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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chenin Blanc

The Soundbyte:  Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley Region of France and is widely grown throughout the Loire and the new world.   

Chenin Blanc produces a fruity, floral, easy to drink white wine with clean, fresh flavors and a good zing of acidity.   However, this is no simple little white wine grape; Chenin Blanc can be made into serious, mineral-driven dry wines, methode traditionnelle sparkling wines, and decadent botrytis-affected dessert wines in addition to the well-known, and much beloved “porch sipper” style.    

Typical Attributes of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

  • Dry Chenin Blanc wines are generally light bodied and fruity, with floral and nutty overtones.
  • Chenin Blanc has a good deal of acidity, but balanced with the fruity, or sometimes sweet, tastes and flavors typical of the grape it generally comes across as a smooth, easy to drink and easy to love wine.
  • Dry Chenin Blanc tends to be low-alcohol and refreshing to drink.
  • Chenin Blanc’s delicate character makes it a good match for delicately flavored foods.  It can also be used as a wine match for interesting, spicy, or blended “fusion-style” flavors;   Its delicacy means there are few flavors that will “clash” with such foods.
  • Chenin Blanc is also made into Sparkling wines in the Loire Valley and other regions.
  • Due to its racy acidity, Chenin Blanc also stars as a dessert wine often produced in a late harvest or botrytis-affected style.
  • Chenin Blanc also has a serious side, and the steely, nervy, mineral-driven wines of Savenniéres have been called “the most cerebral wines in the world”.  

Typical Aromas of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Melon, Green Apple, Green Plum, Pear, Quince, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Greengage (a light green plum popular in France and England).

Floral/Herbal:  Orange Blossom, Wildflowers, Perfume, Honey, Honeysuckle, Acacia, Grass, Hay, Angelica (a herb that smells somewhat like celery, is often candied, and is used to flavor Chartreuse)

Chalk, Mineral:  Flint, Smoke, “Steely”

Nutty:  Almond, Marzipan

Where The Best Chenin Blanc is Grown:

  • The Loire Valley in France, notably the regions of Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, Savevnnières, and Saumur.  The Loire Valley is thought to be the native home of Chenin Blanc, and it is used to make just about every type of white wine possible.  The region of Savennières produces bone-dry, steely versions, while Anjou, Montlouis, and Vouvray are made in a variety of styles from dry to sweet.  Saumur and other Loire regions produce sparkling Chenin Blanc from dry to sweet, and world-class dessert wines are the specialty of Bonnezeaux and Quarts-de-Chaume. 
  • Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted white wine grape in South Africa, where for centuries it has gone by the name of “Steen.”  The grape may have been one of the original grapes planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or may have come to South Africa with the French Huguenots who arrived a bit later.
  • California, Washington, New Mexico and several other U.S. States
  • Australia, where it is often blended with Semillon, and New Zealand, where it is grown in small amounts on the North Island.
  • Many other wine producing regions and countries, including the emerging regions of Israel, Brazil, Urugauy, and Mexico, have plantings of Chenin Blanc.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Delicately Flavored Seafood, Smoked Seafood, Shellfish
  • Chicken  and Poultry, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras
  • Ham, Prosciutto, Bacon
  • Goat’s Cheese
  • Crudities and Dips
  • Potato Dishes, Vegetarian Dishes
Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:
  • Curry, Indian Spices, Asian Spices
  • Capers, Herbs
  • Mushrooms, Avocado, Zucchini, Endive, Spinach
  • Honey (go easy on the sweetness with dry wines)
  • Almonds, Hazelnuts
  • Apricot, Melon, Apple

Click here for a review of my Favorite Chenin Blanc of all Time!

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

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Viognier

The Soundbyte:  Viognier seemed literally an endangered variety only a few years ago, but is now recovering worldwide in terms of both both popularity and acreage. Viognier makes unique white wines that will bowl you over with a its outrageous floral aromas and peach-pear-apricot fruit flavors. While Viognier will beguile you with its gorgeous aroma and yellow-gold hue; make no mistake, this wine can pack a punch in terms of body, flavor, and alcohol…all in a great way, of course!   

 Typical Attributes of a Viognier-Based Wine:

  • Intriguing Floral Bouquet combined with apricot, peach, and pear aromas.
  • Tropical fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel.
  • Even without oak aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay.
  • Deep golden color.
  • Rich and intense in flavor, sometimes high in alcohol, although the overall richness makes the alcohol not very noticeable.  Proceed with caution!
  • Viognier is quite low in acid. This makes for a smooth, velvety palate…but it might be best not to pair this wine with high acid foods.
  • I have had a few late-harvest dessert wines made from Viognier, and they are delicious!

