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 Class Choreography

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Wine class choreography…it has an exciting ring to it, doesn’t it?  I hope so, because I hardly expected you to click on an article titled “Instructional Design.”  However, they really mean the same thing; and it is something that is really lacking in wine education today.

So just what is instructional design?  Think of it this way:  You have a great dancer who knows lots of steps and just can’t wait to show them off…and you have some great music.  What else do you need to do before you can put on a great dance show?  You need to plan what you are going to first, then next, how you will trasition from one style of dance to another, and how to tie it all up at the end.  You need choreography!

Planning a class is a lot like planning a show.  First, you need a concept and learning objectives, and then you fill in the content.  When this is done you have the dancer, all those steps he can’t wait to break out, and the music; but you don’t yet have a plan.  The biggest challenge is still ahead of you.

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How are you going to present the material?  How are you going to make sure that your audience can follow along with what you are saying?  How can you help them understand, remember, and remain engaged with the material?  Just exactly how are you going to do to fill those 120 minutes with 60 eyes looking straight at you?

What you need is some wine class choreography – in other words, you need some Instructional Design.  Step by step, beat by beat, you need to decide in advance what will be done.  Instructional Design is the process of taking your bundle of eager information and transforming it into a learning experience that helps your students make sense of, remember, and engage with the new information they  will receive.

There are a lot of concepts and theories about Instructional Design, and with the advent of online education the term takes on a whole new dimension.  But, as is often true, the strongest theories stand the test of time.  One of the best expressions of instructional design is Robert Gagné’s “Nine Steps of Instruction” that has been around since 1985.

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In this version of the “Nine Steps of Instructional Design,” I present my own ideas about instructional design, but all of this is firmly rooted in (and hopefully pays homage to) the “Nine Steps” of Gagné’s original work.

Step 1 – Focus, Focus, Focus! In the words of Gagné, gain their attention! Present a problem or a new situation. Use an “interest device” that grabs the learner’s attention. The important point in wine education is to focus the learners. You can use such devices as storytelling, demo, present a problem to be solved, doing something the wrong way, asking a question, or taking an “audience poll.”  The point is, do something to focus the class!

Step 2 – What’s in it for me?  Tell them how they will benefit from your class.  In academic words, “inform the learner of the objective”. Keep their attention by telling them how they will benefit from what they are about to learn.  Everyone likes to know “What’s in it for me?”It also gives your students a goal on which to focus for the rest of the class.

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Step 3. Where does this fit in to my life? It’s very important to put your topic in the context of your learner’s life.  Find some common ground or prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson.  This simple step provides a framework for learning and remembering the new information about to be received.

Step 4. Tell me what I need to know! This seemingly simple step needs to be choreographed very carefully.  It’s not just what you present but how you present it.  Be sure to organize your information to avoid cognitive overload. Blend the information to aid in information recall. This is a huge subject and one that is often ignored by trainers and teachers.

Step 5. How do I learn this? Provide guidance for learning.This is not the presentation of content, but is rather your guidance and instructions on how to learn the new material. If this step is well done, your students will enjoy your class and learn more.  Students that are guided are less likely to lose time , become frustrated or just “tune out”.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice!  Make sure the students do something with their new skills or information. With tasting classes this is easy, but make sure you guide them to a specific goal in their tasting.  With knowledge-based classes you need to get a little more creative in your use of or class activities – just make sure you have one, otherwise all you have done is “dumped” new information in the general direction of your students.  (Oh, not good…)

Step 7 – Am I doing it right? Do I get it?  Provide feedback. This can be casual, individual, or with the group as a whole, but everyone needs to know if they are on the right track. To be effective, feedback needs to be specific, not, “you are doing a good job” Tell them “why” they are doing a good job,

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Step 8 – How did we do? Assess performance. Test to determine if the lesson has been learned. This can be a quiz, an activity, or a or class discussion.

Step 9 – How can I use this? – The final steps in your class should be designed to enhance the retention and transfer of the new knowledge. Discuss how this new information can be used, provide opportuniites for additional practice, or review the lesson.  Somehow, some way, your student’s life should be changed by their new knowledge.  Even if it just means they are going to buy a better brand of Chardonnay.

