Week One, Day One: The Introduction to Wine Class

Next week starts a brand new semester and among the classes I’ll be teaching this block is my sentimental favorite – The Introduction to Wine Class.  I offer Professional Wine Studies, Wines and the Culinary Arts, and Wine and Food Pairing as well as semester-long looks at both Old World Wines and New World Wines, but the introductory class remains my favorite.

It’s great to see wine newbies go from “What is Wine” to “The Legend of Sassicaia” in just over 12 weeks.  I always like to start Week One/Day One simply enough with “Wine, Defined.”  I am sure that every wine educator out there has their preferred version of the answer to the question, “what is wine”?   My is quite simply, “Wine is a beverage produced by the fermentation of fruit, mainly grapes”.  Of course this answer leads to many questions and further disucssions…what is fermentation, why grapes, and “can you make wine from Welch’s Grape Juice”?  Of course, the answer is yes…it just won’t taste very good!

And it never fails, within the first ten minutes of class someone will mention the following subjects:  Boone’s Farm, Four Loko, Sangria, Hellow Kitty Wines, Prison Wine, Mad Dog 20/20, Saké, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot, Thunderbird, Mimosas, Cristal, and Ace of Spades.  Fellow wine educators, I bet you have your own list, I would love to hear about what your students ask on day one!

And somehow, we get through it all.  I like to have a basic “learn how to taste” session on Week One/Day One as well, both to get the class off to an engaging start and also to lay the ground work for the more detailed, directed tastings we will have as the class progresses.

My introduction to sensory evaluation class is admittedly quite technical.  I tell the students what the wines are, but I ask them not to focus on that one particular wine but rather to use the wine at hand to learn about the sensory evaluation of  “every wine or any wine.” 

I use just three wines; an unoaked, crisp Chardonnay (A Macon-Villages is ideal), followed by a simple yet sweet white wine (I’ve been using Flat Creek Estate Muscato D’Arancia), and finish with Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The basics of sensory evaluation class that I teach on Week One/Day One does not follow the basic steps of wine tasting.  We will get to all the expected steps (sight, swirl, sniff, snort, whatever…) in the course of the session, but not exactly in that order.  I tell the students that we are going to do approach the wines in the proper order (dry before sweet, white before red, light before heavy) and that we will let each wine “reveal” its secrets to us – in other words, each wine has something special to teach us. I choose my flight of three to include a wine that perfectly shows acidity, one that has sweetness, one with bitterness and tannin, and make sure that within the set of three, each of the major aroma families is there in an easy-to-recognize manner.  I want the class to be chock-full of “a-ha moments.”

Then I launch right in, teaching what I call “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor.”  The nine elements are: Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness, Tannin, Umami, Aroma, Body, Balance, and Alcohol.  I told you it was technical!  It does start off quite scientific, with discussions of pH, IBU’s, R.S. and ABV, but by the time we add aroma to the mix I make sure the step off the path of “paralysis by analysis” and let the students just relax and enjoy the flavor of the wine.  And somehow, it all comes together in the end.

If you’d like a copy of my handout about “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor” just send me an email request to”  missjane@prodigy.net .

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas.

Finals Week in Wine Class

It’s Finals Week!

Final exam week in Miss Jane’s 12-week professional wine studies class has arrived!  To answer your question, NO…the wine final does not involve binge drinking, glasses clinking or happy hour. Like most college-level courses in hospitality management or culinary arts, we have both a practical and a written final exam.  Our written final exam is scheduled for this Friday; a 100 question multiple choice test followed by three essay questions.  

Please note that the title of this course is “Professional Wine Studies.”  While many of the wine classes taught around the world center on tasting, this course is centered on basic wine knowledge and how to use it within the context of a hospitality career.  I focus the class on learning about basic wine styles (white, red, sparkling, dessert…yes, that basic); how they are made, where they are made, and the world’s best known or most popular examples.  We learn how to taste wine so that we can talk about wine, and spend several class sessions role-playing the role of the server, sommelier, or salesperson.  We use my “mad libs for wine” to learn to write meaningful, concise wine descriptions. We learn about beverage costing as it applies to wines by the bottle and glass. We spend a good deal of time of food and wine pairing, which makes sense as most of my students see themselves as future chefs.  Finally, we spend a good deal of time discussing how to write a wine list and market wine in a restaurant or other setting.

So for my final practical exam this semester, I came up with the idea of an exercise in writing a wine list.  I started out by surfing the internet for nice, clear pictures of wine labels. This took a while as I wanted to use wine labels from wines we had studied and my students would be familiar with.  I also wanted a good mix of red, white, dessert wines and sparkling wines.  I came up with a word file full of about 30 wine labels that includes Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja, Napa Meritage, Lodi Zin and Oregon Pinot for the reds.   For the whites I found Fumé Blanc, a nice German Riesling, an Aussie Chard…you get the idea.  I had six sparkling  wines including a few from California, a Cava, a Prosecco, and of course Champagne.  For the sweet wines I included Moscato d’Asti, Sauternes, Late Harvest Zin, Ruby Port and Muscat-Beaumes-de-Venise.  Remember, these are all wines that we had studied, and in most cases, tasted.

