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Studying for fun and / or for wine qualifications

Given my semi-retirement I am now doing some serious reading and tasting which is keeping me nicely busy. As part of that I have done WSET 2 and am in the process of doing the WSET 3 course. I imagine more courses will follow. Given that there will be a wealth of experience in this forum I wonder whether people have useful tools, tips, tricks and suggestions to help people gaining more knowledge about wine.

As an example, I would be greatly helped with a table or other system that summarises typical characteristics of the various grapes all in one table or figure. Something in its simple form like:

COLUMNS: Climate Budding Ripening Grape size Skin thickness Acidity Tannins Alcohol Body Flavours / aromas

ROWS Grape 1 Grape 2 Grape 3 etc.

Obviously, this could be further differentiated and made more complex, e.g. the grape rows subdivided according to countries / regions / climates etc.

Maybe similar summaries are available for countries / regions / tasting systems / wine and food / etc.

I am hoping this may turn into a fun and educational thread.

Jos
I did Level 3 in 2019 and quite enjoyed it. The course gives you a good basis for understanding winemaking techniques and a brief introduction to the usual suspects of the winemaking countries.
With regard to the future courses you refer to the next logical step after level 3 is the WSET Diploma. WSET in the UK is only qualification authorising body. I think there is also something called “The wine scholars Guild” about which I know very little. I think it focuses on particular countries and you can become a wine scholar of that country, but I may be wrong on that. WSET is really by far and away the most well known.
If you decide to take on the Diploma my advice is that it is a huge step up from Level 3. It is 18 months of full time study, 5 theory exams, three tasting papers and a 3,000 word essay. You can do it online. I did some online and some classroom courses. I will give you the following tips about the Diploma. It consists of 6 modules, and you must have done the D1 exam (viticulture and wine production) before you can do the others. D2 (the wine business) is a very simple introduction to concepts such as supply and demand, marketing, sales etc. If you have spent any time in business you will find it very easy.
D3 is the biggest module and is still wines of the world. 16 countries, a 450 page ebook, lots and lots of tasting to do. two theory papers and a 12 wine tasting paper. You have to answer 5 out of 7 theory questions, for each question you have 40 minutes to answer it.
D4 and D5 are sparkling and fortified wines. Sparkling wine tasting exam is very tough. Fortified is slightly easier and styles are very recognisable.
D6 is a 3000 word essay on a given topic.

Tips:

  1. It is very prescriptive. WSET give you ebooks which contain all the information you need to score highly in the exam. So you can do well even if you do not read around the subject.

  2. Passing the exams is all about technique and so avoid slavish re-reading of the books. Keep doing test questions from some of the past papers. WSET do give you mock exam and quizzes which are very useful. You need to plan answers. The exam is very intense, you need to plan your answer very carefully. The speed at which you can write legibly is critical.

  3. Read the exam guidance notes carefully. WSET exam reports time and again say main reasons for failure are a) not answering the question as asked and b) not enough detail. Exam questions are all written, there is no multiple choice. The questions are not there to trick you! Questions sometimes have separate elements and are weighted so that is a very clear indication of how much to write for each part or whole question. Again examiners report that candidates, for example, write one side for a 40% weighting and 3 sides for 15% weighting. That means failure!

So the most important tip is gear all your learning around past questions and polishing your exam technique.

If you decide to do the Diploma my advice would be to do D3, D4 and D5 in the classroom and not online. You get lots of wines to taste and you learn the WSET SAT system at Diploma level much more thoroughly.

For extra help sign up to a website called “Tipple Talk” run by Katrina Smith. She does Zoom blind tastings, mock exam questions both theory and tasting. She is outstanding. Without her help I probably would have failed!

Some specific tips about D3.
D3 is a huge module. Candidates tend to almost panic at the huge amount of material. The module is split into 16 countries. Strangely how they are dealt with varies considerably. But the key point is that if you understand the basics of physical geography, the effect of large volumes of water on land temperatures (and hence which grape varieties do well and where) you will grasp the course very quickly. Ditto the effect of altitude.
If you also grasp the importance of regulation in the old world and how each of the major countries measure quality in their regulation the course instantly becomes very manageable.