Every class does not have to include all nine steps, but keeping these steps in mind before you begin a class will go a long way to improving your teaching. Remember that good teaching goes way, way beyond the imparting of information.  Unfocused teaching  is more like an information dump.  Don’t be a dumper—use instructional design! 

Reference/for further learning:

Gagné, Robert. The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985.

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Syrah

Syrah – The Soundbyte:

The Syrah grape, also known as Shiraz, is   believed to be native to southeastern France. There’s a lovely legend that tells of the grape as a native to the city of Shiraz in Iran, transported from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades—but, alas, it has been proven untrue and will remain with us as “just a good story.”

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 a whole gaggle of grapes—including Grenache and Mourvèdre—in the south. It has become somewhat of an icon of Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian winemakers often choose to call the grape 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 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/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 is sometimes described as plush ripey. Who can resist that?
  • The Australians produce sparkling Shiraz.
  • 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.
  • 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 .

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Zinfandel

Zinfandel – The Soundbyte:

Zinfandel used to be known as “California’s Mystery Grape,” as an old-timey legend says that Zinfandel vines of the vitis vinifera species were growing happily in California before European settlement of the New World.

This was fun to believe for a while, but today we know better,  and it is believed that today’s Zinfandel traveled from Croatia to Vienna during the Habsburg Monarchy’s rule over Croatia.  Some cuttings ended up in the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, and from there were sent to a horticulturist in Long Island, who sent some vines out to California, where Italian immigrants working the gold rush appreciated the grape’s sturdy, robust style and planted them with enthusiasm, only to abandon their vineyards when the gold rush fizzled out.  These vineyards, and their mystery grapes, were then rediscovered years later with the post-prohibition wave of California winemakers. Quite a story, right?

DNA fingerprinting has revealed that today’s Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape of Croatia  and either identical to or very-very-very closely related to the well-known Croatian grape known as Plavac Mali. Zinfandel is also either identical to—or very closely related to—Primitivo, as grown in Puglia.

Wherever it came from and whatever you call it, Zinfandel has proved itself as a hardworking, heat-seeking, robust grape.

 Typical Attributes of a Zinfandel-based Wine:

    • Fruit-forward,  intense fruit flavors…the aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry and plum are quite recognizable.
    • In my wine tastings I generally introduce Zin as “Blackberry/Black Pepper/Black Licorice.”  It’s a pretty good Zin cliché.
    • Medium to high alcohol…sometimes 15% or more.
    • Medium to full  body; more likley towards the full.
    • Medium to high tannin combined with lively acidity.  Warm weather growing areas can mellow the tannins to the velvety type, but they remain quite high.
    • Red Zinfandel’s spice, fruit, and acidity make it a very food friendly wine.
    • Yes….the  Zinfandel grape can be made in the “White Zinfandel” style.  To make white zinfandel, the wine is allowed to ferment on the intensely colored red grape skins for a day or  two, just until the juice turns a light pink color.  At this time, the juice is pressed off  the grape skins while the fermentation process finishes.  While it is true that your Mama’s White Zinfandel most likely had a touch of residual sugar and this style remains popular today, Zinfandel is also made into crisp, dry, serious rosé.
    • Late harvest Zinfandel is often made into a luscious, complex dessert wine; one of my favorites is “Zinnie de Potelle” by Chateau Potelle.
    • Some winemakers freeze their late harvest (or regular harvest) Zinfandel grapes to make to make “ice wine-style” dessert wines, often with cute-cute-cute names such as “Fro-Zin”.

Typical Aromas of a Zinfandel-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blackberry  Jam, Boysenberry, Boysenberry Jam, Raspberry, Raspberry Jam, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Pomegranate, Raisin, Prune
  • Spicy
    • Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Allspice, Anise, Licorice, Chocolate
  • Wood-derived:
    • Oak, Vanilla
  • Sometimes:
    • Maple, Mushroom, Mint, Mineral

Where The Best Zinfandel is Grown:

  • California, especially Sonoma Valley, Amador County, the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, and Lodi
  • The south of Italy—as Primitivo
  • Croatia, where it is sometimes called “plavac—as Plavac Mali or Crljenak Kaštelanski
  • Texas – including the Texas High Plains AVA
  • While California remains  Zinfandel’s favorite adopted home, it is having some success in South Africa,  South America, and Australia