 I did a bit of cut and paste and gave every student a stack of 30 wine labels, and created a faux “wholesale price list”. Then, I gave the class two hours to write a wine list that was to include the following details:

  • Meaningful Categorization
  • Absolutely perfect listing of each wine to include producer, name of the wine, region of origin and vintage date (as applicable)
  • Progressive wine list format
  • A concise description of each wine (I like to use what I call a “five word description” such as “light, dry and crisp with fruity and floral flavors”.)
  • Two food pairing suggestions for each wine.
  • Pricing by the glass and bottle, as well as a spreadsheet detailing each item’s potential beverage cost and gross profit.

As they completed the project, I had every student bring their list up to me for a quick discussion and review.  Lots of learning can go in during that review period.  I had them describe how they chose to categorize their wines, how they arranged them in order and how the details of the list will be useful as a sales tool.

All in all, I have to say I think they all did a great job!  I was very impressed with the final projects, and think that it was a meaningful, active learning experience all around.  It was good exposure to the “nuts and bolts” of writing and designing a wine list.  Most importantly, we all had a great time and I feel it was a good example of active learning and a “flipped classroom”.

If you would like a copy of the materials I created for the class, click here: Bubbly Prof – Wine Labels for Wine List Project

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



The ABC’s of MCQ’s

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had me look over a 100-question multiple-choice test she had just written.  My friend works for a community college with a new culinary program, and she has been tasked with putting together a series of three professional wine studies classes that will ostensibly prepare students to take a certification test from one of the many groups in the U.S. that give wine people the opportunity to line the walls of their study with plaques proclaiming that the owner “knows a whole lot about wine” and lets them add a few letters following their name on a business card.  She has a lot of test writing in her future.

The first question on the final exam she was writing for the introductory class was, verbatim, as follows:

                1.  A wine region in South Africa is:
                                a.  Kirwan
                                b.  Tutuven
                                c.  Benguela
                                d. Robertson

 The answer is “D – Robertson” – but that’s about the only thing right about this question.

Much to my chagrin, the rest of her “test” was composed of 99 more questions, each very similar in style and content to the first. I knew we had a lot of work ahead of us and really needed to improve her questions, hopefully before they went out to any bright-eyed, hopeful wine students. After seriously considering how to word my comments to her, my response went something like this:

                1.  Which of the following items is wrong with the multiple choice question quoted above?
                                a.  The question is grammatically incorrect.
                                b.  The question tests single subject, knowledge-only learning.
                                c.  The question covers trivial information.
                                d.  All of the above. 
                The answer is “D – All of the above”!


It seems like the universe has deemed me something of an MCQ Maven, as I am tasked with reviewing tests such as these on a weekly basis.  Well, I guess that makes sense for an academic director. So, I thought I’d write down a few of the tips I was about to give my wine-teaching friend.  Perhaps they will help you as well!

 A.  When writing multiple choice questions, be grammatically correct! “A wine region in South Africa is Robertson” doesn’t sound correct even if I use my Yoda voice (which I do quite often).  To be grammatically correct about being grammatically correct, the question is confusing based on subject/predicate placement and uses the passive voice unnecessarily.  

Ideally, the stem of a MQC should be written as a complete sentence, and in the form of a question.  This is referred to in MCQ-lingo as the “direct question format” In the case of “question #1”, a proper direct question format would be:

                Which of the following is a wine region located in South Africa?
                Which of the following wine regions is located in South Africa?

Using the incomplete statement format (also known as “fill in the blank”) is also considered appropriate, but most test writers still prefer the direct question format and use the incomplete statement format only when a direct question isn’t feasible. For the sake of illustration, a proper incomplete statement format for this question would be:

                 _____________ is a wine region in South Africa.

 It’s grammatically correct, but I still don’t like it. You’ll see why, below.

 B.  When writing multiple-choice questions, ensure the validity of your test by emphasizing higher-order thinking skills.  In other words, don’t write a test that can be passed by anyone who just locks themselves in a Holiday Inn for the weekend and memorizes the text, only to forget it all by Tuesday. 

Writing “knowledge-only” test questions is faster and easier compared to writing questions that test for understanding.  However, as in all things, you get what you give. Writing a test chock-full of single-subject knowledge-only questions is inexcusably lazy and might just get your test thrown out for being invalid and unreliable (the mortal sins of the testing world).  Another sin is to quote directly from the text in your questions, unless the entire purpose of the test is to rate photographic memory recall. 

Avoid these sins by writing at least half of your questions in a manner that tests understanding of the material by using memory plus application, cause-and-effect, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, or integration of subject matter. Here’s a better test question about Robertson:

                 Which of the following wines is mostly likely to be produced in the Robertson wine region?
                                a.  A sturdy, Shiraz-based red wine made from grapes grown in South Australia.
                                b.  A dry, Riesling-based wine made from grapes grown in Western  Australia.  
                                c.  A high-volume, fortified wine made from grapes grown in  South Africa.
                                d.  A  boutique-produced  Meritage blend made from grapes grown in South Africa.  

Is it obvious why this test question takes longer to write than our original question?  First of all, it  avoids testing for trivia in that each distractor and the correct answer involves not just one but two pieces of factual information (all of which must be properly vetted, no matter how smart the test writer thinks himself/herself).  It involves memory-plus application in that students need to know a bit more about the wine region rather than just where it is and integrates several types of information about the topic.

Incidentally, such a question is actually easier for a well-prepared test taker to answer correctly than a shorter question. At first glance, it would seem like a more complicated question, but in reality the test taker has more than just one chance at remembering the facts specified in the question, and can call upon a broader base of knowledge to ascertain the correct answer.  This is also a good example of how to build some “validity” and “reliability” into your tests.

