What’s in a name?

The name of a grape variety will undoubtedly tell you something about what you’re drinking.  In its simplest form this could be as straight-forward as “I like Chardonnay, I’ve had Chardonnay before”, or it could be as intuitive as a name like Feteasca Neagra, which may highlight that it’s likely to be from an Eastern European country.

The names of many common varieties actually contain hidden clues as to their history or as to how they are grown and, whilst it is highly likely that it won’t affect the pleasure of drinking the wine, if you’re interested in deepening your wine knowledge these simple hints can help you to understand the wine a little more.  It can even give you hints about other facets of the wine (for example, whether a grape is thick or thin skinned).

Here’s my top 5.

Spain – Tempranillo – Spain’s premier red grape has a few synonyms, but is commonly referred to as Tempranillo.  The first part of the name (Temp) derives from the Spanish word for ‘early’ (Temprano), therefore highlighting that it is an early ripening variety.  The French word Temps means ‘time’ which is also a signpost that time is a critical factor when growing this variety.  What this means in terms of the final wine is one that is lower in alcohol due to less grape (ergo sugar) ripening time, and higher in acidity (when balanced against the unconverted sugars).

Italy – Primitivo – Like Tempranillo, this variety has other synonyms (Originally known as Tribidrag in Croatia, and well known as Zinfandel in the US), but the Italian grape name refers to Primo, which means ‘First’ in that language.  This again refers to the fact that this variety is one of the first to ripen, and will develop characteristics based on sun exposure.  More technically the Latin word primativus means ‘first to ripen’ and so Primitivo is almost a direct translation.

South America – Tannat – Well at home in the south of France, and now ‘the’ grape in Uruguay, it is thought that the name of this grape comes from the word tanat, a local French dialect meaning ‘coloured like tan’.  It is therefore quite coincidental that the berry is known to produce austere wines deeply coloured and, similar to its name, very high in tannins.  This one fact allows you to draw several further conclusions about the grape, including that it is a thick skinned variety that gives a lot of its character to the finished product.  This in turn tells you that it is better suited to a warmer climate in order to allow the grapes to ripen fully, and that it makes a better blending partner rather than being served up as a single variety wine.

France – Cabernet Sauvignon – OK, so it doesn’t really tell you much about the finished product, but with this variety name-checking other grapes varieties, it does indeed hint to it’s history and parentage.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, although these lighter characteristics will not tend to show themselves in the final wine.

South Africa – Pinotage – A bit more oblique than the fairly obvious parentage mentioned above, but South African grape Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (which was then known in the country as Hermitage).  The warmer SA climate needs to be taken in to account, giving a wine that is fresh as well as fragrant, and Pinotage seems to have inherited the fussy growing issues of Pinot Noir, ensuring that it is a troublesome variety to grow.

There’s obviously plenty more references out there if you look – from anything ending ‘Noir’ telling you that it is a red grape (never take anything for granted!!), to Gewurztraminer speaking of its north Italian origins.

Have fun looking!

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Member 1,555 – A variety of varieties – #MWWC20

The following essay is my submission for this months Wine Writing Challenge.

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Just over a year ago, whilst idly browsing wine sites on the internet, I saw something that made me bristle with excitement – ‘The Wine Century Club’ (http://www.winecentury.com).  Listed as a fun and adventurous approach to trying new wines and creating a record of your vinious experiences, the club was set up by Steve De Long of the De Long winery, and was open to anyone who has tried at least 100 different grape varieties.  As I write this essay, it has over 1,600 members worldwide.

Researching what it was all about and when it was set up, my enthusiasm was slightly dulled by reading comments from people who didn’t seem to understand why you would participate.  They were eager to point out that there was little reason as you didn’t really learn anything from the process and that there was no way that you could recall every variety that you had ever tried.  They went on, stating that even if you took the most meticulous of tasting notes, the fancier or rarer varieties were likely to be miniscule parts of a blend and therefore unable to be singled out as having been ‘tasted’.  Whilst these are valid points, I stuck to my reasoning that it encourages you to broaden your palate, actively search for something new to try, and I made a vow to actively study up on any new ‘finds’ that I may make in the process.  In addition, aside of it being another way to make wine drinking fun, it was a challenge, and challenges are meant to be met.

