Wine and Spirit Education Trust

WSET, like the Court of Master Sommeliers, has four levels. But they have a network of over 700 third-party teaching and examination centers across 70 countries. They’re known as Approved Program Providers (APP). The courses are available online, too.

Having been established for a number of years in Scotland, the Whisky Ambassador’s emphasis on immersive and interactive learning has seen the courses rapidly expand to spread intimate knowledge of Scotch whisky across 22 countries and six continents.

Level 1 Wine Award

This requires around 6 hours of online or classroom study. There is no admission requirement. The topics it covers include:

  • The main types and styles of wine
  • Common grapes and their characteristics 
  • Wine storage and service standards
  • Wine and food pairing
  • How to describe wine

This will provide students with a hands-on introduction to wine. Successful completion is passing a 30-question multiple choice exam. If you’re just starting out on your wine certification and sommelier training journey, look into this course.

Level 2 Wine Award

This course requires around 28 hours of total study time, with 16 classroom or online hours and 11 personal study hours. It covers:

  • How to taste and describe wine
  • How environmental factors and winemaking techniques influence a wine’s style, quality, and wine tannin levels
  • Wine storage and service principles and processes from ideal wine storage temperatures, choosing the right wine storage racks and cabinets, and proper wine cellar lighting
  • Principles of wine and food pairing

Like the Level 1 Wine Award, this level has no entry requirements. Not even the previous level! It’s a more in-depth introduction to wine. It builds on the information in the first level, and gets much deeper on each topic. Students must successfully complete a 50-question multiple choice exam at the end.

Level 3 Wine Award

This course requires 84 total hours of study time, which includes 30 hours of classroom or online instruction from an APP. It covers:

  • The key factors in wine production
  • Still, sparkling, and fortified wines
  • How to taste wines, describe them, and evaluate their characteristics

This is an advanced-level qualification for professionals working in the wine industry. Completion of the Level 2 course is recommended for entry. After the course, students take a 50-question multiple choice, short answer, and wine tasting assessment.

Level 4 Diploma in Wines

This course requires approximately 500 hours of study time. That’s 116 hours of classroom or online study through an APP. And around 370 hours of personal study with about 12 hours of examination time. It covers:

  • Advanced wine production
  • The wine business
  • Wines of the world, sparkling wines, and fortified wines
  • An independent research assignment

This is WSET’s expert-level course. It greatly deepens students’ understanding of how and why wine production and business/industry factors influence wine quality, style, and price (both by wine by the glass pricing and wine bottle pricing). It takes up to three years to earn this diploma. To be accepted into the course, candidates must have the WSET Level 3 Wine Award. To successfully complete the course, a variety of assessments are used: blind tasting, short answer, and an original 3,000-word research paper.

The great part about all the WSET coursework (but not all the exams) is that it’s available online.

Master of Wine

So what is is this title? Well, like the WSET, it’s an academic title and there is no “sommelier” aspect to it. One of the most famous MW’s, Jancis Robinson always jokes, “Don’t have me pour a bottle of wine! I would spill it everywhere.” But this encompasses every facet of wine from viticulture, to vilification, to marketing sales, to global wine trends, to I don’t even know what but if it has to do with wine, it’s in this this degree. This is the degree that usually those who write about wine ultimately pursue but there are a number of winemakers with it as well.

There are nearly 400 people in the world who have earned this title and there are a few who didn’t go the WSET route but for the general majority, they seem to go through WSET. The Master of Wine then takes at least three years (and usually more), more papers, more exams, and just more of everything. It is not for the feint of heart. It is also by taking an entrance exam, getting sponsored (two MWs or others of note in wine), and then invited to start so just having the WSET 4 doesn’t mean you can hop into studying for the MW. Again, they want to see a bit of experience in some form of writing or having made wine, totally at least three years. You also need to be recommended by an MW or someone else respected in the wine trade. A huge change is that while the WSET has a great many classes, the MW is all about independent, sometimes lonely study.

Master Sommelier

It’s a common question as to what is the difference between the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. Basically, the MW is academic with heavy theory and the MS is service with heavy compendium. While I obviously haven’t taken these exams, it seems to me an example of this would be, for the MW you would be asked, “What were the advantages to a producer in making a Grand Cru Brut Nature Champagne in 2000?” whereas the MS would be asked, “Recommend a Grand Cru Champagne Brut Nature from 2000 and why it would pair with this plate of Gruyere cheese.” As you can see, similar knowledge base, but very different implementations.

There are just over 200 people in the world who have passed the MS. It’s extremely difficult as taking that classic theory aspect you see in the MW out of the equation makes everything about holding a massive amount of information about producers and regions in your head. This makes sense as it’s how you need to know things when working the floor, although the Master level is one unto itself.