For much more information on writing MCQ’s that test for higher-order thinking skills, see my previous blog post here:  https://bubblyprofessor.com/2012/02/26/train-the-trianer-taxonomy-of-a-wine-test/


 C.   When writing multiple choice questions, don’t test for trivia! If my friend was writing a 100-question test on the South African wine industry, a question about Robertson would have been appropriate.  The way it stood, however, had me humming “can you guess which thing is not like the other” for days. Keep in mind that her test was intended to be a final exam covering three months worth of classes and a 653-page textbook.  The kicker is that the only mention of Robertson in the massive text is a table on page 427 that lists over 75 South African regions, districts, and wards in 8-point type.  The items offered as distractors are just as obscure.  There is no way that any student can get that question correct unless they are just plain lucky.  They could be lucky in that they just happen to remember reading “Robertson” in the midst of that periodic chart of S.A. regions, or they just took a lucky guess.  Either way, this question is not a valid indicator of wine knowledge…but it would make a great “Trivial Pursuit – South African Wine Geek Edition” question.

When writing single-subject knowledge questions, ensure that the knowledge being tested is based on a student learning objective of the course, not just trivial information. You should only use your single-subject knowledge questions to test for important or significant information. When writing such questions, don’t be fooled into thinking that MCQ’s concerning broad information such as the definition of “malolactic fermentation” must by definition be “easy” questions. The ease or difficulty of such questions is totally under your command.  The more similar the distractors are to each other and the correct answer, the more difficult the question will be. If malolactic fermentation is a key learning objective of your class, feel free to make it a difficult question.

One good way to manage this process is to sit down and think of the ten or twenty most important  concepts you want a graduate of your program to understand.  These should, of course, be reflected in your course objectives. Then, write a fair question for each of them, varying the level of difficulty across the test.  For example, I tell my students on the first day of class that every day we will have a “word of the day” and it’s very important that they know them.  My “words of the day” include such bon mots as Carbonic Maceration and Botrytis. I also emphasize “Miss Jane’s Top Ten Terroirs” throughout the class and tell the class they really need to know these ten wine producing regions and what goes on there.  My top ten terroirs include Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja…you get the idea.

Another good way to create knowledge-based questions is to write questions that cover more than one “tidbit” of information.  It is possible to write valid, knowledge-based MCQ’s if the question is integrated rather than single subject oriented.  Here are a few examples of integrated questions, all of which I suggested for use in place of my friend’s ill-advised question on Robertson:

                 Which of the following South African wine regions are located in the interior of the country?

                                a.            Worcester and Robertson
                                b.           Stellenbosch and Paarl
                                c.             Constantia and Elgin
                                d.            Elim and Klein Karoo

                (And the answer is… “A”!)

                 Franschhoek, Constantia, and Robertson are all well-known wine producing regions in which
                of the following countries? 
                                a.            New Zealand
                                b.            Australia
                                c.             Argentina
                                d.            South Africa 
                     (And the answer is… “D”!)
You’ll note that while these questions are knowledge-based (ok for about 50% of your test), they are not trivia-based in that they include more than one piece of information, both requiring and rewarding a broad base of knowledge and application as opposed to “I’ll take South Africa for 200, Alex”!

 Here’s a few more guidelines for writing MCQ’s:

  • Don’t quote from the text or test for information that is specific to just one source. In other words, don’t use your textbook’s description of Chenin Blanc (“apple, straw, melon”) and assume it is a universal definition.
  • Please keep in mind that there is a world of information beyond the text book that needs to be acknowledged.  I recently reviewed a test that asked “which of the following wines is exclusively red” and listed Châteanuf du Pape, Hermitage, Bordeaux and Beaujolais as possible answers.  You will note that none of these answers is exactly correct.   The supposed “correct” answer was Beaujolais, which I happen to know produces a white wine, albeit a somewhat obscure one.  My friend, who wrote the test, replied “but it’s not in the text.” Argh. By the way, mistakes such as this punish the student with broad knowledge and reward the last-minute text-memorizer.  Double Argh.
  • Properly vet each and every question and each and every correct answer and distractor.  That means solid research (well above and beyond just the text in use) on every question and question topic. This is to ensure that’s there is one (and only one) solid correct answer and yes, this this takes a lot of time. 


Good luck writing your multiple choice questions.  I am sure you will soon realize that while they do take a great deal of time to develop, a valid test is worth the effort. And don’t forget the payback…they are so quick to grade, as opposed to essay questions.  Stay tuned to this blog for future posts on writing and grading essay questions, by the way. 

 And please…help stamp out lazy test writers!

Flip Your Meetings!

The other day I was playing around online while waiting to board a plane.  I was finger-surfing on my iPad for articles on “flipping the classroom.” There’s been a lot of buzz about flipping the classroom, including here on The Bubbly Professor and lots of other blogs. The flipped classroom is such a great concept for teaching that it’s become my newest endeavor to read everything I can on the subject.

About ten minutes into my web surfing session I read a statement that literally changed my life. How often does that happen?

The statement was part of the introduction to what appeared to be a great article on flipping the classroom.  I say “appeared to be a great article” because I never read it.  This one sentence was so powerful I turned off the iPad, pulled out one of my handy-dandy yellow pads that I do all my “real” work on, and started writing.  My work life was forever changed!

Here is what I read, as close as I can remember:  “Do you leave meetings with more work to do than when the meeting began?”  Oh yes I do! Not only do I leave meetings with an elongated list of things to do, so does every poor soul who has ever attended a meeting that I was in charge of.