I set about starting my list.

There are multiple tiers of membership (up to 500 varieties tried!), but when you go for your first 100 varieties you don’t need to list the specific bottle you have tried.  Indeed the whole structure of the club is based on the honour system, in that you’re only fooling yourself if you cheat.  May the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate, as the entry form states.

I went through the provided list of varieties, checking off the ones that there was no doubt that I’d drunk at some point – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot, Riesling etc.  When switching between bottles in regular drinking it probably feels like you are trying a lot more different varieties than you actually are, and my list petered out at somewhere around 40 different types.  Where could I go next?

Thankfully as a diploma student of the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) I had spent multiple weeks in a classroom environment trying flight after flight of wine, and part of the whole point was to ensure that you were well acquainted with a wide variety of styles and tastes.  To further aid the learning process you were expected to take detailed notes and thankfully I still had mine.  Scores more varieties hit my list and took me well over my 100 variety target, and I was able to start fleshing out my lists with the actual producers and vintage details which added more legitimacy to my application.  Even allowing for things like disputes from synonyms (Zinfandel and Primitivo, for example) I had enough to join the club, and so I sent off my form.  A good month later (the club is based in the US and I am in the UK) I was the proud recipient of a splendid certificate, and happy in the knowledge that I was only one of 30 people in the UK (who have participated, obviously) to have reached the 100 mark.  Well, I was happy for a second, and then I was already working out how to reach the next rung up.

Trying 200 different varieties was a daunting thing, but this made me think all the harder about the task at hand.  I dusted off the tasting notes from my wine club purchases which added a few more ‘off the beaten track’ varieties to the list, but it was time to up my game.  In a moment of serendipitous timing, wine magazine Decanter announced that they would be hosting their first ever Mediterranean Wine Encounter, bringing together producers from stalwarts France, Italy and Spain, as well as up and coming countries like Israel, Croatia, Turkey and Slovenia.  Looking through the event catalogue my eyes were alight at the number of varieties that were featured that I had never even heard of – Pavlos, Goustolidi, Callet, Krassato – and needless to say, I booked my ticket there and then.

I was now up to about 170 varieties when I hit upon the fact that, whilst exploring these far flung places making wine, there were plenty of English (aka Germanic) varieties that I hadn’t even tried.  I set about scheduling up visits to numerous UK wineries (which you can read about in some of my earlier blogs).  This added a few more obscure ones to the list – Rondo, Kerner and Huxelrebe to name just three, and my list now stands tantalizingly close to the all-important figure of 200 varieties tasted.  I now actively (and excitedly) scan the supermarket shelves and wine lists online or in restaurants, looking to add to my expanding collection.

As Christmas approaches, wine season kicks in to gear here in the UK and I have several tasting events lined up over the coming weeks.  Here’s hoping that they have a few new varieties to try alongside the usual suspects!  The whole experience has been tremendous fun for me – why not give it a try for yourself?

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WSET Diploma: The theory of everything

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This week saw me sitting my final exam for the Wines & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 4 Diploma. After 3 years and 7 exams, I’m within touching distance of completing this notoriously hard course. The exam that I sat was the feared Unit 3 ‘Light Wines of the World’ Theory exam. The description ‘Light wines of the world’ means the exam can be about any aspect of winemaking in the vineyard or in the winery, of any number of different wine styles, produced anywhere in the world.

Ergo, it’s HUGE.

There’s several textbooks (not least the massive Oxford Companion to Wine which runs to nearly 800 pages), but not only that, when you dip in to these textbooks it also tells you to check out a further selection of other books. And then to go online. And don’t forget to keep up with the trade magazines.

