Wondering whether the WSET level 2 qualification is for you? As a recent graduate from the WSET online course, here’s my take on what I think you might get out of the course.
I signed up for an online course for WSET level 2 as part of my CPD. As a specialised translator and copywriter, it’s all very well saying I know my stuff about wine, especially Italian wine but, I thought, why not back this up with an internationally-recognised qualification?
There are loads of reasons why you might be thinking of getting a WSET qualification. If you work in the hospitality industry, especially doing wine and drinks-related stuff, it’s a great qualification to have. Also if you work in wine sales or marketing, it’s a good way to boost your career prospects. But you don’t have to have professional reasons for doing the course. Maybe you just love learning as much as you can about something you enjoy.
WSET Level 1 or 2?
You don’t need to have done level 1 before doing level 2 – it’s pretty much up to you, depending on how much you know about wine already. Level 1 gives you the basics, but if you already have a keen interest in wine, it’s quite likely you can go straight to level 2. Check out the WSET website for details of each course if you’re not sure.
Where can I do it?
Well, pretty much anywhere. There are loads of “Approved Programme Providers” all over the world, offering varying courses to prepare you for the final exam. There are daytime or evening courses, a lot of them with guided wine tastings, some more intense than others. I opted for the WSET online course because it was the best solution to fit around family commitments. You have tasks for each week but you are free to access the materials whenever you like. I went to London for the exam.
Online wine-tasting? How does that work? Wine-tasting is part of the course. You are given suggestions on types of wine to taste, like ‘a light-bodied red’ or a ‘new world oaked chardonnay’. This means you can do the tastings at your own pace but you don’t get real-time guidance on the wine tasting. Anyway, more on the tastings later.
What’s the exam like?
Sadly, or maybe wisely, there is no wine-tasting involved as part of the exam. But there’s nothing to stop you honing your tasting skills to celebrate afterwards!
It’s a 50 question multiple-choice exam which you have an hour to complete. In the course materials you should have some example questions so you know what kind of thing to expect. I’d say the questions range from very straight-forward to rather challenging. Everything you need to know is in the book.
What do you learn?
One of the key ideas is that, on completion of the course, you will be able to look at a range of wine labels and decipher them. So, for example, if you see a wine label that says ‘Pauillac AC’, your Bordeaux bells will start ringing. You will know that this is a wine from the Haut-Medoc area in Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Gironde. Why is this important? Because this tells us that the dominant grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon and this tells us we should expect flavours of blackcurrant, black fruits and oak. You will also know that if you pair this with sweet food, the sweetness will decrease your perception of the body and fruitiness this wine has to offer.
The course covers the main grape varieties and wine-making regions for still wines as well as looking as sparkling and sweet wines. You learn about the factors which affect how wines taste, including how wine is made. There’s also a bit about liqueurs and spirits.
Will I become a wine pro overnight?
Well, not exactly. It’s up to you to put your knowledge into action, and the course is a great starting point for building on existing knowledge. It’s also a great way to start discovering new wines and regions.
You might already be a bit of a pro on wines from a certain region, like Bordeaux for example.. I started out with a fair bit of knowledge on Italian wines and regions (here are some wine projects I’ve worked on in the past) and will readily admit I was pretty ignorant about French wines. If you already have specific knowledge about a certain region or grape variety, you will be able to build on these foundations. You may well discover new wines which you never knew you would love. Or discover that a New Zealand Chardonnay floats your boat way more than any Chardonnays you’ve been drinking thus far.
So, if you do the online course, you will be doing the wine tastings on your own. WSET provides very clear guidelines for tasting and describing wines. It’s quite a straightforward step by step process to follow. Feedback is provided, and this is more based on general characteristics of wines or on the validity of your notes. No one tells you that you “should” be tasting black fruit, liquorice and forest floor notes from a certain wine. Even though there are general descriptive terms used in the wine industry, it’s still quite personal how you categorise the flavours you pick up on.
If you are concluding that a wine is outstanding quality, you would expect your tasting note to have details of complex flavours. If you are tasting sweetness in your Pinot Noir, you are probably confusing sweetness for fruitiness in the wine. That’s the kind of feedback you get.
When you start taking this approach to wine tasting, you think, wow, I’ve never gone into this much detail tasting wine before. And as you get more practice you start to see how much more detail you could go into as you develop your skills in putting flavour sensations into words.
Tips for doing the online WSET course
Read up beforehand – For the online course, you get the book beforehand. This contains everything you need for the exam, and there is a LOT of information to take in. Make sure you read it at least once before you start the course.
Practise, practise and, yup, practise some more. – Look at as many labels as possible and see keep testing yourself. See how much you can tell your friends and family about the wine you are enjoying together.
Extra reading – The course materials are mostly organised by grape variety. I found it really useful to do some reading from another angle, like looking at each wine region and what they are known for. This is a great way to help you connect all the information.
Am I glad I did the WSET course?
On a personal note, totally.
Professionally, I hope the qualification will help me sell my skills and expertise for wine translations and copywriting. I already knew my stuff about Italian wine, but now I have a better idea of how this fits into the wider context of wine-making around the world.
Have you done any of the WSET course? What did you love about the experience? Do you have any tips to share?