A few years back I saw an invitation in my Majestic wine mailing for an evening learning about wine. At the time I was sitting my WSET Advanced certificate and so already had a bit of a head start but, eager to fill in any blanks, get a different perspective and never one to turn down a free tasting, I signed up.
It was an intimate affair – only 8 of us together for 90 minutes, which naturally enabled a little bonding and chatting with the other people on the course. What sticks in my mind was being able fill in a few blanks for one of the ladies there who was confused with her French white wines, particularly Chablis and Sancerre. To enable her to recall with ease the character of each wine I passed on something that I’d learned – The CH at the start of Chablis means it is the CHardonnay grape that you are drinking, The SA at the beginning of Sancerre meant it was SAuvignon Blanc.
At the entry level stages of wine appreciation you don’t need to necessarily know whether it’s a Burgundy or Loire you are drinking, and all that entails in terms of latitude, grower differentials and the rest. It is more about rationalising why you like what you like, and it does help those awkward social moments when you meet someone who says that they don’t drink Chardonnay, but will happily glug a Chablis. The lady at the tasting was genuinely amazed at that titbit of knowledge in an easy to remember way, and I have never forgotten the importance of using abbreviations when trying to recall detail.
This visual/mnemonic link has been well utilised when trying to learn languages and, as a student working to complete his WSET Diploma, this is an essential exercise. The sheer amount of countries, regions, grapes soil types, weather influences, vintner influences you have to recall and reason is truly mind boggling.
These abbreviations have been particularly useful to me when recalling the wine regions of both South Africa and Italy. For South Africa I always now think of music – not the vibrant local offerings, but of my CDs and the PRS (Performing Rights Society). Whenever I see a blank map of the south western tip of Africa, I can see CDs working their way up the western coast (Constantia, Durbanville, Swartland), and the PRS (Paarl, Robertson, Stellenbosch) in a little clockwise circle just to the east of PRS. For me, being interested in music, abbreviations like PRS are familiar but they could also work equally well for someone interested in, for example, the Physiotherapy Research Society.
Italy, with its 20 regions all producing wine of various levels and volume is another one I needed to recall. The country covers some 10 degrees of latitude and is split for the wine world in to the north, the central and the south regions. North for me is PLV LEFT, an easy way to recall Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto in the centre, followed by Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Friuli, Trentino/Alto Adige forming an anti-clockwise semi-circle around them. Valle D’Aosta gets an honorary mention in the top North West (not a major region and not on syllabus I believe). For the central regions I recall TUMLA (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo), and the south is CCSSBP (or 2xC, 2xS, British Petroleum) for Campania, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata and Puglia (again, Molise gets an honorary mention, but there’s not too much wine activity there).
Whilst you obviously still need to put in time learning the details for each one of these regions/countries to fulfil the recall, and these abbreviations certainly don’t cover all the important regions in many areas, using abbreviations is definitely a learning technique that I would recommend. Tailoring them to something that means something to yourself personally is the key and will help you out of a potentially tight restaurant spot, or under exam conditions. At the very least, it will also improve your geography.