I will admit that this isn’t my first time sitting the exam (it is my 3rd attempt) but unlike, say, a driving test where people are fairly protective of whether they passed first time, there’s no shame in admitting that you didn’t pass this one. Indeed, many of the people I spoke to on exam day were re-sit students. On the first attempt of this final exam you are expected to do a 3 hour written exam straight after a 2.5 hour tasting exam. No small task in itself.  Frustratingly my first re-sit came mere points away from a pass and, because of a silly misunderstanding when reading the question which cost me the pass, I will never ever think of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the same way again!

Anyway, here I was, giving it what I currently view as perhaps my last shot at this final test. They only do one sitting of the exam every six months, and so attempting it just 3 times can eat up nearly 2 years of your life (it takes 10 weeks for the final results to come through).  You’re given seven questions, of which you must answer five of them. A standard pass for each question requires you to write circa 3 sides of A4 of concise information, in just half an hour, and of course you have no idea which questions will come up.  Questions this time ranged from comparing three different wines from France in respect of the difference in grapes, styles, quality and price, to being able to articulate the advantages and disadvantages of making bulk and premium wine in South Africa.

Time will tell how well I’ve done, so roll on August.

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Bitesize: Alsace

Bitesize is an occasional series providing regional over-views, learning aids, and key statistics in under 1000 words

Alsace

Tucked away on the eastern border of France sits the wine region of Alsace. Quite distinct from other French wine regions, it’s recognisable for its use of certain grapes not found elsewhere in France, Germanic flute style bottles, and wines labelled by grape variety as opposed to the regional French style (Bordeaux, Burgundy etc.). Alsace owes this cross-pollination of French-German culture down to its position, resting as it does between the natural boundary of the Vosges mountain range, and the political boundary of the River Rhine. Aside from times of occupation, Alsace has always been a part of France, and the residents proudly consider themselves French, but from the names of their towns (e.g. Riquewihr), top producers (e.g. Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Trimbach) and timber framed structures of their housing, there is a resolutely Germanic feel to the place.

Whilst the Vosges Mountains may act as a barrier between Alsace and the rest of France, this range is key to its success, acting as a barrier and trapping approaching rain clouds. Outside of Perpignan in the south of France, this makes it the driest area in the country, guaranteeing long warm growing seasons and well ripened grapes. Alsace sits at the northern limit of grape production (the Champagne region only marginally trumps it to being the most northerly of French vineyards), and when you add that cool climatic influence to the rain-free sunshine enjoyed by the area you have a unique micro climate. Whilst the heat in Perpignan traditionally produces robust reds and rustic whites, Alsace can deliver medium bodied, clean fruit-forward white wines with refreshing acidity. Malolactic is avoided by keeping wines cool and sulphured and, although matured in barrel, no oak influence is imparted as the barrels are decades old. Wines are bottled within a year of harvest to maximise the freshness.

Alsace has a few thousand individual/family growers owning small inherited parcels of land, but over 90% of the wines produced come from just 220 companies. The vineyards of Alsace are at 200-400 metres above sea level, and run in a 100 kilometre north-south strip, split in to two regions – Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine) and Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine). Confusingly, as you look at a map, the Bas (Lower) Rhin is in the north of the country and the Haut (Upper) Rhin is in the south. Whilst great wines can be made in the Bas-Rhin, it is the Haut-Rhin that produces the finest wines as this is where the Vosges Mountains come in to their central and highest point. The vineyards nestle up in to the foothills receiving the best protection from the elements, getting good drainage, and excellent eastern exposure to the rising sun.

