Inspired: Creating a Memorization Training on Wine

I kind of hate the idea of training for memorization – we have the internet in our pockets! But a recent post on E-Learning Heroes sought help on just that, and had a good reason to do so: winery staff need to memorize specific characteristics about different wines. I found this task fascinating, so I mocked up what I may do to aid those winery staff.

Everything in this post is fake and just for fun! Plus, wine is awesome.


Winery staff need to memorize specific characteristics of their wine. Wines are added and removed from the menu 5-6 times a year.

Number of wines: 10-15

Number of characteristics per wine: 10-15


  • Winery staff will already know what the characteristics mean.
  • Winery staff have training days when the wines are added and removed.


The solution will have several collateral pieces including:

  • Wine Symbol Guides
  • Instructor-Led Training
  • Manager/Peer Follow-Up Testing
  • Additional Collateral to Assist Retention

Wine Symbol Guides

The wine symbol guides will have all the characteristics categorized and labeled. Here is an example of the different categorizations of wine descriptions that could be used. These would be printed and kept in the kitchen (as they would be relatively large due to the several characteristics). The icons will be as close to the descriptor as possible.

Small Sample of a Wine Symbol Guide

Each winery staff would have their own, small handheld wine list that would have the associated symbols under each wine. The list would be updated anytime there is an addition or removal. Overtime, it would be expected that the winery staff would not need to use the list, and rather use it immediately after training to aid with recall.

Instructor-Led Training

A few years ago, I was especially inspired by this Ted Talk about memory (it’s a great watch). He explains a method where you essentially associate a ridiculous story with whatever you’re trying to memorize. I would incorporate that method into the training.

Sample Facilitator Guide

The activities will be summarized and not fully laid out like in a facilitator guide.

Goals of the instructor-led training:

  • Increase wine acumen
  • Memorize characteristics of new wines
  • Strengthen memory of characteristics iconography

Set Up:


  • 1 card per new wine with only the wine name and type on it.
  • 1 card per new wine with characteristics for each in both word and icon format.
  • Enough icon card sets for each group. Each icon card has the characteristic name and icon. Each group should receive a complete set of icon cards.
  • A way to keep score.
  • Writing material for each group.
  • Enough bottles of each new wine for samples for the group


  • Take the number of new wines, if more than 5 wines, find the highest even denominator to determine the number of groups.
    • Example: If you have 5 wines, you will have 5 groups that each receive 1 wine.
    • Example: If there are 8 wines, you will have 4 groups that each receive 2 wines.
    • Example: If you have 9 wines, you will 4 groups and a wine left over for another activity.


  • Two activities will have opportunities for scoring.
  • Guess the Characteristics: 1 point for each characteristic guessed correctly.
  • Memorization Storytelling (per round): 50 points 1st place, 40 points for second place, 30 points for third place.
  • (Optional – if extra wine) Bonus round: 15 points to winning group


  • 1st place group: each group member takes home their choice of 3 bottles of new wines
  • 2nd place group: each group member takes home their choice of 1 bottle of new wine

Activity 1: Guess the Characteristics

Goal: Increase wine acumen

Goal: Strengthen memory of characteristics iconography

Summarized Activity: Each group will have the wine cards without characteristics, and the icon cards. They will taste each wine and attempt to match the characteristics. When they have completed 1 wine, they will call over the facilitator who will compare their guesses to the associated characteristics card and score them. The facilitator will then hand them the characteristics card, and the group will move to the next wine.

Activity 2: Memorization Storytelling

Goal: Memorize characteristics of new wines

Goal: Strengthen memory of characteristics iconography

Summarized Activity: Each group will “tell a story” about each wine and its characteristics in the style mentioned in the linked Ted Talk. They can order the characteristics in any way to tell the story. If each group has more than 1 wine, you will do the amount of “rounds” necessary to complete all the wines. In each round, they will choose one wine and write a story. They will receive instructions and sample stories to help them.

