To WSET or not to WSET…that is the question troubling many wine lovers and industry actors nowadays. In trying to help you reach your own answer to that question, I will start a brief series of articles on what the WSET experience has brought me on my journey through Levels 1 – 3. Mind you, as at the date of writing this first article, I am still awaiting my results for WSET Level 3 Award in Wine, so my journey might not be over just yet 🙂 .
What is WSET?
First things first. What is WSET? If you reached this articles by way of google-ing WSET and their qualifications, you probably already know WSET stands for the “Wine and Spirits Education Trust”. Exactly as its name says, WSET is a charitable trust established in 1969 to promote wine education in the United Kingdom.
So successful was it in its mission that currently it is one of the main wine education suppliers, whose certifications are recognized worldwide, to the point where their certifications are standard employment requirement. Just like the IELTS is a standard in terms of English language knowledge of non-native speakers, the WSET certifications speak on their own in terms of wine knowledge of their holder.
Yes, the symbolic blue lady of the wine educates a staggering number of people each year. How many? Well, it seems no less than 85,487 during the 2016/2017 academic year alone. While English is the default language of delivery for WSET courses, they now offer them in 19 languages throughout the world.
What does WSET teach?
One thing should be clear from the “get-go”, WSET does not offer certifications specifically tailored for wine service and the accommodation industry. While WSET awards in Wine do shed some light on wine service, the focus of WSET is more on general wine knowledge, covering anything from viticulture and winemaking to wine styles and wine regions of the world. Should your main focus be to work in wine service, particularly as a sommelier working the restaurant floor, WSET might not necessarily be the right qualification for you and the Court of Master Sommeliers certifications might be more appropriate (https://www.mastersommeliers.org/).
Currently WSET offers certifications structured on different topics (such as wines, spirits or even sake) and various levels of depth, depending on how deep you want to dig into the topic and how many hours of study you are willing to put in. Their full qualifications list can be found on their website (https://www.wsetglobal.com/qualifications/), but only certain of them might be available in your area depending on the availability of local approved programme providers (APPs).
The WSET Diploma (or Level 4 Award in Wines and Spirits) is also the stepping stone, which might grant you access to the acclaimed Institute of the Masters of Wines, and subject to successful completion of the draconic education requirements, result in you becoming one of the less than 400 MW existing worldwide.
For the purpose of this series of articles and due to my own personal experience, we will focus on WSET Levels 1 – 3 Award in Wines.
What does WSET Level 1 Award in Wines cover?
The Level 1 Award in Wines is an introductory course for wine lovers and industry actors with limited background in wines. It is not designed for people with absolutely no affinity for wine whatsoever, just as it is not aimed for wine aficionados whose background knowledge might render the course overly simplistic for them.
In brief, over the span of approximately 12 hours of actual course delivery you will explore the main types and styles of wine and learn to taste it according to the WSET systematic approach to tasting (through visual, smell and taste assessment). You will also be taught a series of basic principles in wine and food paring, but these require a much more lengthy, in depth, trial and error approach to be fully taken on.
As part of the practical aspect of the course, you will taste and take full tasting notes on approximately 18 wines, but both the actual course length and number of wines tasted differs between APPs.
Upon completing Level 1 Award in Wines you should be pretty confident to talk about basic wine styles and distinguish main features such as residual sugar, acidity, body, tannins, body or complexity. Of course, practice makes perfect so keep on tasting both before and after taking the course. Will you be an wine expert after Level 1 Award in Wines? By all means no. Will you learn a common language to discuss and understand wine and network to the fullest? Definitely – some of the people I`ve met in WSET are now my friends, because nothing forges a friendship like adults struggling with studying together (more on that to come, part of the article on Level 3).
How do you know if this course is truly for you? Well if you can comfortably answer the question of “What style of wine is a White Zinfandel?” with anything but white, you are probably better suited for Level 2 🙂 – review to follow.
How is the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines assessed?
WSET Level 1 Award in Wines is assessed through a multiple choice test, consisting of 30 questions with a single correct answer, to be completed in 45 minutes with a minimum pass requirement of 70%. Full course specification can be found here.
You are usually expected to take the exam immediately after completing the course and I fully recommend doing so – it can be easily navigated with attention and a bit of extra focus on wine and food pairing principles.
Please note that I have found it useful to solve a few sample questions before going into the actual exam. While these are not in any way endorsed by WSET, I think you might find this link useful.
If you successfully pass the exam, you get a certificate and a pin and the certainty you can never step away from the wine world again 🙂 . For Level 1 particularly, you get the same Pass mark regardless of whether you passed with minimum required percentage or 100% scoring, but later on they distinguish between Pass, Pass with Merit and Pass with Distinction – we will discuss this in the article on Level 2.
My absolutely fabulous Level 1 group
Where can I take WSET Level 1 Award in Wines ?
You can find an APP in your area on the WSET website, but for Romania in particular I am aware of 3 APPs currently delivering the Level 1 Award in Wines, please find links below. For the sake of transparency, please note that the first APP listed is the one I took my courses with between September 2017 – January 2018, under the guidance of Imre Szakacs-Orha, WSET Diploma holder and IMW student, and any input I might have is fully based on my personal experience.
Wine in Business – https://winb.ro/
Trawis Transylvania Wine School – http://trawis.ro/
Wine Craft – http://winecraft.ro/ro/courses/
How much does it cost?
Approximately 200 EUR, but individual APP websites should be checked.
Assuming you aren’t already entering Level 1 Award in Wines, I will be telling more on the rather more in-depth Level 2 Award in Wines as part of a separate article. Feel free to email me privately for any further guidance you might need.