The soils in Alsace are something of a mosaic (the by-product of geological fault lines below the region), underpinned by the granitic base of the Vosges, and more akin to the nearby German region of Baden, than any French region. Regional body CIVA (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) lists 13 different soils, including schist, Sandstone, Limestone, Marl, Clay, Loess and Loam to name a few. Each of these soil types will pair better with a particular grape variety and producers continue to investigate the combinations to unlock the full potential of the region. 90% of the production here is for white wines (the remainder being red wine from Pinot Noir) and, in essence, two levels of grapes exist:

Noble Varieties: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat

Other Varieties: Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay

Only the noble varieties are able to produce Grand Cru wines, whilst the other supporting varieties will be used in Gentil (50% of the blend will be Noble varieties) or Edelzwicker (Noble mixture). In reality, noble grapes can be used in Edelzwicker, but in practice this is very rare. It’s interesting to note that Riesling and Gewurtztraminer are not grown elsewhere in France and owe more to the German/Austrian influence, although the style of wine remains French (being fat and plump as opposed to the lean German style).

The classification structure is also of interest, especially for a French region, as these are often rigorously delineated. The whole of Alsace is covered by a regional AC (Appellation Controlée) and this accounts for 75% of production, but there is no level in-between that and Grand Cru wine (a single vineyard, single vintage from one noble grape variety) which accounts for 4% of production. It simply cuts from either being a top wine, to a standard wine. Wine laws for Alsace were put together fairly recently with the regional AC in place from 1962, Grand Cru added in 1975, and Cremant d’Alsace (21% of production) added in 1976. With the region producing wine for as long as any area in France, the late creation of the wine laws may have actually been down to the region itself. The grapes produced in the super sunny conditions were routinely transported to other French regions to round out blends where grapes had failed to ripen.

Thanks to the guaranteed lengthy growing season there are also two types of late harvest wines produced – Vendange Tardive and the even rarer Sélection de Grains Nobles. These wines are produced from extra ripened grapes that are picked something like 3 weeks after standard grapes, giving a noticeably sweeter wine.

Whilst some were initially put off of Alsatian wines due to the legal requirement that they are bottled in flute bottles (which for some linked the wines to the unpopular sweet wines of Germany), times have changed and the wines of Alsace are now fully appreciated as unique and expressive varietal wines. 75% of production slakes the domestic French thirst, whilst the remaining 25% is exported, the main markets being Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark) and the USA/Canada.

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Wine Epiphany – MWWC#17

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I read earlier in the week that wine blogging is dead.

This is bad news as my wine blog is only 5 months old, but happily, it seems the average time for a wine blog to operate before fatigue sets in can be something like 6 years, so I’ve still got a little way to go. A quick Google, initially to rediscover the article that I had misplaced, filled the page with a slurry of articles all predicting in equality the promising future or the sad demise of the wine blog. Some even offered up an obituary for the medium.

When faced with the question of Epiphany in wine from the MWWC I’m going to take it at face value – a standout moment of clarity that changed me from that point on. As a long time imbiber, I’m going to have to think way back. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. There’s been so many over so long a time that really only the watersheds from yesteryear still stick out. So sit back, and let me weave you on a tour that rides from 2007 to the present day.

In terms of a standout moment for red wine, I recall the time in 2010 that I found a bottle of Chateau Latour 2001, vaguely reduced at the Berry Bros outlet in Berkshire. Flush from a work bonus I snapped it up and kept it for as long as I could, which in reality was only a further year or two, before I savoured its contents and then deified the cork and empty bottle. I personally got a lot out of the experience; not least tasting the wine, but the full majesty of opening and decanting the bottle, and taking notes. Then tasting and re-tasting. The experience was somewhat marred at a wine dinner some time later in 2012, when I was openly lambasted by a fellow guest for pre-empting the experience, and wasting the opportunity of keeping the bottle cellared for another ten years.

Oops.

Sparkling (or should I clarify, Champagne) is still my alma mater for wine, and I remember at a job interview for a wine role, they asked me for my wine epiphany moment. I took them back to the glamorous location of Gatwick airport and my purchase of the Dom Pérignon 1995. I asked myself how something so priceless could have a price tag. £70 later, I had purchased the un-purchaseable but made a storage faux-pas by standing the bottle in my front room in direct sunlight on a shelf acting as some sort of make-shift shrine to that unique experience. On pouring, the bottle was OK (it was no 1996, let’s face it) but simply part of an experience that, in hindsight, was only available to me and only about 5 million other purchasers of DP 1995.

