The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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This post is the second in our series on Un-study Techniques, or How to learn about wine when you just can’t stand to study any longer. Click here for: our first post, titled “How to Succeed at Wine Studies without Really Trying”.

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 we offer an un-study technique we call “The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” Here’s how it works:

For starters, choose a wine-related (or wine-adjacent) place or thing—not a wine, winery, or an appellation—but rather something like a mountain, river, monument, city, statue, or village. This can be approached one of two ways: either start with something that is of particular interest to you, or go random and throw a dart. Here are a few ideas for your first topic:

  • The Hill of Hermitage
  • The Riddoch Highway
  • Lake Garda
  • Santa María la Real de Irache (the Monastery of Irache)
  • Mount Aconcagua
  • The Abbey of Sant’Antimo
  • The Cathedral of Reims

If none of these float your boat, we have more. Click here for a pdf of: The Big Picture is worth a Thousand Word – Suggested Topics

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Once you’ve chosen your place-or-thing, do a Google Image search and find an image that you just love (and, ideally, peaks your curiosity or wanderlust). Print out the picture (or just leave it on your computer screen) and go for it—do some research, and find out everything you can about your chosen mountain-river-monument-city-village-building-statue-or whatever. Be on the lookout for something fun, humorous, or just plain fascinating about the topic. What you’re doing is building some meaningful context that will help in the next step…which is, of course, studying the wines of the place.

The point of this exercise is that your newly-found contextual knowledge—besides the fact that it is engaging and will undoubtedly make you a more fascinating companion—is that it is likely to allow you to more easily understand and recall the need-to-know details about wines of the area. And yes, that’s the next step…study the wines of the area! Ideally, your new-found background knowledge will spike your curiosity and help you break through that “can’t stand to study” rut you’ve temporarily fallen into.

Be advised: this study technique is likely to result in you heading out the door to find a bottle of said wine—that is, if you didn’t purchase one in advance. Just don’t forget to record your tasting notes before the bottle is gone.

Stay tuned for more un-study techniques in the coming weeks and months, and as always, enjoy your (un) studies!

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

 

How to Succeed at Wine Studies without Really Trying

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Stay tuned for more un-study techniques in the coming weeks and months, 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.

Terroir:

  • 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)?

Grapes:

  • 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?

Terminology:

  • 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.

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

How to Pass the CSW: “Do I Need to Study the Maps?”

world map backgroundBeing the Bubbly Professor, I get lots of emails asking the question, “How do I study for the CSW?”  Usually people that contact me have been studying a while – thankfully – and have many more specific questions as well.  Since I have spent so much time answering these questions on a one-on-one basis, I figured it was time for a new series of posts:  “How to Pass the CSW!” 

I really should call this series “How to Study for the CSW” but somehow “How to Pass…” just seemed like more fun.  So stay tuned as I try to address these questions one by one.

“Do I need to study the maps?”  Yes. 

“Do I need to know everything on the maps?”  This is one of the most common lines of questioning I receive.  It’s like people don’t want to have to study the maps.  However, let me make it perfectly clear:  Yes, you need to study the maps.  Yes, you need to know everything on the maps.

Hold on, it’s about to get even better, because imho, if a wine region is listed on a map, someone up at SWE thinks it is important, and you should also know what types of wine they produce there, including the grape varieties and any tidbits about terroir or production methods that are noted in the text of the CSW Study Guide.  You should also know where the region is located in relation to other wine regions, as well as the rivers, mountain ranges, and cities that surround it.  If any specific geographical information is including in the text, you might need to know that as well!

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia.

Napa County lies north of San Pablo Bay.

Chile is almost 3,000 miles long and barely 100 miles wide in most spots.

These bits of information are what I call “factoids.”  Factoids are seemingly random pieces of information and can be baffling to study – if all you are trying to do is memorize them.  A factoid such as “New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia” seems trivial – unless you put it in context.  So please don’t try to just memorize random factoids.  You will get bored and shut down; you might as well try to memorize a series of non-sequential numbers.  More importantly:  The brain just isn’t good at it. 

What the brain is very good at doing, however, is learning meaning, context, and stories.  The New Zealand/Australia factoid makes perfect sense, and is pretty memorable, when put in context.  We could weave the factoid into a story such as:

“Many people studying for the CSW lump the wines of Australia and New Zealand together and call it something like “wines from down under.”  However, the two land masses are separated by 1,200 miles of ocean – they are about as close together as San Diego and Dallas. Australia and New Zealand have more distance between them than Tuscany and the Mosel.   

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

This means that the climates of Australia and New Zealand have little in common except the name of the nearest ocean.  Australia is hot and dry and only hospitable to grapes in certain regions along the coastlines or clustered around the Great Dividing Range.  New Zealand has a maritime climate, and is even cooler than one might imagine due to the fact that most of the country lies within 50 miles of the frigid South Pacific Ocean.

This huge distance also means that New Zealand is quite isolated, considering that Australia is its closest neighbor. To the south, there’s nothing but ice – Antarctica is the only continent south of New Zealand. Chile, its closest neighbor to the east, is over 5,000 miles away.   Seeing as how sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, this isolation makes for some interesting challenges, particularly when it comes to mobilizing a non-existent labor force for harvest.

That’s what you need to learn from the maps. Does it make sense? Sure does.  Is it a good story?  Hell yeah.  Will you remember it?  Just try not to.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas – missjane@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!