Before my first attempt at the Advanced Sommelier Exam, I did not use flash cards.
It just seemed a step too far, a blunt instrument to be used as a last resort when nothing else worked.
Also, I did not want to think that I needed to use such a crude method.
I began to draw lots of maps instead, something I was initially uncomfortable with. However, I gradually came to enjoy it.
Sadly, after not succeeding in my first attempt, I was forced to reevaluate my methods.
I had studied much of the world of wine, but while it was quite broad, it was not yet sufficiently deep.
Perhaps it was enough for day-to-day table-side conversation.
But not for the Advanced Sommelier Exam.
I needed a new weapon. And now I was willing to try anything.
Well, I said “anything”, but it still took me a while to come around.
I had recently discovered the power of Journaling.
I was covering material at an unprecedented depth and pace.
I continued meeting with my study group, throwing out random theory questions in between tastings.
Others in my study group had jumped on the flash card bandwagon way before I did.
While I might have had to flip through my journal to come up with an appropriate question, they could just randomly draw a card from their deck and fire away.
But the final straw was when a question was asked:
“What is the main grape of Bucelas?”
I drew a blank. Who or what was Bucelas?
Someone else answered: “Portuguese DOP, white wines from Arinto.”
Portugal. I had studied that back in May 2019.
I flipped through my journal…
There it was. Black and white. In my own handwriting.
I had studied it and forgotten it.
Son of a bitch.
I learned something new that day: Theory was a whale.
How do you devour a whale?
One bite at a time.
I think I went and bought my first pack of flash cards that day.
Facing My Fears
One card at a time, I came to see just how much I was missing in my Theory.
For example, Germany had been a black hole.
On the surface, I dismissed it as unimportant. But really, I was intimidated. I was scared of the language, the producers, the grapes and crossings, and all the millions of Bereiches I would have to memorise…
Millions? Flash cards in hand, I put it to the test.
Far from millions, there were probably fewer than twenty I needed to know.
The Anbaugebiete of Mosel only had six: Burg Cochem, Bernkastel, Ruwertal, Obermosel, Saar, Moseltor.
Another flash card done.
Rheingau only had one. One! Johannisberg!
Didn’t even need a flash card for that, but made one anyway.
Was this really what I was afraid of?
One Bite At A Time
Portugal was only the beginning.
I flipped through my study journal and found copious amounts of information that I had written down but struggled to recall.
- Austrian DACs
- Italian DOC/DOCGs
- Fortified wines – ageing requirements
- Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus
- Champagne Prestige and Single-Vineyard Cuvees
- Greek PDOs and grapes
- Synonyms for obscure grape varieties
- Subzones of lesser-known French regions
- Vintages: Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhône Valley, Italy…
- Canadian DVAs
- Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Hungary…
The amount of material was mind-numbing.
I broke them down, one card at a time.
Flash Cards Redeemed
There are people who passed Theory without having to use flash cards.
Maybe I wanted to think that I was one of them.
After failing my first attempt at Theory, I examined myself more closely.
I tried some new things.
On my second attempt, I passed.
Far from being a blunt instrument, it proved to be a multi-tool, effective for tackling any topic I cared to throw at it.
I’m glad I came around. Otherwise I would have remained ignorant.
If you happen to be studying anything that requires extensive powers of recall, I hope reading this will encourage you to give flash cards a try.
And the occasional glass of wine wouldn’t hurt either.
Read more: How To Start Your Own Wine Cellar