For whites and Rosé I have no real idea. My first Orange wine experience came last month at Selfridges in London, at my request. It wasn’t notable, and I was glad I had requested a sample as opposed to just blindly paying out for a bottle.

No, I think my real wine epiphany lies elsewhere. Was it when my wife bought me the birthday present of an internet only course for wine? A cheap, non-recognised qualification from an internet course provider that has since gone bust, rendering my qualification void. Whilst a waste of her £36, this did however, spur me on to sign up to the courses provided by the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) in London and, as an outsider to the trade, self-fund my way through to the Level 4 Diploma. This is probably the one wine moment more than any other that leads me to where I am today, which is looking to inspire others through the popularisation of wine education. And this is also the moment that brings me back to my initial point about wine blogging.

In what is already quite a crowded niche, I set up my site, and launched many a wine opinion on the world. Slowly but surely, my site has been not only building in content, but also building in subscribers, feedback and, inadvertently, the quality of what I write. Importantly, I feel that I have something valuable to say that others will enjoy reading. I try to keep my subject matter as broad as possible. This runs the gamut from what wine I have tried today, to nuggets of wine history, as well as giving hints and tips to those taking wine exams through organisations such as the WSET.

This has led to a good following on Twitter, to tweeting and conversing with many unknown fellow wine lovers around the globe. It is a direct result of this that has led me to contribute to websites such as the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

My wine epiphany? Well, you’re reading this aren’t you……?!

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Seeing double

When writing ‘seeing double’ in a wine column it could well be expected that it would be a reference to the effects of over imbibing. Today’s post, however, is looking at the subtle complexities within wine education. When trying to understand any complex subject matter it’s best to have access to clear information, however, the further you look in to something, the cloudier it becomes.

This might all sound like I’m talking about peering through a glass of badly oxidised wine, but I’m actually talking about the curious double use of many terms, or terms similar enough to confuse the learner. It was whilst looking at a map of Spain last week, or more precisely at Galicia in the Northwest, I did a double-take, spotting that the capital city is named Santiago. Both in and out of the wine world, when you think of a capital city called Santiago you’re more likely to bring Chile to mind. “Fair enough” I hear you say, the Spanish Santiago is unlikely to come up in many wine texts, and so naturally is unlikely to cause confusion. Indeed, many places have the same name as others – here in Berkshire I live not 5 miles away from Hermitage, but I’m nowhere near to the famous French hill known for its top quality Syrah. So well known in fact, that when Syrah was imported in to Australia, they christened the grape variety ‘Hermitage’. Thankfully this confusion (and many others, such as the USA making ‘Burgundy’) were outlawed at the end of the 1980’s when French designation laws protected the name.

Herm2Herm         One Hermitage to another

In terms of other confusing place names there is Rioja. Any wine lover knows (and probably loves) their Spanish Rioja, but there is also another – La Rioja, and that’s in Argentina.

Regions can be a pain too; California has a Central region, but so does Chile. There’s also the Central Vineyards of the Loire. Let’s not forget Coastal regions; South Africa has one of those, and the Californian coast is split in to the North coast, North central coast and South central coast.

I’m reminded of the upset that followed a recent WSET exam when the question ‘write a paragraph about VDP’ came up. Many students naturally assumed that they would be writing about Vin de Pays, the classification for French wines that sits just above Vin de table. Imagine the surprise then when the results came back, which told them they were supposed to be writing about Verband Deutscher Prädikats, a German quality wine classification.

There’s always some initial confusion with Muscadelle / Muscadet / Muscat (I seem to recall a multiple choice question in an early WSET exam I took that looked to pick up on this). Muscadelle being a Bordeaux grape variety, Muscadet being a Loire Valley wine (made from the Melon grape), and Muscat being a widely used grape variety.

