You don’t necessarily have to take qualifications and exams, but that can help prove it to yourself and others on paper. Having qualifications allows you to pick good value wines from the lesser known regions, find the perfect wine gift or ordering a bottle for the table at your favourite restaurant. Here are a few ways you can boost your wine knowledge:
1)Watch Videos/Visit Blogs
2) Read Books
3) Attend Consumer and Industry Tastings
4) Take a Course & Become Certified
Videos, Blogs & Books
There are a huge array of possible videos, blogs & books- too many to list here! However, I’ll share my top 3 of each below:
https://winefolly.com/ A really useful blog by a respected former Sommelier and graphic artist. Lots of infographics and beautiful maps which you can also buy as prints.
https://www.youtube.com/c/GuildSomm/videos The Court of Master Sommeliers US Youtube channel has dozens of really interesting videos on wine regions, winemaking & vineyard practices designed to help their students, but free for everyone to view.
https://www.youtube.com/c/WSETGLOBAL/playlists The Wine and Spirit Education Trusts (WSET) 3 minute wine school videos are useful, short summaries of the major wine regions and styles. They also have a 3 minute spirits school series, plus other resources on service, pronouncing wine regions and terms correctly, how to get into the industry & more.
Some favourite books of mine that are well written:
Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course, Michael Schuster. Great for beginners and students, with tasting activities, helpful diagrams and explanations and good summaries on the major grape varieties.
World Atlas of Wine, Jancis Robinson & Hugh Johnson. A regularly updated, comprehensive reference tome by two of the wine world’s most respected experts.
Italian Wine for Dummies/French Wine for Dummies, Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy. Far from simple. Just a beautifully written, sometimes humorous guide to these often very confusing wine juggernaughts.
Quite a lot online now since they have been well received over the pandemic. It’s also worth checking out event sites like Eventbrite for ones in your area. Some are ‘industry only,’ but they usually count WSET students in this category. If you’re not sure, then just send a polite email to the organisers to ask if it’s ok to register. The worst they can say is no.
Theses are often a great opportunity to try lots of different grape varieties, wine styles and quality levels without having to break the bank buying full bottles yourself. They are often themed around a particular country or region.
It’s well worth taking a notepad and pen to practice your tasting notes. If you want to get really fancy, there are lots of wine journals available to buy. My favourite is the Moleskine one. You could also take your WSET student workbook and SAT card if you are enrolled on a course.
Take A Course
If you’re thinking of working in the industry in some capacity, this step is a must. However, accreditation and a certificate from a globally recognised organisation is also a good physical manifestation for yourself and others. There are a number of courses which I offer at Northern Wine School, though there is often a global network of approved providers so you’re sure to find on near you. Many can be done completely online now too.
For more information on the courses I offer at Northern Wine School, see my website here: https://www.northernwineschool.co.uk/c/courses/
Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Established in 1969, their courses are now the global standard in wine education. They provide a structured pathway with a broad syllabus providing a standardised approach to learning. There are a number of levels you work through, each increasing with breadth of expected knowledge.
Level 1 is a simple, 1 day course (or 4 weeks if taking the online version) covering the basics of winemaking, common grape varieties, storage and service and food and wine matching principles. If you’re nervous about exams, completely new to wine or haven’t studied in a formal way for a while this is a gentle introduction.
Level 2 requires no previous knowledge. However, it covers much more wine styles, grape varieties and countries/regions. It also goes into more detail on the impact of climate, soils and winemaking on style and price of wine. Therefore if you know a bit about wine already, this will probably be a more fulfilling place to start. It is normally over 3 days (or 5 weeks if doing the online version).
Level 3 & 4 are where it gets serious. Level 2 is highly recommended beforehand or extensive tasting practice and industry experience. This features a blind tasting exam, and expects you to apply knowledge of winemaking & climate to explain why wines have the characteristics and prices that they do. There is a 2hr30 exam of 2 modules incorporating a blind tasting of 2 wines described using the WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) followed by a combined multiple choice and short answer question paper.
Level 4 is a demanding course made up of multiple units, usually studied over 2 years. It involves blind tasting exams, theory papers & an individual research piece on a particular hot topic in the world of wine. You’ll pretty much be expected to know everything about all the major wine producing countries and their regions in depth. However, pass this and you will join just shy of 10,000 others globally entitled to the coveted DipWSET post nominals!
Wine Scholar Guild
Focus on French, Italian & Spanish wines from introductory level to master. They cover these counties regions more in depth than the WSET courses, featuring some that may not even be mentioned on their syllabus for these countries. No previous experience is required, though some of the foundation units on grape varieties and winemaking may be easier if you have already studied a WSET course. Compliments WSET courses nicely.
French Wine Scholar: https://www.northernwineschool.co.uk/c/courses/wine/french-wine-scholar/
Spanish Wine Scholar: https://www.northernwineschool.co.uk/c/courses/wine/spanish-wine-scholar/
Asia Pacific Wine and Spirits Institute (APWASI)
Study specialist modules on different wines & spirits completely online in your own time with this Canadian charity dedicated to furthering the enjoyment and appreciation of wines & spirits. No previous experience necessary. Lots of courses from beginner to advanced by Dr Clinton Lee, a respected figure in the wine education world. Each module can be taken separately, or you can study several and work towards accreditation.