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Venison, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Sausage

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Spicy Foods
  • Spicy, Slightly Sweet Foods like Barbeque Sauce or Hoisin Sauce.
  • Tex-Mex Flavors
  • Grilled Flavors, Smoky Flavors
  • Blue Cheese Bacon Cheeseburgers
  • Burgers with Caramelized Onions
  • Any type of burgers (even turkey burgers)
  • Sausage and Peppers
  • Eggplant, Mushrooms, Black Beans
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Oregano
  • Thyme, Cumin, Blackening Spices
  • Onions, Shallots
  • Walnuts, Pecans, Hazelnuts
  • Chocolate – which many people love, but most folks will recommend that you stick to the sweet versions of Zin for dessert.

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets – Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris – The Soundbyte:

Pinot Gris, known to most of the world as the delightful if somewhat over-exposed Italian Wine called Pinot Grigio, is renowned for its crisp, fruity, vaguely floral and aromatic wines from Northern Italy.  The variety known as Pinot Grigio is the “same grape-different name” as the grape variety Pinot Gris and goes by many other aliases as well.  Pinot Gris aka Grigio is successfully grown in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary, and is being planted with increasing popularity in The New World.  The grape got the name “Pinot Gris” in France because of its grayish-white fruit and is believed to be a natural mutation of Pinot Noir.

 Typical Attributes of a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio-Based Wine:

  • Light to medium bodied
  • Almost always fruity, with lemon-lime-citrus aromas common in the Italian version, and tropical fruit-tree fruit aromas typical of the “New World” and Alsatian style.
  • Very often stainless steel cold fermented.
  • Generally crisp, acidic, and refreshing.
  • Italian Pinot Grigio is often described as “Sauvignon Blanc without the grassy quality”.
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace and Oregon tends to be more full bodied as well as a bit smoother than the Italian style or version, and is often compared to unoaked Chardonnay. (The Bubbly Professor agrees with this comparison, but thinks that Pinot Gris has a “waxier, creamier and smoother” style than Chablis, for instance.) 
  • A late harvest, dessert wine called “Vendage Tardive” is made from Pinot Gris in the French Region of Alsace. Late harvest and “Vin de Glacerie” styles have also been spotted in Oregon.

Typical Aromas of a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Peach, Dried Peach, Apricot, Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Fresh-cut Pears, Green Apple, Melon, Tropical Fruit, Kiwi, Mango, Citrus
  • Floral:  Wildflowers, Blossoms, Honey
  • Herbal: Thyme, Oregano, Lemongrass
  • Mineral: Wet Stones, Wet Sand
  • Nutty

Where The Best Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is Grown:

  • Italy, especially in  the Northern Regions of Venezia, Fruili, and Alto-Adige
  • The Alsatian  Region of France
  • The cooler wine growing regions of Europe such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
  • California, especially Napa and Santa Barbara
  • Oregon, where it shines! 

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Seafood, Smoked Seafood, Seafood Salads
  • Poultry 
  • Veal
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Fried Foods such as fried calamari, fried clams, and fried zucchini

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Zucchini, Hors d’oeurves

Cream Sauces, Sour Cream

Citrus, Subtle Vinaigrettes, Capers, Green Olives

Basil, Tarragon, and just about all Herbs

Bell Peppers, Roasted Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Shallots

Toasted Pine Nuts

Ricotta Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese

 

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc  – The Soundbyte:

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s major white wine grape varieties, celebrated for its distinctive aromas and bracing acidity.  Its crisp acidic backbone makes it one of the most food-friendly of all table wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is a highly aromatic white wine, and it’s distinctive aromas can vary greatly depending on terroir and winemaking.  While generally thought of as a single-varietal or blended  dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is also used to craft luscious dessert wines. 