My pet peeve ‘double’ has to go to Italy where they have a grape from the Piedmont region called Barbera. The Piedmont region is also home to a wine called Barbaresco, and naturally enough you might assume that the grape makes the similarly titled wine. Not so. The Barbera grape is commonly used to round out blends, and Barbaresco is made from the Nebbiolo grape. Now, it was the Italians that thought that the sparkling wine Prosecco being made from a grape also called Prosecco was so confusing, that the grape variety was officially renamed to Glera. Personally, I think that the Barbera situation is just as confusing!

There’s doubtless many more doubles in the wine world waiting to trip us up. I’d be interested to hear of any that you’ve come across, or have had trouble with in the past.

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I before E

I’m referring of course to ‘I before e, except after c’, the rhyme used to assist people with their spelling. Whilst a handy little mnemonic, it is largely ignored now as having too many exceptions to the rule to make it a useful learning tool (I’ve used one exception myself in my very first sentence). These ground rules are important though for establishing boundaries, and I came across one when progressing through my WSET Levels 2 and 3 (Intermediate and Advanced) that I thought I would share. In todays wine world it’s not a watertight rule by any means, and there are multiple exceptions, but for me it still plays a large visual part of how I structure the wine world, and certainly something I still use when helping others.

I’m talking about the 30-50 rule – that wine is produced in countries, and specifically limited to the areas of those countries, that lie between 30-50 degrees latitude in both the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere.

Wine Map   Map Source ThirtyFifty

When I’ve run tastings for small groups it’s been a particularly successful visual in helping people to work out where in the world they are drinking, as well as the what. I had maps printed on pages of A4 and laminated, and then set them out as placemats for each taster. They could use the blank side of the page to assess the appearance/colour of their wine, and then flip the page over to put it in context as to where it has come from. Is it cool climate or warm climate? Is the region near water or inland?

As you can see from the image above the majority of wine producing areas fall within these two bands, certainly all of the important historical ones. Two things are changing this though and may eventually consign the 30-50 rule to the bin.

Firstly is global warming, which is now allowing viticulture to take place in the outer limits of these boundaries. Only 50 years ago English wine was a dream away, and certainly not something that could ever be taken seriously. How times have changed, and just the rise of a degree or two has enabled winemaking to move north in to southern England (and also parts of northern Germany). There isn’t enough warmth yet to successfully ripen red grapes to any depth – some varietal wines exist but they are far outnumbered by their white counterparts, and the red grapes are better utilised in sparkling wine. Many of these red grapes won’t be familiar, being either hybrid or Germanic varieties, but the most famous red is Pinot Noir which, liking a longer cooler climate takes well here. It also thrives in northern France, being a key component in Champagne and the red grape of Burgundy.

Secondly, progressive winemaking is continually changing the production methods and vintners have an armoury of tools to use in a given circumstance. If you head back to the decades leading up to the 1980’s it wasn’t unusual to see a split of harvests something like 3 vintages per decade being rated as poor, 3 years rated as good, 2 as great and 2 as outstanding. These days you are unlikely ever to see wines rated below good. Technology allows such constant intervention in every step of the winemaking process that you can disperse storm clouds using iodine flares or utilise temperature controls in warmer climates. The younger breed of tenacious winemakers, producing in many countries (Chile, for example) where winemaking has no tradition handed down through generations, have no rules to bind or limit them. They’re continually taking winemaking further or higher, looking for that unique new mix of climate, soil and grape variety that will create a unique selling point (USP).

As things progress, I hope that the map visual with its two bands will continue to be used, even with its inaccuracies. For me, it limited what I viewed at the beginning of my wine studies as the unlimited number of wines that existed in the world. Sainsbury’s sold different wine to Tesco, who sold different wine to Marks & Spencer. Multiply that by the number of merchants, regions, producers and individual lines/brands, and you had something that was frankly un-fathomable.

Conversely, it was a map of the whole world that allowed me to put things in to perspective.

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TUMLA and other abbreviations…..

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.

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