Typical Aromas of a Viognier-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Over-ripe Apricot, Mango, Pineapple, Citrus, Apple, Pear, Peach

Floral:  Honey, Acacia, Orange Blossom, Violet, Honeysuckle, Wildflowers

Spicy:  Anise, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla

Herbal:  Mown Hay, Tobacco, Mint

Butter, Cream

Where The Best Viognier is Grown:

  • The Northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet produce amazing white wines from 100% Viognier.
  • In the Southern Rhône and throughout the south of France, Viognier is often used to add fragrance and to soften and lighten the red G-S-M or Syrah-based wines of the Rhône.  Even if you wouldn’t know it from looking at the label, a red Rhône or G-S-M blend can have up to 10% ov Viognier in the mix.
  • California, particularly the warmer regions such as Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.
  • The State of Virginia is beginning to make some excellent Viognier, and Texas makes some nice versions as well!
  • Australia makes some excellent versions.
  • Plantings in France’s Languedoc, Roussillon, and Provence regions are expanding.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Pungent Cheeses
  • Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Salmon, Smoked Salmon
  • Smoked Food, Poultry, Turkey, Pork

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tropical Fruits, Pears, Apricot, Peach, Orange
  • Curry, Ginger, Clove, Cinnamon
  • Sweet Onions, Garlic, Coconut, Honey
  • Herbs, Corn, Polenta, Walnuts, Hazelnuts
  • Butter, Cream, Fresh Cheeses

Click here for a recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic – a “perfect pairing partner” recipe for Viognier.

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Riesling

The Soundbyte:  Much-maligned and misunderstood due to those overly sweet, bright blue and pink bottles resting on the bottom shelf at the supermarket, Riesling is actually considered to be among the leading white wine grapes in the world.  Riesling produces some of the world’s finest, most complex, and long-lasting white wines.  It is considered to be native to Germany, where its cultivation can be traced back thousands of years. 

The Riesling grape is renowned for its ability to walk a tight rope of a balancing act in its combination of sugar and acid,  resulting in wines that somehow manage to be both delicate and complex.  As for the pronunciation of the name, you have to smile in order to sy it correctly – go look in the mirror!

 Typical Attributes of a Riesling Based Wine:

  • Riesling has the  amazing ability to be both very fruity and very acidic at the same time.
  • Riesling’s  acidic backbone and complex, balanced flavors give it the ability to age.
  • The world’s great Rieslings are grown in cool growing regions and made into dry white wines renowned for their bracing acidity; terms like steely, nervy, racy, tongue-splitting and precise come to mind as good ways to describe the potential acidity of a Riesling in all its glory.
  • Despite my devotion to the dry Rieslings of the world, I must admit that many of the Rieslings on the shelf have a degree of residual sugar in them which may or may not be detectable due to the balancing acidity in the wine.  The Germans have developed the label term “Classic” to indicate a wine with some residual sugar that is still perceived as dry to most palates.  Genius.
  • The German term “Halbtrocken” means “half-dry” and pertains to wines with between 0.9% and 1.8% residual sugar.  Most American palates would describe these as “just slightly sweet”.

The term “Kabinett” indicates a low level of ripeness at harvest; the terms Auslese and Spätlese refer to grapes with a higher level of sugar at harvest; these wines may be dry or may have a small degree of residual sugar.

As for the dessert wines made from Riesling, they have their place among the best dessert wines in the world.  The new world makes “Late Harvest” Rieslings “Botrytis-affected Riesling” and “Riesling Ice Wine”.  The old world calls them Beerenauslese,  Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein.

Typical Aromas of a Riesling Based Wine:

Fruity:  Peach, Dried Peaches, Apricot, Apple, Green Apple, Baked Apple, Pear, Orange, Orange Peel, Lime

Floral:  Jasmine, Rose, Orchid, Juniper, Honey, Perfume, Wildflowers, Orange Blossom, Lime Blossom

Mineral:  Flinty, Steely, Wet Stones, Chalk, Ozone (the scent of the air after a rainstorm)

Chemical:  Petrol, Gasoline, Rubber Bands, Varnish, Wet Paint, Paint Remover

Late Harvest and Ice Wine Rieslings can take these aromas to the extreme…I’ve found that the lime aromas transform into a quick scent of pickle juice or green olives (sounds weird, but “in a good way”) and these wines can remind me of “dried peaches rubbed on a wet stone”.  Just try it for yourself!