At the end of the round, each of the groups will present their stories while the remainder of the participants taste the associated wine and have the bottles in front of them. The presenters will hold up each icon card as they reach that characteristic in the story.

The facilitator will have a rubric to determine first, second, and third place. Essentially, the more ridiculous and memorable the story, the better. The facilitator will add the score to any of the points they received in the previous rounds.

Example Story:

  • Wine: Red medium-bodied barnyard style wine with hints of blackberry and lilac (typically there would be more characteristics).
  • Story: [Hold barnyard card] The water cows neighed as the [hold red medium-bodied card] reddish sun set over Atlantis. [Hold blackberry card] Mermaids plucked blackberries from the ends of sea urchins wearing [hold lilac card] bright purple trilbies.

(Optional – if an extra wine) Bonus Round – all tables receive the same new wine, attempt to guess the characteristics, and come up with stories.

Add up points at the end – winners receive prizes mentioned at the beginning. All the stories get posted somewhere (perhaps around the kitchen) for people to “freshen” up on.

Obviously, it would need to be tested and likely tweaked, but that would be what I would probably go into a classroom with to beta test.

Manager/Peer Follow-Up Testing

Allowing for a week after the class for the winery staff to brush up, the manager or a peer will take each winery staff aside to test them. It would be low pressure and branded as an extra learning opportunity versus a graded test. Performance evaluations should not mention these tests, rather, if they are able to memorize in front of guests.

Additional Collateral


My inspiration comes from Alaskan Airlines who made “Compliance Coasters” for their staff to brush up on different requirements. I thought it would be fun to do the same with these wines, they could be what they use behind the counter for their own wine, they could place them under each wine during wine tastings, etc. The coasters would contain an image of the wine, would be colored based on whether they are red or white and the “body” of it, have a short description of any characteristics that couldn’t be represented by an icon, and its associated icons.

Wine Coaster Mock Up

Sensory Videos

I would love to do a mini video of each icon, perhaps that play in a playlist for each style. They would be very basic. The icon would appear amidst similar imagery and sounds and end with the name of the characteristic. Perhaps for the “smoky” characteristic, it could be a background of a campfire and roasting s’mores where you hear laughter and crackling. For the “delicate” characteristic, you could have soft tinkling piano music while thin silks are being carefully displayed and touched by potential customers at a market. The videos would help people visualize both the icons and the characteristics, making them more memorable.

Mini Practice Tests

This would likely be a very basic e-learning matching activity for people to optionally practice with.

Wrap Up

Total, I pondered on this for 2 days and wrote the article in one day. It’s a very rough draft and thought dump that would need a lot more refinement, but it is something I may put into a little presentation for a client to get their thought before making more detailed documentation. It’s a relatively cheap solution – the most expensive part likely being a graphic designer, if desired.

Even though the E-Learning Heroes forum post requested an e-Learning solution, I really only had one in my line up – and it was optional. I like to think this option gives a nice sense of ownership and community to the winery staff, and provides performance support with the collateral and testing.

If a staff member overhears another staff member stumbling on a characteristic, they can just say whatever part of the associated story out loud to help them out. The customer will not understand the sentence, and the stumbling staff member will still seem knowledgeable. The time-to-memorization is shortened and feels less stressful for staff.

I don’t know much of their real client’s requirements and abilities; perhaps they really have no way to have training days or are incredibly too busy to do the manager/peer follow-up component. Perhaps there aren’t even enough winery staff to hold the training. All of these ideas are for fun with a fake client in my head.

Plus I really like wine.

  • Brian Washburn

    Love these ideas, Rachel! Was just talking with a client about a new project that dealt with this very thing – how to get people to embed a bunch of facts about 7 different things.

    You’re spot on – we do have the Internet in our pockets, but restaurant patrons (among many others) may not have the greatest confidence in their waiter if he needs to keep pulling his phone out of his pocket to answer questions about wine all night long.

    Thanks for sharing these ideas!!