One simple sentence was to become my personal life-changing moment.  If you are the author of this sentence, please contact me.  I want to read the rest of your article.  I want to give you credit for this idea.  Most importantly, I want to worship at your feet for the rest of my life.

My True Story of Meeting-Flipping 

About two months ago, I had a faculty meeting.  My ten or so extremely dedicated  faculty members and I gathered around a round table and I led what I thought was a productive meeting.  The agenda had been distributed in advance, we had a lot of things to go over, and we had a lively discussion. Success (or so I thought)!

In my old (pre life-changing moment) way of leading meetings, it was a success. But in my new way of thinking….it was a waste of time!!!  Here’s why:  one of the items on my agenda was this:  Annual Faculty Development plans due by April 1!

What had actually happened during my “successful” meeting?  I distributed some information that could have been done just as easily (and much faster) via email, and everyone present left my meeting with “one more thing do.” And for the record, how many faculty development plans were turned in by April 1?  Zero!!!

The New Meeting World Order

So here’s how I led the next faculty meeting.  I sent out a meeting invitation that read as follows: “We will complete your annual faculty development plan at this meeting.  Please start thinking about what you would like to do this coming year in order to improve your teaching ability.  This can include conferences, seminars, courses you’d like to take, professional certifications you’d like to achieve or anything else you can think of.  See you next Friday!”

Faculty Development Friday

When the meeting came around, we met in the same conference room around the same table as we always had before.  But this time, when our hour was up, no one left the room groaning that they had one more thing to accomplish in an already busy schedule.  Instead,  everyone had a completed Annual Faculty Devlopment Plan.  It was fun, and it was easy. 

To start the meeting, I gave everyone a blank copy of our faculty development plan template.  I had everyone fill in their name, anniversary dates, employee Id numbers, all that stuff.  Then, we went down the list of items to fill out.

First item – Professional Certification:  “What professional certifications are you interested in pursing this year?  Who wants to work towards their CEC? Great, what are the steps.  Study, take the practice tests, take the written test, take the practical exam, complete the final application packet and mail off. If you are interested in the CEC write these steps down in section one and fill in the completion dates that will work for you.  Who would like to pursue a CSW?  Great, what are the steps?  Get a study guide, study, take the  practice tests, review with your mentor, take the written exam.  If you would like to pursue a CSW, write all that down in section one and fill in the dates that work for you.”  And so on, and so on…in about 15 minutes we had all finished section one.

Next section – Training offered Internally:  “Everyone write these down…Sticky Teaching on May 15, Brain Rules for Teachers on June 12, Bloom’s Taxonomy on July 25 (etc, etc.). These are the faculty development sessions that I will conduct in house.  You need to try to attend at least six of these and when you do, make sure to note on your faculty development form three take-aways from each session that you plan to use in your teaching in the coming year.”  Ten minutes later…section two done!

Next section – Training Obtained Externally: “Here’s a list of classes and workshops offered on-line.  Two have already been budgeted for each of you.  Pick the two that most interest you and write them on your form. If you have a conference or convention in mind that you’d like to attend, write it down and I will let you know if we can budget for it by the end of the month.” Twelve minutes later, section three done.!

Final section – Classroom Observations:  “Everyone write down the name of the class you are teaching this semester that you would like me to visit in order to conduct a classroom observation.  Same thing for next semester.  When the Fall and Winter schedule comes out, be sure and update your plan and let me know which class you’d like me to visit.”  Ten minutes later, we’re done.

One hour from start to finish and everyone has their faculty development plan done.  Everyone had the opportunity to benefit from the ideas and challenges of their colleagues.  Everyone is excited about the opportunity to improve their teaching skills. Everyone has a new professional certification goal in mind. Best of all, everyone – including me – gets to check one big giant thing off of their big giant “to do” list.

What else can I say? I’m a meeting flipper for life.  And if this was your idea….make yourself known!

Flipping the College Classroom

Flipping the College Classroom

For the past century, and probably for centuries before that, the typical classroom learning experience on just about every college campus in the world has remained the same. Oh sure, we’ve got PowerBooks and Power Point and lots of technological gizmos these days, but in most classrooms it’s the same as it ever was.  The faculty member – the Sage on the Stage – lectures while the students listen and take notes.

But oh how things have changed.  When I first started teaching my biggest problem was keeping an eye on students who were passing notes back and forth.  Now, it’s “Teacher vs. Twitter” as I am competing with Facebook, Google+, iPhones, iPads, Angry Birds and more.  The distraction factor is not even the worst part; it’s a true fact that just about everything I have to say in a three-hour lecture can be found via a three-second search on every student’s personal favorite electronic gizmo, sitting right there in their hand.   

Perhaps it is time for the classroom to change.

Lesson Plans in the Lurch.

To explain how the classroom can change, we first need to understand the learning process. To put it quite simply, there are two parts to the learning process:  transmission and assimilation. In a typical college classroom, transmission takes place as a professor lectures and students take notes.  Transmission also occurs during reading, although getting the students to actually read the textbook  is a challenge unto itself, and one that perhaps I should address at another time.

The second part of learning, assimilation, generally occurs outside a typical classroom as the student does homework, lab work, studies his notes, or takes part in a cooperative learning project.

