Today’s blog is dedicated to a recent email I received from one of my WSET Level 2 students (who is busily preparing for her exam this Monday!).
It reads: “I’m trying to hard to retain all the information and I’m taking time every day to study, but for some reason, i keep getting regions confused. Wish I had a good way to memorize the areas better.”
Indeed, part of learning about wine is in fact rote (rather dull) memorization (unless you are one of those trivia-loving types, then perhaps you find it fun), but there are some techniques you can use depending on your learning style. Therefore, I am going to organize this blog based on just that. Keep in mind, all wine studying should be done with a glass in hand…preferably from the region you are studying to really connect the learning to the glass (wink!). Actually this also falls under “touch” learners…
1-Visual Learners: I fall partly into this camp personally, so I’ll share some ideas I’ve used myself. I would recommend printing out maps of the different wine regions and actually writing the names of the regions directly in the map along with the main grape/blend of grapes. Organizing them by country makes the most sense. Using color is another technique that you can weave in…different colors for different countries or grapes. When you are in the exam your mind has fascinating ways to recall information and as a visual learner myself there are countless times I actually recall the paper I had the information memorized from and can see it from that.
2-Auditory Learners: You learn best when you hear the information so lecture format is probably where you derive most of your learning. To replicate that, I have had students tape me then play it back at their leisure. You can also tape yourself repeating the grapes, regions, styles, etc and play it back when you’re driving, etc.
3-Verbal Learners: Kind of related to Auditory learning, but this takes it the next step where you learn by writing and speaking. I am also definitely in this camp myself. I find it extremely reinforcing to be able to teach the subject of wine…keeps my knowledge fresh! I also used to rewrite the book/notes from the lectures, as the process of writing it out is a learning tool I swear by personally. As you are writing, you are constantly trying to find ways to connect the information. I refer to this as “pattern recognition:” finding themes or patterns of how information can connect. In regards to memorizing wine regions, I would suggest writing the regions out by country, North to South (you’ve got to have some logical order to remember it in) and by white vs red grapes. You’ll start to see that, for example, northern French regions are mainly whites with high acidity…that’s a pattern (cool climate=high acidity) and that cool region reds have tart red fruits. Also, I have some students who are floor Somms or work retail, this is an excellent opportunity to practice your knowledge on live people. Don’t kill them with info overload, but by talking about the regions, you will reinforce the learning of them.
4-Touch Learning: Every wine student is a touch learner: you learn from actually tasting wine! So, as you are learning about regions and grapes you should most definitely be drinking the wine from that region…thinking about what characteristics you are supposed to taste that you read about and connecting that to the glass. I describe this process as building your “tasting memory.” So, as you’re studying say the Southern Rhone valley, you should be looking for the garrigue, full bodied and high alcohol, spicy and red fruit/earth style and connecting that to the fact this is a sunny mediterranean climate region. (Another pattern to recognize: sunny, warm regions=full bodied, alcoholic wines). Another way to touch learn is literally to walk around a wine shop, pick up bottles and quiz yourself. Take your book with you too!
5-Social vs Solitary Learning: I found that I remembered the most information solitarily but learned the most about my palate when I tasted with others, so I would argue these are intertwined techniques. Besides, how much more fun is it to drink wine with others? In today’s fast paced, computerized world, sharing live experiences with others is a commodity. Get in a tasting group! Not only do you share costs of wine but everyone’s palates are different, so where you are strong someone else is weak. It took me forever to get my oak calls down until I figured out that assessing the finish of the wine is where I can dial down on oak regime and now I am very good at nailing the type, percentage, etc. Or take some of my group learning based wine courses and classes (winesmarties.com…a shameless plug, LOL). If you form a study group, organize the meeting based on specific regions/themes…don’t do a hodge podge of different regions. For example, do a tasting on Bordeaux and have everyone bring questions/information about Bordeaux. Consider the Viticultural factors (climate, soil, yields, training techniques, harvest dates, vintage reports), consider the winemaking factors (type of oak, how long, extraction, maceration length, etc), in addition to specific regions within: Right vs Left bank, etc.
6-Logical Learners: I would say this must apply to whatever main study technique you use: you must have a thought out way of organizing the information. Our brains like to see patterns and groups of information. So, by having a bunch of random flashcards mixed in with each other takes the information out of context. You need to group by country, region, subregion, white then red grapes, or something similar. When I’m presenting information I keep this in mind. If I jump from 1 grape/region to another it’s difficult to remember what I said and to follow me. Context is everything. I had one brilliant student put together a chart based on country, then grapes, and style. It was a perfect example of how a mathematical or engineering-based mind would approach the problem. It also aids in the visual aspect AND by touching and organizing/reorganizing the information to even create the study guide itself, you are learning and seeing the patterns.