Where The Best Riesling is Grown:

  • Riesling is native to Germany and grown throughout Germany’s wine regions.
  • Austria
  • The Alsace Region of France.
  • California, Oregon, Washington State (Bubbly Prof really likes the Washington State Rieslings)
  • New York State’s Finger Lake Region
  • Canada, especially the Niagara Peninsula
  • The cooler  regions of Australia such as the Eden Valley and the Clare Valley 

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Sushi…it’s the best match in town so I had to list it first.  It’s crave-worthy.
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Smoked Seafood – Smoked Salmon and Riesling would be my “last meal” request.
  • Chicken, Poultry of any kind
  • Ham, Pork, Prosciutto, Sausages
  • Asian Flavors, Indian Flavors  – Riesling loves the the salt, the spice, and even the heat. 

 Bridge Ingredients:

Jalapeno Peppers, Wasabi – Bubbly Prof says any type of “green heat” is fabulous with Riesling.

Cilantro, Lemon Grass, Fresh herbs of any kind

Orange, Orange Zest, Lemon, Lime

Avocado, Corn, Leeks, Sweet Onions, Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes

Bacon, Pancetta, Green Olives, Capers

Ginger, Curry, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Soy Sauce, Salty condiments

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

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Syrah

Syrah – The Soundbyte:

The Syrah grape, also known as the Shiraz grape,  is rumored to be a native of the city of Shiraz in Iran.  There’s a colorful legend about how it was brought from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades, but it is also rumored to be native to the Rhône region itself.  Both tales make good wine stories.

Today, the grape is widely grown in the South of France, where it stars as the main red grape in the Northern Rhône and a blending partner to Grenache and Mourvèdre in the south.  The grape has shown to be so ideally suited to life in Australia that it has become somewhat of an icon in Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian Winemakers choose to call the grape by its (supposed) ancestral name, Shiraz.  Syrah is also widely grown in many other new world regions, where it is made into dry reds of both the single variety and blended variety.  While it is often made into bubbly, rosé and dessert wine, Syrah is mainly known as a powerhouse red. 

 Typical Attributes of a Syrah Based Wine:

  • European-style, Old-World Syrah-based wines tend to be medium dark in color and concentrated in flavor. Old world Syrah is often blended with other, softer grapes to minimize or balance tannin and alcohol levels. These wines are often earthy, dense, smoky, herbal and even “gamey” wines.
  • New World Syrah (sometimes called Shiraz) based wines tend to be dark purple, opaque, and inky in appearance.  Other attributes of New World Syah include high alchohol, fruit-forwardness, and intense tannins. These tannins are sometimes considered “soft”  or “velvety” because they are drinkable when the wines are still young (often a result of winemaking techniques).
  • Australian Shiraz has sometimes been called “plush ripey” and The Bubbly Professor just can’t resist that.
  • The Australians have also made a slightly sweet version of sparkling shiraz quite popular.
  • Syrah also makes a lovely, dry rosé.

Typical Aromas of a Syrah-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Blackberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Prune, Blueberry, Orange Peel

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, Espresso, “Burnt Coffee”  

Chemical:  Leather, Burnt, Tar, Smoke, Burnt Rubber, Asphalt, Graphite

Earthy:  Gamey, Smoky, Minty, Barnyard, Garrigue

Floral:  Lavender, Wild Flowers, Dried Flowers, Violets

Where The Best Syrah is Grown:

  • Australia, where it shines! 
  • The South of France.  Syrah stars in the wines of the Rhône, as the dominant variety in the North (such as the famous wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie), and as part of a blend in the South (as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône). 
  • Syrah also does well in the Southern French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.
  • South Africa, especially the warmer regions such as Paarl and Franscheok.  For a real treat, try a bottle of “The Chocolate Block” from Boekenhoutskloof Winery (extra credit if you can pronounce it).
  • California, especially Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Santa Barbara.
  • Washington State, the new “hot” growing region for Syrah. 

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms, Walnuts, Pecans, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Sage, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Blackberries, Currants, Prunes (but go easy on the sweetness)

Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper, Coarse Grained Mustard, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

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