Back to Bloom

If we refer back to the Learning Taxonomy of Benjamin Bloom, we can see that “transmission” involves the lower order level thinking skills of knowledge and understanding, while “assimilation” involves the higher order thinking skills of application, analysis, creation (synthesis) and evaluation.  In layman’s terms, “real” learning occurs outside the traditional classroom.

The big issue with this traditional model is that as the student’s cognitive load increases, the availability of help, in the form of the professor, decreases.  This model is reversed in a flipped classroom, where (to put it very, very simply) transmission occurs before class, and assimilation takes place during class, with the aid and help of the instructor.

Transmission…Before Class

The very technology that is causing widespread student distraction during class in the first place can be put to use in asking students to view a video of a lecture before class. Students can be assigned lectures to view via Youtube, iTunes or other media, and may be required to be involved in online chats or forum discussions. At its most basic, transmission before class can take the form of a good, old-fashioned text book reading assignment. 

Obviously, an excellent text book, a series of recorded lectures, and a reliable delivery system are pre-requisites for flipping the classroom. In addition, guided practice for basic knowledge and skills such as take-home or online quizzes or other types of homework should also be included and required as a “ticket for entry” into class.  Flipping a classroom just doesn’t work if the students don’t read, view, or do their assignments before class.

Assimilation…During Class

Instead of a lecture, the flipped classroom is used to reinforce, practice, and analyze the subject matter at hand through the use of a bank of interesting, challenging in-class assignments intended to assist in the assimilation phase of learning. In other words, you do your homework in class, where the teacher can watch over and guide you. Class time can also be used for debate, demonstration, discussion, and review of specific concepts.

Any instructor who has ever overseen a learning lab or a group project knows that directing activity in a classroom can be far more demanding than lecturing. Careful management and acute attention is demanded on a minute-by-minute basis in a flipped classroom, lest your well thought-out learning session turn into a group nap, a gossip session, or a brawl. (You professors know exactly what I mean.)

The Challenge for Educators

No one is saying that this type of teaching is easy. You are very likely to encounter student resistance, at least at first.  As a matter of fact, you should count on the fact that classes taught in this manner will be fraught with skeptical students for the first few weeks. Even students that say they play on Facebook all throughout class because the professor is boring are still likely to resist this alternative format as they are used to a class that requires very little in terms of effort, participation, and engagement.  Unfortunately, the ubiquitousness of the lecture format of teaching has bred a generation of students that are content to “zone out” for a few hours a day during class.

Student accountability is another issue. I’ve been in plenty of classrooms where it’s obvious the students didn’t do any of the assigned readings. I even had one student explain that he didn’t bother opening the book because “I did such a good job of teaching it.” (What do you say to that?) Accountability, such as readiness assessments done individually or in teams should be woven into the curriculum. However, the overriding hope for this method is that students will actually be better prepared for class because the materials are more engaging and they know that the class will be structured around the information assigned in advance.

Finally, this idea is not ideal for all disciplines, all subject matters, or even all the days in one particular course. I’ve found it works very well on about half of the days of my classes, and students need to know exactly what days to expect a flipped class.

What do you think…can you flip your college classroom?


The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas




Flower Power

One of the most rewarding (and labor-intensive) classes I have ever taught is called “Flower Power”.  I came up with the concept for my college-based wine club, “The Grapeheads,” after leading monthly wine events for basically the same group of people for four years…in other words, I was running out of ideas!

This was one of those times when I just wasn’t sure how it would go; it could either be a brilliant success or a dismal failure. The day before the event I almost gave up on the idea and was about to swap it out for a generic white wine class disguised as a  tasting of obscure grape varieties.  I even had a name…”Let your mind go blanc!”  In retrospect, it’s a good thing I didn’t go with the alternative, and whether through pure dumb luck or lots of effort in the preparation phase (I’ll never know), the Flower Power class turned out to be of my all-time best classes in both attendance and execution.

The point of the class is that floral descriptors are among the most misunderstood of all wine aromas. Not too many people, beyond the modest appeal of edible flowers, fancy drinking something that smells like a flower.  Plus, while floral aromas are exotic and pleasant, in the day and age of the concrete city most people’s closest interaction with floral aromas is shampoos, dish detergents, and perfumes.

Another issue with floral aromas is people just don’t recognize them beyond the basic “floral, wildflower, garden after the rain, or perfume” descriptors.  My opinion is most people just don’t interact with the real thing very often, and when they do it is far from an academic affair.  In other words, most people have not had the opportunity to really sniff the actual flowers and make a real effort learn to identify the aromas.  Most people I know wouldn’t know even be able to tell a gardenia from an orchid in any situation!

To introduce the session, I began with a brief lecture accompanied by some beautiful pictures of flowers via Power Point. I discussed the different floral aromas found in wines, described what wines are likely to show floral aromas, and introduced the “WineSpeak” often used to describe floral aromas in wine.

Next, (this was the labor-intensive part), we had a flower-sniffing session.  I had 12 different types of flowers, labeled and arranged ever-so-cutely in wine glasses for a walk-around sniffing. Next to each flower, I had a sample glass in which I placed a few flower petals over which I poured a small splash of wine.

On another table, I had some well-labeled floral essential oils; these were presented via a cute little cotton ball in an even-cuter wine glass.  I also used—I must admit—some candles (yeah Yankee Candle Store). All told we had 25 different floral aromas represented.

Finally, to round out the day, we did a blind tasting of some exotically scented wines that exhibited floral aromas.  Taking a chance on this oddball of a class turned out to be worth it, and I was amazed at the ability of my students to recognize and identify those floral aromas! Of course, the wine was delicious as well.

