you need to use your critical thinking skills to determine the context and relative importance of all of the available information.

Five key points: For a five-minute presentation, you can easily make five key points. (Don’t fret if you need to expand into plus-or-minus-one-or-two, such is life.) If you are presenting on the rosé wines of Anjou, you five key points might be:

  1. Approximately 45% of Anjou wine is rosé (Anjou makes a range of wines, is most famous for Chenin-blanc based Vouvray, but rosé is a major product.)
  2. The grapes (Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Grolleau Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis)
  3. Cabernet d’Anjou AOC (Cab Franc + Cab Sauv, min 1.0% R.S.)
  4. Rosé d’Anjou AOC (mainly Grolleau, min 0.7% R.S.)
  5. Rosé de Loire AOC (produced throughout the Central Loire, but a good choice for a dry rosé at a maximum 0.3% R.S.)

That’s it!

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Keep it Simple: This caveat has nothing to do with your (pretend) audience, but rather this simple truth: you can’t explain something in clear, concise terms unless you have a true understanding of the subject. Anyone can ramble on about a topic…but only someone who really understands the topic can distill it down to a sentence or two. Albert Einstein said it better than I can, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Slides, slides, everywhere the slides: Whether or not you use power point or other types of slides “in real life” – this is a good exercise in consolidating your information and keeping this concise. So…make a slide deck with five slides only, and one of your key points per slide. (When you are done, you can add in an introductory slide and a conclusion, we won’t tell anyone.) Remember to stick to the “real rules” of slide design and do not fill them with words (no fair “reading slides” during your presentation.) Find a photo or make a graphic, and use a statement or two. Use the notes page of the slide to fill in as much detail as you want—this is where a lot of your “un-study” learning will come in.

Learn-by-teaching, learn-by-practice: Practice your presentation and have fun with it! You’ll soon experience the learn-by-teaching effect. Give the presentation to your family, friends, teddy bears, or the mirror. Record yourself and play it back. The point here is to internalize the information until you can talk about the subject naturally and with confidence…to the point where you could give the presentation extemporaneously. Once you’re there, you’ve learned the material—un-study techniques in action!

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