I will dig around and look up my revision notes which I can send you if you would like?

Tasting:
Many Diploma students club together and form local tasting groups for extra practice. I did not join one because nobody in Norfolk was doing the Diploma when I was! But Katrina Smith is by far your best bet.

All in all the Diploma is all about book learning and exam technique plus the SAT tasting system. I had read about specific regions so I had a depth of knowledge in some areas but huge gaps in others. The Diploma gives you an all round good introduction to all the major regions.
As I said I will dig out my revision materials and happily send you them if you want… I may have a chart for grapes lurking somewhere, I have have a look.

More generally, each time I buy a wine or see a wine that I may be interested in, I read the producers website, hoping that they will set out a specification for the wine, talk about their winemaking techniques, and viticulture. At the moment I am searching around tasting wines made from grapes grown at very high altitude comparing the same varieties grown at low altitude and in a different climate. Not always a perfect like for like comparison but it does help me with a structured theme.
Best of luck

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Andrew, thank you so much for this detailed and very useful reply. I shall certainly do more courses after WSET 3, and of course the WSET Diploma is the obvious one. I shall also investigate what is on offer in terms of country specific courses, I remember people on this forum talking about some before.

Revision notes that you can share would be most welcome! I have started a spreadsheet as described above, but wondered whether something similar is already available somewhere, so that I am not reinventing the wheel. A large amount of material to study doesn’t really faze me, I consider that part of the fun, especially because I find a lot of what’s covered really interesting.

I have been impressed by the travel reports from some here on the Community, and post-covid will more conciously seek synergies between holidays and gaining wine knowledge. Luckily mrs Jos enjoys her (white) wine very much so would be up for that as well.

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As I am not semi-retired and thus also have a full time job and other hobbies, I opted not to do the Diploma. I can offer a better view of the Wine Scholar Guild qualifications.

They are very different to the WSET ones, there is a drilled down focus on individual countries (France, Italy in two parts and Spain as it currently stands). It’s divided up into regions as you’d expect, where you start with an overview of the regional culture/history/food and then look at the viticulture in the whole region usually focusing on native grapes, typical geology/geography. You then drill down into each AOC/DOC(g)/DO(Ca/Q) and learn about their different requirements. There’s no tasting requirement within the exam (which is an hour long multiple choice, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easy - as with the WSET L3, it’s not!), so the drinking side of it is purely for pleasure/information during the course rather than needing to identify wine in a systematic way.

I really enjoyed doing them, and am hoping for more countries!

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Jos, I will send you a PM with some material in it. It may take me a week or so to get it together!!

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As a study guide, I’m afraid you just can’t know it all - you could, but then you’d probably have to delay the exam by a good year - so I’d suggest focusing on subjects that are likely to come up on the exam. It is/was made up of a tasting of one white, one red, a 30 question multiple choice, and then some essay questions (2 or 3, I forget).

I was in the middle of a big project when I studied for my level 3, so time was at a premium. I did exactly what you did for the straightforward stuff like grape varieties and regions - that is produce tables of very raw data for each (this you’ll find most useful in the Multiple choice, as you can’t know everything, but you can know something about everything, and that will help you eliminate false answers quite quickly).

I’d then focus on what is likely to come up as an essay question. My attention was focused on Sparkling wines and fortified wines. Sparkling wines came up, and as a stroke of good luck, wines of Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco ISTR) in the exam as essay questions. I needed extra paper for the answers :sunglasses:

Everyone is different in their approach to study, frankly I’m traditionally more a late crammer, but I found a slow and steady pace really helped the information go in. I managed a distinction (and 100% on both levels 1 and 2) so I’d like to think I did something right! :smiley:

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I hope this doesn’t put anyone’s nose out of joint but I feel bound to take the opposite view.
I don’t know the cost of the courses mentioned but I feel the money would be better spent on buying wine instead.
The Internet is a wonderful resource and I feel that the information that you’ve mentioned could be created by yourself, perhaps into a pocket-sized notebook in the form that fits your needs.
Furthermore (when you can) get over and visit as many vineyards and talk to as many winemakers as possible. Their comments and procedures will stick in your mind better than any ebook notes.
Develop your own lexicon of wine expressions that relate to the aromas and tastes that you experience when tasting. These will be far more use than the formulaic stuff that most students are taught.
Finally, procure a small group of like-minded friends/wine lovers who can meet monthly to help share the cost of more expensive wines.