Here’s a copy of the handout I presented that day:

Flower Power:  Wines and Floral Aromas

Don’t worry or leave:  Using a floral descriptor for a wine does not mean that you wine is about to taste like flowers, perfume or shampoo. Floral is style descriptor that applies mainly to a wine’s scent.  That being said, many wines have an intoxicating floral aroma.

It”s normal if find this hard to grasp:  since most floral aromas are somewhat exotic, you are not likely to come into contact with such scents everyday.  Keep an open mind and practice! You can experience floral aromas at the flower shop, a candle store, an herb shop (as in dried flowers or essential oils)…and you may find that you develop an appreciation for floral characteristics in wine.

Common floral aromas that reveal themselves in wine:

  • Acacia
  • Gardenia
  • Hibiscus
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hyacinth
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Lily
  • Orange Blossom
  • Rose
  • Violet

Other terminology  you may use to recognize or describe floral aromas are:

  • Wildflowers, Dried flowers, Dried roses
  • Rose perfume, Perfume
  • Old lady perfume (my personal favorite, and one that everyone understood)
  • Wedding bouquet
  • Walking through the Garden (as if WineSpeak wasn’t wacky enough)
  • Nivea Cream (this one you have to experience to believe)
  • Linalool, Honey

Grapes (and Wines) that Lend Themselves to Floral Aromas Include:

  • Albariño
  • Beaujolais
  • Bordeaux
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gamay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Muscat/Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Torrontes
  • Viognier

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

Mad Libs for Wine!

It never fails…the first time I stand in front of a new wine class and describe a white wine as having aromas of “lemon, lime, green apple, and apricot” I get either a sea of blank stares or an uncomfortable laugh track.  A few weeks into the class, however, my students are begging me to teach them how to “impress their friends and annoy their enemies” by crafting an impressive sounding wine description.

My response:  “You mean one like this?”

“Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a dry, medium-bodied white wine.  The nose reveals the fruity, floral, and  mineral aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, gooseberry, orange blossom and wet stones.  This wine is herbal and fruity on the palate, with lively acidity; followed by a refreshing, slightly bitter lemon-peel finish.”

And then, in the course of an hour, I teach them to use “Mad Libs for Wine” – in other words, a fill-in-the blank template that allows even beginners to create an accurate (and yes, impressive sounding, if you’re into that) description of any wine.  We just take ten simple facts about the wine and string them together into a few sentences.

Try it for yourself!

The WineSpeak 101 Description Template:

To write your own wine description, use the WineSpeak 101 descriptor crib to fill in the blanks on this template.  Your completed description will characterize the wine using the following basic facts:

  • Name of the Wine 
  • Level of Sweetness
  • Mouthfeel – aka “Body”
  • Type of wine (the easiest, but your customer needs to know!)
  • Aroma   Categories
  • Specific  Aromas
  • Flavor  
  • Acidity for white wines, tannin level for reds 
  • Finish  – length 
  • Finish  – description 

 ___________________________________ (Name of the wine) is a _______________ (Sweetness),

 __________________________________ (Mouthfeel) ,   _______________________ (Type of) wine. 

 The Nose reveals the ____________________________________________ (Aroma Categories) aromas 

 of ____________________________________________________________ (Specific Aromas) .

This wine is ___________________________________________________________ (Flavors) and 

____________________________________________ (Acidity or Tannin, or both) on the palate, followed by a  

_____________________ (Finish – Length) , __________________________ (Finish – Description)  finish.

As you can see, it’s not exactly a party trick, but if you know your way around the typical wine vocabulary, it’s easy to put together a meaningful wine description.  My students are amazed at how well they can discuss their impressions of a wine after just a few practice sessions.  This technique works so well that I wrote an entire textbook on “WineSpeak 101” a few years ago, and still use it today in my teaching.

Please…try it for yourself and enjoy your studies!

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

You Teach Wine Online?

Many of my colleagues- and most of my friends – find it quirky that I teach wine classes online.  Just about every time the subject comes up, I get asked, point-blank, “How does that work”?  The simple answer is that I teach an academic, theory-based professional wine studies course…not the type of wine tasting class one might take at the local wine bar.

Of course, most people still don’t get it.  However, I can tell you that online wine courses are big business.  Over the past five years I have taught up to three online wine courses at a time, each worth three college credits and lasting between six and eleven weeks, and they’ve all been full, most with a waiting list of students eager to join.

The basics of my online wine class, like all the other online classes I teach, revolves around reading, online chats, individual and group assignments, and discussion forums.  Here is a typical week worth of classroom assignments and activities:

  • Two or three chapters of assigned reading in a text book or other assigned readings.
  • Two or three “online chats” which resemble the “webinars” that most of us are familiar with.  I design the visuals, provide a lecture, and using teleconferencing or the platform’s  chat function, create an interactive classroom for about an hour at a time (it’s exhausting).  These are recorded and available for viewing on the online class platform.
  • One or two discussion forums where I post a discussion topic and students can, over the course of the week, post their ideas and opinions. Facilitiating an online discussion is certainly a learned skill.
  • An individual or group written assignment. Feedback on written assignments in a online classroom is paramount, and assignment-specific rubrics need to be designed and made available to students at the beginning of class. 

Ok, I still know what you are thinking…”but how do you teach wine online”?  In this type of class, it is not about tasting (although it can be done, more on that at a later date).  To give you a better idea of how this works, here are some examples of discussion forum topics I have used in teaching wine online.