Typical Attributes of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

  • Sauvignon Blanc can be made in a variety of styles, based primarily on fermentation techniques and whether or not the wine is blended or oak aged.
  • Botrytis-affected and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc can be used to produce very sweet, complex dessert wines.
  • Lighter Style, Dry Sauvignon Blancs are generally stainless steel fermented and aged only briefly (if at all) in stainless steel.
    • The typical attributes  of this lighter style wine are:  Light Body, Crisp, Delicate, Highly Acidic, Steely, Precise, and Fruity.
  • The richer style, sometimes called Fumé Blanc in the New World, is often oak-fermented, sur lie aged, and sometimes oak barrel aged. 
    • The attributes of this richer style include:  Medium Body, Rich, Complex, Smoother, Oak-derived Complexity.
  • Sauvingon Blanc is often blended with Semillon in order to add complexity and tone down it’s usual razor-sharp acidity.  This style was pioneered in the White Wines of Bordeaux.

Typical Aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Green Apple,  Apricot, Lime, Lemon, Green Plum, Melon, Pear, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Gooseberry, Kiwi, Papaya

Herbal/Vegetative: Cut Green  Grass, Green Bell Pepper, Asparagus, Fennel, Herbs, Lemon Grass, Hay,  Straw, Wildflowers

Mineral:  Wet Sand, Wet Stone, Riverbank, Ozone, Fresh Rain

Chemical:  Ammonia, Sometimes referred to as “PiPi du Chat”

Dessert Wine Styles of Sauvignon Blanc can disply aromas of honey, dried apricot, peaches, nutmeg and even curry…botrytis-affected wines will have that inimitable “earthy edge”!

Where The Best Sauvignon Blanc is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France, notably Graves and Entre-deux-Mers.
  • The Loire Valley Region of France, notably Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.
  • California’s Napa and Sonoma Regions.
  • New Zealand, notably the Marlborough Region.
  • South Africa, particularly Stellenbosch.
  • The cooler regions of Chile and Argentina
  • Australia, notably The Adelaide  Hills Region.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Raw Shellfish
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Chicken
  • Acidic Sauces
  • Tomatoes
  • Salads, Vinaigrettes
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Citrus
  • Fennel, Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini
  • Herbs, Mushrooms, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Capers, Green Olives
  • Prosciutto
  • Feta Cheese, Goat Cheese

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon – The Soundbyte:

Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the world’s most popular and well-known red grape variety.  It is the main grape in the world famous wines of Bordeaux, and the wine that made the Napa Valley famous.  The beauty of Cabernet is its thick skin, both literally and figuratively.  Literally the grape’s thick skin and small berries give a  wine deep color, complex flavors, and hearty tannins.  Figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon is thick skinned by being resilient to a variety of climates and soils in the vineyard.  Just about every country that has a climate warm enough to consistently ripen red grapes successfully grows Cabernet Sauvignon.

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Dark Ruby Red to purple, opaque, and almost inky in appearance
  • Young Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, powerful, and concentrated.
  • Highly tannic
  • Complex with layers of interesting flavors and textures
  • The high level of tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines makes them among the most age-worthy of all wines.
  • Aged Cabernet takes on grace, finesse, and an earthy, complex bottle bouquet.

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blueberry,  Ripe Cherry, Black Currant, Cassis, Plum, Prune, Raisin
  • Herbal/Vegetative
    • Vanilla, Mint, Eucalyptus, Bay Leaf, Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Rosemary, Dried Herb
  • Earthy
    • Cedar, Cigar Box, Cigar Smoke, Pencil Lead, Graphite, Tobacco, Wet Dog
  • Oak-Derived
    • Oak, Fresh Lumber, Cedar, Chocolate, Cocoa, Smoke

 Where The Best Cabernet Sauvignon is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France
  • California and Washington State, the far south of Oregon
  • Chile and Argentina
  • Australia
  • Italy, where it stars in some Super Tuscans, and is used in small amounts in many different wines
  • Cabernet grows  successfully in many regions throughout the wine making world…it adapts well to a  variety of conditions.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef -Prime Rib, Grilled Steaks…it’s all good!
  • Lamb – Bubbly Prof prefers Merlot here, but Cab works!
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Pork
  • Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Currants, Prunes, Raisins (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Mushrooms, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Black Pepper
  • Blue Cheese – but be careful with the bitterness!

