Summer of Study
For me, earning the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 (with Distinction, the highest level) Qualification was just the first step I want to take before tackling the WSET Level 4 Diploma (DipWSET), the last step before Master of Wine. Will I do the Master of Wine award? Possibly/probably not, but hold that thought.
I’m calling the Summer of 2019 my “Summer of Study,” because I want to finish the WSET 3 Qualification this Fall, October specifically. But before I get to that, I want to share my experience with WSET Level 2.
While I know a lot about wines, I want to have more of those handy postnominals to prove to a skeptical world that I know my stuff.
I’ve read many articles online from people who have experienced the top wine certifications, including Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE), the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Sommelier, Certified Sommelier, Advanced Sommelier, and, of course, the holy grail, Master Sommelier. The Wine Scholar Guild is also making its presence known with its French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar, and Spanish Wine Scholar awards as well as several Master-Level classes and a variety of Wine Study Tours. For me, the only barrier would be financial because none of these certifications comes cheap.
Not only does each one require a financial investment – sometimes substantial – but they also require a certain amount of self-discipline and the ability to be an autodidact. You have to be able to set aside a certain amount of time to study, with or without a class or teacher. That’s the one common thread I’ve seen throughout the testimonials of those who have passed (or not) the various certifications. And while I tend to have my “flighty” moments, I know how important it is to focus. I’ve taken the Certified Sommelier exam and (apparently) crashed and burned in the service module, but the service part is key to passing. Since I have no plans of becoming a floor Somm, I’m okay with focusing on the science and business of wine. That’s how I roll.
The two-day class for the WSET 2 was surprisingly straightforward. We sat with the instructor and went through a variety of wines ranging from Pinot Grigio to Barolo. “Calibrating” our palates with the instructor was key to learning the terms and methodology of the WSET Systemized Approach to Tasting® (SAT), which, by the way, differs on each level, not unlike the Court. Because of my experience, I found the test surprisingly similar to the Certified Sommelier exam. The most important part of the preparation for these two days was that I had gone through the study guide and workbook. I believe that the key to passing any of these exams is making sure that you go through the provided materials as well as any outside reading – World Atlas of Wines, etc. – and to fill your brain with as much wine stuff as you can.
I personally prefer to sip wines out of a Bordeaux-style glass, but WSET requires the use of ISO standard wine glasses, which, in my opinion, are essentially Port glasses. No Bordeaux glasses allowed. I don’t like them, but for blind tasting, they’re the only ones I’m using now since they are the ones that will be used during the tasting portion of the exam.
The one thing that made this exam a little more tricky than the Certified test is the fact that the instructor doesn’t know what’s on the test. In other words, she couldn’t tell us where to really “pay attention.” You essentially have to know everything. Which isn’t a bad thing.
So Why Are You Doing This?
Because I’m a “woman of color” of “a certain age,” credibility is key. While I know a lot about wines, I want to have more of those handy postnominals to prove to a skeptical world that I know my stuff. The last 30+ years of my life have seen me inside of a classroom as an instructor and occasionally as a student. I believe that lifelong learning is important for everyone, but especially for those who feel that they have something to prove. My life has been about research and instruction, and passing these high-level wine certifications is a goal that I can’t let pass by.
The experience itself was what I expected at this level. The WSET Level 1 award is purely “Wine 101” and focused towards those who have zero experience with wine. The Level 2 award is, in my opinion, very similar to the Certified Sommelier Theory part of the exam. There are those who would disagree with me because there’s no tasting involved, but the knowledge needed to pass the test is well above the Level 1 or Introductory level.
The WSET Level 3 (Advanced) qualification is said to be challenging, and I have no reason to doubt it. Clearly written, organized, and comprehensive wine tasting notes are a crucial part of the exam which means that I, who tends to be a little lackadaisical when it comes to tasting notes, have to pull it together if I want to pass. And for the money I just paid, not passing is not an option. Preferably with Distinction.
Don’t tell anybody, but I’m also thinking about throwing the CSW into the mix again. I missed my attempt by TWO freaking points (after a morning of tasting with The Court and afterward accidentally drinking most of a real alcohol fruity drink – long story), which means that I will pass it next go-round.
At least in theory.
All photos thanks to Creative Commons
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