Discussion forum topic:  A customer in your fine dining restaurant orders the following three-course meal:  Scallop Ceviche with Candied Jalapeno, Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Glaze served with Couscous and Grilled Asparagus, followed by a cheese plate with Gorgonzola, Brie, and Manchego Cheeses.  Your customer is dining alone, and would like you to suggest one bottle of wine that would go well with all three courses.  What wine would you recommend to him and why?

Discussion forum topic: A customer in your wine bar has just “discovered” Chianti and it is his “new favorite wine”.  He requests a glass of Chianti, but you do not carry Chianti, or any Sangiovese-based wine for that matter.  What wine would you recommend to him and why?  Be sure and describe  the attributes that your chosen wine has in common with Sangiovese-based wine, how it differs from a Sangiovese-based wine, and what it is about this wine that you feel would appeal to your customer.

Discussion forum topic:  You are the food and beverage director of a large resort hotel.  You are holding a training session for six new servers and are discussing the wine list.  One of your new recruits is surprised that your wine list includes a large selection of rosé.  She wrinkles her nose and says something like “that’s what my mom drinks – it’s like Kool-Aid!  I thought this was a fancy place”!  How would you address her comment? 

Stay tuned later this week for further discussion of teaching wine online, including examples of individual and group project assignments.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about online teaching, contact me at missjane@prodigy.net


Train the Trainer: Taxonomy of a Wine Class

In a previous blog post we learned all about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives, and how using this concept in the design and implementation of your classes (even your wine classes) can lead to improved student learning (and engagement and retention.)

If you didn’t catch the first post in this series, you can read it here:


As promised, here are some sample learning objectives for a class on food and wine pairing, for each  each level of the hierarchy. You can read the source material here

Additionally, as faculty often find it a challenge to develop effective test questions above the level of “knowledge” or “memory”(particularly multiple choice questions), I offer sample MCQ’s at each level.

Level 1: – Knowledge – Remembering

  • Learning Objective: List the three most important concepts to consider when pairing food and wine.
  • At this level, one simply requires the recall of information.  Warning!  A test at this level can be passed by a night of drunken “cramming” before a test, and the information forgotten by the next night of drinking!!
  • Please do not: Use this level for more than 50% of your test questions.

 Sample MCQ:  Which of the following represent the three most important concepts to consider when pairing food and wine?

  • A . Fruit, Flavor, and Tannin
  • B.  Taste, Flavor, Texture
  • C.  Fruit, Flavor, and Texture
  • D.  Taste, Flavor, and Tannin

Level 2:  Comprehension – Understanding

  • Learning Objective:  Identify what components of the food and wine equation  are almost always the most important consideration in a food and wine pairing and explain why.
  • At this level, knowledge of the three components is assumed and one tests for understanding of this knowledge.

Sample MCQ:  What components in a food are almost always the most important consideration in a food and wine pairing?

  • A.  Taste components, because specific tastes in foods will change the way wine is perceived in a predictable manner.
  • B.  Taste components, because they can be either matched or contrasted.
  • C.  Flavors, because tastes can only be matched while flavors can be matched or contrasted.
  • D.  Flavors, because “natural affinities” are among the best food and wine pairings.  

Level 3:  Application – Applying

  • Learning Objective:  Determine what is the most important element to consider when pairing wine with a specific dish, demonstrated by the following dish:  Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce served on a bed of Asparagus Risotto. 
  • Note that at this level, knowledge of the background to the question is assumed to be both known and understood, and students are expected to apply this knowledge and understanding.  In this case, we are looking for the student to apply a known set of food and wine pairing principles.

 Sample MCQ:  When choosing a wine pairing for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce, what is the most important element to consider?

  • A. The lemon flavor of the sauce.
  • B. The flavor intensity of the grill marks.
  • C. The saltiness of the fish.
  • D. The acidity of the lemon sauce.

Level 4:  Analysis –Analyzing

  • Learning Objective:  Break down the various components of a dish or menu and determine what components are dominant and the effect each would have on a wine pairing. For instance, what impact would the acidity in a dish have on a white wine?
  • Note that the student is assumed to know and understand the information and to apply the information.  This objective stresses the ability to break down the food and wine in question into their component parts and assume an outcome.  Note that this question does not require the student to create a pairing (level five) or evaluate whether or not this is a good pairing (level six).

 Sample MCQ:  What effect would the Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce produce when paired with Sauvignon Blanc?

  • A. It would make the acidity in the wine more pronounced.
  • B. It would make the acidity in the wine less pronounced.
  • C. It would bring out the bitterness in the wine.
  • D. It would make the fruity flavors of the wine pop.


Level 5:  Synthesis (Creation) – Creating

  • Learning Objective: Design a wine pairing of three different wines to complement the grilled halibut dish.
  • At this level, the student needs to have the knowledge and the comprehension of the principles of food and wine pairing, be able to apply it to a real-world example, and be able to analyze the components of both the food and the wines before he or she can create the pairing.

 Sample MCQ: Which of the following wine flights would make the best pairing for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce, based on the proper taste components and a potential flavor bridge?

  • A.  Oaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer
  • B.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer
  • C.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier
  • D.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling

Level 6:  Evaluation – Evaluating

  • Learning Objective:  Evaluate specific wine choices for a specific dish, and give your opinion on the quality of the pairings.  For instance, evaluate whether an oaked chardonnay a good choice for the grilled halibut dish in the previous question, and discuss why or why not. 
  • At this level, the student is expected to know, comprehend, apply and analyze the principles of food and wine pairing, and, describe the outcome of the pairing, and form an opinion on whether or not this is a good match.