The Urban Legend:  The Cabernet Sauvignon/Chocolate Food Pairing:

According to some…Chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon is a match made in Heaven.  For other people, it’s not so great and some people really dislike the pairing! In my Intro to Professional Wine Studies Class, I have my students try out the Cab/Chocolate combination without giving them any hints as to whether they “should” like it or not.  In my 16 years as a wine teacher, I’ve led more than 12,000 students through this exercise, and I estimate that the split is just about 50/50, with women more likely to enjoy the combination than men.

The idea behind the combination is a common flavor or aroma bridge…Cabernet often displays aromas of cocoa or chocolate.

The reason some people do not care for the combination is that sweet food tends to dry out and emphasize the acid/bitter/tannic tastes of a dry red wine.  I personally do not care for it…but all I can really do is suggest you try it for yourself!

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

 

Train the Trainer: Critical Thinking in the Wine Classroom

One of my rallying cries in wine education and ALL education for that matter, is to teach our student skills far, far beyond the basic memorization of facts.  I’ve spoken at many a conference on this matter, and have dedicated many of my posts on this blog to the subject.  It’s all about teaching to the “higher order thinking skills” known as (I’m not making this up) “HOTS” rather than just teaching to knowledge or memorization, known as “lower order thinking skills” or “LOTS”.

One of the best ways to teach to the “HOTS” is to guide your students to use the information rather than just remember it.  For instance, in my red wine class for beginners, I hope that my students will not just memorize the names of the red wines and the vocabulary words we discussed, but be able to use the information in some meaningful way, such as:

  • Describe what tannin is, and discuss how it adds to the overall character of a wine.
  • Discuss acidity in red wines and how it compares to acidity in white wine.
  • Describe a wine’s method of production and how it lead to some certain character of the wine…

What we are doing here is teaching critical thinking skills. Critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of teaching used in Ancient Greece, and in the East, to the Buddhist Kalama Sutta. It is a part of the formal education process, increasingly significant as students progress through the higher grades, and should be the main concern in college and graduate-level teaching.  Obviously, critical thinking is an important part of just about every profession. 

According to Wikipedia, “There is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.”  Thank you, Wiki..very well said.  Crtical thinking is indeed one of those concepts, like “Politics” or “The Economy” that everyone understands but is hard pressed to actually define.  So here goes, my contribution to the debate…my definition of critical thinking:  The process of actively using new information by application, analysis, or evaluation. I tried to keep it simple.

Here is a list of my favorite techniques for adding critical thinking to the wine classroom:

  • Compare and contrast wines (or regions, or winemakers) by style.
  • Group wines into categories and explain why and how you chose the categories.
  • List wines in order (lightest to fullest, simplest to most complex).
  • Support an opinion with evidence. For instance, this wine is complex because…
  • Discuss whether or not a certain wine appeals to you, and tell us why/why not.
  • Describe a certain aspect of a wine (tannin, alcohol, residual sugar) and discuss how it relates to the other elements of flavor.
  • Predict how a wine will interact with a certain food.

And to make it easy, you can use what I call a “Bubbly Professor Brain Crank”.  I like to call this one “The Instant Critical Thinking Tool”: 

This wine is ____________  because ______________.

I like to use this sentence for class discussions, and it has a tendency to show up on my final exams.  I love it because it appears simple and un-intimidating, and yet you must use critical thinking to answer the question.  It’s also perfect for discussion because there are an infinite number of correct answers.  Students like that feature for test questions as well.

Here’s a sample…just how would you answer this question?

This Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 is ___________ because ________________.  

Made you think!  

 

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

Lessons in Teaching: Learned at TexSom

I am lucky enough to be attending the Texas Sommelier (“TexSom”) Conference this weekend at the lovely Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas, Texas.  Being an educator and not a sommelier, I know that I attend conferences of this sort in a much different mind set than the typical attendee, but there is a plenty of valuable information and experience to be gleaned by sitting in the audience and watching someone else teach.  As a matter of fact, it’s my favorite type of vacation; all you fellow teachers out there will relate to the feeling of relief you get when someone else is on the teaching “hot seat” and you can lean back and watch.

So, it is with much gratitude for the conference leaders and presenters that I share with you a few great teaching lessons learned and reinforced by the seminars I’ve seen at TexSom this year!

