Last week, I was busy working towards completing the WSET Level 2 Intermediate Wine and Spirits qualification, ‘ideal for anyone wishing to be introduced to wine or sprits in an informative and structured manner’, and ‘suitable for both the enthusiast and those entering or already working in the wine and hospitality business’. Well, at £355, you wouldn’t take part if you cared little for wine, would you?
A few weeks ago, my resources arrived – the course textbook, a class workbook, a laminated sheet with a number of key wine tasting terms, a book on responsible drinking (if you didn’t know, a bottle of wine per night is bad for you), as well as a rather interesting Dulux-style wine colour chart – all tucked neatly into a white folder. Despite dipping in and out of this, I didn’t do a huge amount of pre-reading. In hindsight, I do recommend that you give the course textbook some due care and attention, given the number of wine regions and terms you will need to know to pass the exam.
This course can be done as a series of evening classes over a number of weeks, or as a 3-day course (either weekly or consecutive). It was the latter that I opted for, and while cramming the entire syllabus into three days was pretty heavy going and somewhat clinical in terms of layout (taste, spit, comment 18 times per day), I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the main grape varieties, wine regions, and wine and spirit making processes in a little more depth.
On arrival, I was interested to see the mix of people that had signed up – some sommeliers, waiters, restauranteurs, researchers, enthusiasts and a collection of wine PRs. Most of the class (me included) hadn’t completed the Foundation course prior to this one, as it is not a pre-requisite and, according to many that I had spoken to about it, is not particularly difficult if you already have some knowledge of and/or an interest in wine.
On day 1 we were given our 6 ISO (International Standards Official) tasting glasses, which you get to keep after the course (providing you haven’t smashed any), we were introduced to tasting technique, the key components of food and wine matching (fatty, oily food is a great match for wines high in acidity, don’t you know), factors influencing the style of wine, and two key grape varieties; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. That day we tasted 18 wines, ranging in price, from £4.99 to £42.00, and in style, from a Venetian Pinot Grigio to a Burgundian Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir.
Day two was another varietal day, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, Riesling (and many more) on the agenda. Again we sampled 18 different wines, and although there was a lot to take in on that day (who knew Italy had so many grape varieties?!) we did sample some outstanding wines, such as the 2005 Chateau Batailley Grand Cru Classe.
The third and final day was the most informative for me given that we learnt about several wine styles that I have limited experience and knowledge of – sparkling, sweet, and fortified, as well as spirits and liqueurs. I learnt on that day that I do not like whisky! The day concluded with the exam – an hour long, 50 question, multiple choice paper.
Despite the high cost of this course, it did give me the opportunity to sample some delightful wines that I otherwise would not (£34.99 for a delicious 2006 Chateau Laville Sauternes – sure, put it on my tab), even if we did spit them out! It also taught me a lot about exactly what it is that I am looking at when purchasing, tasting, (hopefully) enjoying, and writing about wine. Hopefully, I’m now a little bit more informed as a wine-writer (be nice!)
If you are thinking about taking part in the course, there are various accredited centres all over the UK, however the main WSET centre, just a 5 minute walk from London Bridge Station, has the highest pass rate of them all (I will update you on where I stand in that statistic), as well as some expert instructors!