Sample MCQ:  Is oaked chardonnay a good choice for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce?  Why or why not?

  • A.  Yes, because the acidity is a good match and the saltiness of the capers will work well with the oak.
  • B.  No, because while the acidity is a good match, the saltiness of the capers will potentially clash with the oak.
  • C.  Yes, because the flavors of the lemon in the sauce will work well with the lemony flavors of the wine.
  • D.  No, because the flavors of lemon in the sauce will clash with the tropical flavors of the wine.

I hope this post gives you some guidance and encouragement to teach to all levels of the learning taxonomy.  I also hope it shows teachers that effective exam questions, even Multiple Choice Questions, can be written at all levels of the learning taxonomy and that we stop giving exams that are basically “wine trivia contests”. 

I realize that this method of teaching and writing tests is not simple, but it does get easier with practice.  However, keep in mind that teaching and testing to the higher levels of the learning hierarchy will enhance the quality of your teaching and the  validity of your exams – guaranteed! 


Train the Trainer: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

Benjamin Bloom  (1913 – 1999) was an interesting gentleman indeed.  Back in the 1940’s and 50’s he held several impressive roles in higher education, including 16 years as the “University Examiner” at the University of Chicago.  In this position, he analyzed and approved the university’s tests to determine if undergraduates had mastered the material necessary for them to receive their bachelor’s degrees. He also wrote or co-authored 18 books on education, all of them with the goal of “enhancing student learning”.

During his time as University Examiner, he discovered that over 95% of the test questions students encountered required them to think at only the lowest possible level…the recall of information.  In other words, most tests – even at the University level – resembled nothing more than a “memory trick.” 

I have to admit, I agree.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest issues in education, including wine education, today.  A  while back, I was asked to look over a took a wine test written by a friend of mine.  It was intended to be the final exam in a semester-long “Professional Wine Studies”  course she was teaching at a 2-year college as part of a hospitality management program. Much to my chagrin, the test amounted to nothing more than a really long wine trivia contest. She could have sold it to Hasbro as “Trivial Pursuit – Vinous Version“!

The issue I had with the test is that all it really assessed was memorization. Very few, if any, of the questions required even the slightest bit of comprehension, application or evaluation.  Sorry to say, my friend was a member of the dreaded “lazy test writer club.”  The test she was about to give could have been passed by anyone who locked themselves in a closet with a copy of The Wine Bible for two days before the test.  Of course, the day after the test they wouldn’t remember a thing.  (We fixed the test before it went out to the examinees – global wine education crisis averted!)


Back to Benjamin Bloom and his solution for all this. 

In 1954, after a series of educational conferences, Bloom was tasked with leading a committee with the goal of improving  the quality of  teaching practices, curriculum development, and the validity of university exams. The result was a classification of learning objectives – the goals that educators set for learners – built around a hierarchy of levels of understanding.  In an ideal learning situation, students would master the lowest levels of learning, such as knowledge and memorization, and then move up to learning at the “higher order thinking skills” such as application, evaluation, and synthesis. If applied properly, this idea should influence or even change the way you teach, and equally importantly, how you design your tests. 

Here is a very quick overview of the six levels of learning, paraphrased in my own words. I hope they meet with Mr. Bloom’s approval.

Level 1:  Knowledge – Remembering

  • Definition:  Student recalls or recognizes information, ideas, or principles in the approximate form in which they were learned.
  • Good for:  Dates, Events, Places, Vocabulary, Key Ideas, Facts, Figures.
  • Please don’t: Write all your test questions at this level.   

 Level 2:  Comprehension – Understanding

  • Definition:  Student translates, comprehends, or interprets information based on prior learning.
  • Good for: Finding meaning, Interpreting facts, Giving examples.

 Level 3:  Application – Applying

  • Definition:  Student uses the information to solve a problem or complete a task.
  • Good for: Use of information in new situations, solving problems, case studies.

 Level 4:  Analysis –Analyzing

  • Definition: Student breaks down information into simpler parts and understands patterns and organization. 
  • Good for:  Recognizing and explaining patterns and meaning, seeing the “parts and the whole”, breaking things down, critical thinking.

Level 5:  Synthesis (Creation) – Creating

  • Definition:  Student originates, integrates and combines ideas into a product, plan, or proposal that is new to him/her.
  • Good for: Building things up, putting concepts together, creating new ideas, plans, or products.

 Level 6:  Evaluation – Evaluating

  • Definition:  Student appraises, assesses, or critiques on a basis of specific standards and criteria.
  • Good for:  Making recommendations and choices, assessing value, critiquing ideas, predicting outcomes.  

Due to its long history and popularity,  the actual wording and order of the “hierarchy” has been  revised, condensed, expanded, modernized, and re-interpreted in a variety of ways over the past 60 years.  However, Bloom’s Taxonomy has clearly stood the test of time.  Every teacher should use this material. 

It’s the year 2012, and a seminar on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives is included in my annual faculty development plan this year, as it is every year.  It’s one of the most important concepts I want my faculty to know..and comprehend, and apply, and analyze and evaluate.

Stay tuned later this week when I’ll provide some examples of “Bloom’s Taxonomy in Action” in wine education and testing.