Lesson in Teaching:  Tell a Story!

The Tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Good wine story!

The first session presented on Sunday, led by Wayne Belding and Brett Zimmerman, both Master Sommeliers, was all about Bordeaux.  The presenters led us through the story of the history of Bordeaux, all the way back to the middle ages and the marriage of Henry Plantagenet to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  This marriage made the French region of Aquitaine an English terriority, which opened the wines of the Bordeaux region to the English market and eventually to the world stage.

The name Aquitaine itself means “the place of much water” and describes not only the main rivers of the area but then-marshly lands around the Medoc. Another fasciniating part of the story of the history of Bordeaux takes place in the seventeenth century, when English demand for the wines of Bordeaux increased to the point that Dutch traders began to drain the marshlands around the  Medoc and increase the land available to vineyards. This caused the vineyard area in Bordeaux to expand so much that no one could really tell what area their wine was from, which in turned led to the first delination of the vineyards of Bordeaux.  This classification was completed in 1725, with the collection of districts being known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux.  At this time, individual bottles began to be labeled with with both the region and the specific area from which they originated.  I was fascinated to learn this ancient history of Bordeaux and happy to add some more “tales of the vine” to my arsenal of teaching tools.

Why is storytelling a good lesson in teaching?  It is a proven fact that the use of storytelling – called “the narrative approach” in teaching lingo – is one of the most effective ways to add interest and engagement to a presentation.  Storytelling works in just about any educational platform from lecture to discussion to on-line, and can help you reach your audience on both an intellectual and emotional level.  A well-placed story can make theories or abstract ideas concrete and accessible, can spark interest in new material, and can help students memorize facts.

Lesson in Teaching:  Compare and Contrast 

Oregon Pinot: Did you prefer the Hippie or the Cowboy?

The last session I was able to attend on Sunday was all about Oregon Pinot Noir.  Presented by Fred Dame and Nate Ready, both Master Sommeliers, the session was subtitled “The Cowboy and The Hippie.”  Fred and Nate both presented some fabulously delicious Pinot Noirs, which would have made the session good enough, but what made the session even more interesting was the dichotomy in the way they both chose and presented their wines.  Fred represented the “Cowboy” approach and chose wines made in a “get ‘er done” style that produced a wine that was pure Pinot Noir – juicy, fruity, in some cases jammy – and showing lots of spice and floral aromas.  Nate represented the “Hippie” approach and chose wines that were done in a more “touch-feely” (some would say organic-biodynamic-light of the moon) style with lots of earthiness and subtlety.  The wines were presented two by two – with one wine is each set representing the hippie approach and one wine representing the cowboy style.  Presenting the wines this way enabled the audience to not just taste the wines but really think about them in terms of style; which by the way is the “language” most of our customers think in.

Interestingly enough, my favorite wine of the flight was the 2010 Penner-Ash “Dussin Vineyard” – pure Cowboy.

Why is “compare and contrast” a good lesson in teaching? One of the ultimate goals for any teacher is to guide his or her students to not just “know” (or worse yet, “memorize”) new information but to use that information in a meaningful context.  In this way we are teaching critical thinking skills and such teaching is considered a “higher level” teaching skill, as opposed to just teaching a page full of facts. One excellent technique to involve the use of critical thinking skills in a class is to have students compare and contrast items or ideas.  By ending the Oregon Pinot Noir sesion by asking the audience “which wines did you prefer, the cowboy or the hippie” the speakers were forcing us (in the nicest possible way) to use critical thinking.  

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

You’re a Wine Educator…How do I get your Job?

I get asked all the time…“How do I get your job”? Well, I really want to answer by saying something like, “Study for twenty years, write a book, learn instructional design…”  But I’ve long since learned that’s not the answer people are looking for.