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I did the WSET level 2 followed by level 3 some 10 years or so ago. I did toy with the idea of the diploma a year or so ago as I am retired but couldn’t justify either the cost or time required to do it.

I am sure there are some folk on here who have done the wine school route, but it’s not something I’ve ever considered.

I think it’s an and/both rather than either/or.

Learning is a beautiful thing - whether you do it by yourself, with others, in a vineyard, during a winery visit, with the help of the internet, during tasting events or under the guidance of tutors in a structured course. There is room for all of the above.

From a personal perspective, I love it all - what a fabulous subject to sink one’s teeth into! I love learning by myself from books and the internet (not to mention this Community which is full to the brim with experience and ideas), but I also absolutely loved the courses I had done so far (more to come, I’m sure), and that sort of learning - with peers, in a convivial but structured way - added another layer of experience.

Variety is the spice of life, and all that… :grinning:

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I found WSET 3 useful, if only to understand “wine people” and get an overview of the range of wines available in the UK. But I decided the diploma was too trade-oriented for me, agreeing more with @AnaGramWords, and ultimately enjoyed going off-piste a lot more, and figuring things out for myself from a variety of sources.

Horses for courses - just do what feels right for you!

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Hi JosK,
I’ve been eyeing up these ‘infographic’ wine map/guides for a while. Given your request for a table or system, these may be just the ticket.

I’ve been trying to improve upon my rather esoteric wine knowledge and during the first lockdown I also did the WSET2 course.
Unfortunately I found the prescribed booklet and accompanying learning material a little uninspiring.

Perhaps worth a try for something with a bit more detail and also rather well-organised and easy on the eye.

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I need to be a bit careful here (a number of folks know my career history) but on balance unless you are either a qualification stamp collector or intending joining the wine trade - in my defence when I did the Diploma both applied - I would think long and hard about going beyond Level 3. The money isn’t really the issue but the time commitment and the actual utility is . By all means look at specialists - for example if you like Burgundy I suspect a year’s subscription to Jasper Morris website will give you more insight than the L4 diploma course. So on balance I’m in the @SteveSlatcher and @AnaGramWords camp on this one.

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Guilty as charged (that’s Dr @Strawpig to you :wink: ). Interestingly every time I do one I say it’s definitely the last and I am just going to do exactly as @AnaGramWords of words suggests. I always end up going back for more.

I have a learning to paint course (speaking of things you’d possibly be better off just doing) booked for January-March and am currently considering a MA at Birkbeck next year.

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Having completed Level 3 a few years go (must be about 6 or so) I’m very close to taking the plunge with Level 4 (as a once a week, night course). The main reason is to increase my knowledge and education. I found both the theory and the tutored tastings with Level 3 to be fantastic.

@Oldandintheway, your comments (and a quick Linkedin stalking) have me reconsidering now. I don’t have any desire to enter the trade (not in any serious capacity). I must admit that there was some attraction in the idea that I’d be ‘forced’ to research and learn continuously. I find it difficult to commit the time without (though I enjoy it) without that external driver.

Anyway, thanks for your insight and to the OP for the topic!

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If I’m being picky it’s Dr @Oldandintheway !

Currently studying for an M Sc…….

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Ooooh! In what?

I admit I like studying, when I retired in 2016 I did an MA in Medieval History at UEA. I find it helps me keep up with what is going on in the world.

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The Wine Scholar Guild ones are a bit less purely trade focused and I’d say they’re a bit more Level 3.5 (and we had a good few Diploma students there to broaden their tasting too). If you want to do a course and fancy deep diving into one of the countries they do (Italy was my favourite, but also the hardest!) then might be worth investigating?

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Thanks for the recommendation. I like the look of the wine tours on their website too! If only I still lived in West London.

The 25 minute commute to Bermondsey (WSET) might be the deciding factor.

Doctorate was in physical chemistry, masters is in astrophysics.

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