And it’s a good question, and since so many of you asked, here’s my real answer:

  • Know your stuff.  Enough said.
  • Spend just as much time studying and mastering presentation techniques, public speaking skills, and audience management as you do studying wine.  As a matter of fact, spend more time studying them.  Knowledge is everywhere in our society…every student in your audience has all the information you are going to spill forth for them readily available on the little e-gadget they have in their pocket.  They don’t need you to provide them with information…they need you to provide them with a way to understand, remember, and be engaged with the information.
  • Develop your own style of teaching and work at perfecting it.  Don’t beg or borrow other people’s teaching materials…look inward and produce your own.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had other educators e-mail me asking if they can have my power point presentation.  My only thought is “Why would you want to use my materials”? Can you really speak from the heart using someone else’s presentation?  Trust me, you will do a much better job at presenting using materials that are your own.
  • Create opportunities to engage your class.  People who don’t really understand how to engage an audience think that it only has to do with energy or activity.  Points of engagement should be pre-planned, practiced, and executed at regular intervals in any class.
  • Develop a skill or gimmick for remembering and using people’s names.  Draw yourself a room diagram with people’s names on it, write short descriptors (for your eyes only) of individuals on your class list or roster, or have people wear name tags.  The sound of one’s own name is the most engaging thing known to humankind.  If you have a large group, make sure you know and use the names of everyone in the front row.
  • Become an expert at A/V.  If you are going to be using projectors or microphones, be able to hook them up, break them down, turn them on and trouble shoot.  Nothing will throw you off your game faster than having to leave your area to go find a techie.
  • Arrive at your location an hour early.  No excuses.  Get set up, find your wines, figure out who is going to be in your audience, relax, and be ready to greet everyone at the door as they enter.  Introduce yourself to every attendee (or at least the first 25 if you have a big group).  Make small talk with your students in the time you have before class begins, and by the time you start you’ve already made friends. If you are teaching online, show up on the webinar platform a half hour early and begin to engage with your students.
  • If you are going to use Power Point, Keynote, flip charts, or slides; study up on the latest research and advice concerning their use. One of the quickest ways I can detect an amateur is the use of wordy, detailed, or complicated visuals.  Same goes for handouts.
  • Don’t make excuses. If you are a good teacher, you can teach your subject with or without a projector, in a wine bar or in a lecture hall, with the exact wines you ordered or with the wines they delivered by mistake.
  • To get started; give one class for free at a wine bar, winery, or tasting society.  After that, you should be able to start to charge for classes.  If not, perhaps you need to practice some more.  Don’t go on too long giving it away…there are far too many “wanna be” wine educators out there who are willing to charge nothing for their services.  If you are providing a valuable service, you deserve to be paid.
  • If attendees are answering questions or describing wines, find what’s right in every contribution.  Steer them in the right direction if necessary, but keep in mind that no one should ever be embarrassed or belittled for speaking up in class. Appreciate everyone’s attempts to answer your question or participate in your class even if they are technically “not correct”.
  • Take a class on marketing (including social media) or engage a marketing/social media consultant.
  • This is not the sexy part, but still: Be meticulous about the legal constraints. Take the time to discuss liability insurance with a professional. You need to obtain and maintain some sort of certification (responsible service of alcohol) to limit your liability due to the mere presence of alcohol. You may need a liquor license, depending upon your location and the venue(s) you use. You’ll want to talk to a tax attorney or other professional about the best way to set up your business (sole proprietor, LLC, etc). Make sure you know where to draw the (legal) line between teaching about wine and providing (selling) wine. It’s important.
  • Don’t get drunk in public.  Ever.  Especially not at your own events.  As a matter of fact, as long as you have the floor, the microphone, or the name on the marquee, you should only take a sip or two of any wine that you are presenting; that’s all you need. (Ok, after the class is over go ahead and have a glass of wine to unwind while chatting up your students.  But JUST ONE.  End of rant.)
  • Don’t quit your day job.  Very few people make a living teaching wine classes. However, there’s nothing wrong with working the floor of a retail wine shop, pouring wine  samples in a grocery store, or waiting tables to to make ends meet.  While working at a retail store might not be your dream job, a job at a retail store (or restaurant or grocery store) just might lead to many opportunities to teach if you are willing to “make it happen”.

And here’s my best advice:  Always keep growing.  Develop new teaching skills and new teaching materials constantly.  Appreciate the people, the surroundings, the wine, and the opportunity to share your passion.  Have fun, and if you can snag a full-time job with benefits that has anything to do with wine….take it.

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