The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a 53-year-old program that is world renowned and globally recognized. I actually received my Level 2 certification (with distinction) from WSET in 2020 when I found myself with a lot of down time and wanted to prepare myself as the owner of Más Allá Wines.
Many point to WSET as one of the gold standards of wine education, and after my experience with it, I can say that I agree. This rich program offers excellent resources, workbooks, and wine (depending on the level) that really help grow your wine knowledge.
Unfortunately, this resource is not free. In fact, it can get pretty pricey depending on how far you want to go. WSET offers four wine courses, each more detailed, demanding, and complex than the last. Here’s the course breakdown:
Level 1: basic wine knowledge (no wine tasting)
If you ever bartended or would like to bartend one day, this is the perfect level for you. You do not need to have any prior wine knowledge, and it is fairly affordable. Take this level if you are considering bartending at a wine bar or restaurant that emphasizes their wine list.
If you want to learn more about major wine regions of the world and the wines they produce, this is your level. You would have to take Level 1 prior to this level, but if you’re aiming for this wine certification, chances are that you take wine more seriously than most.
You’ll learn things like the Grand Crus of France, how champagne is made, the differences between all the Spanish wine distinctions and much more. You’ll study maps, learn names of rivers, and bone up on major valleys around the world. You’ll even pick up a few wine terminology in Spanish, French, Italian, and German.
Assessment: closed-book exam of 50 questions
Level 3: advanced wine knowledge (advanced wine tasting included
If you’re taking the WSET Level 3 course, you are working or planning to work in the wine world in some capacity, but most likely selling wine or on your way to becoming a wine educator yourself. This level is an intense examination into the winemaking process for still, sparkling, and fortified wines, and really teaches you how to hone your wine tasting skills.
Assessment: closed-book exam of 50 questions & blind tasting of two wines
Level 4: master wine knowledge (diploma in wines)
The diploma in wines from WSET is serious business and ends with a dissertation in a wine subject of your choosing. The course is broken down into 6 different units (business, production, etc.) and they all have their own assessments including several timed free responses, blind tastings, and one extended independent research paper.
Assessments: several timed free responses, several blind tastings, and one 3,000 word independent research paper.
If any of this sounds interesting, go check out their site (linked above) to learn more. If this sounds way too extreme or intimidating, have no fear. There are several resources out there, and I strongly consider shopping around and understanding what your overall goal is to help narrow your search.
Wine Folly is easily one of my favorite resources for so many reasons. First of all, it is FREE. Yes, you read that right. Quality free online wine education can be hard to come by but Wine Folly is here for you. Their website is completely free and is filled with fantastic information from quick wine tips to more in-depth exploration about given varietals or wine news.
On their site you’ll find helpful illustrations, charts, and more to help grow your wine knowledge. It’s one of my go-to resources, and I tell everyone I can about it because I just love sharing wine knowledge.
James Beard Award-winning author, Wine Communicator of the Year, and Wine Folly co-creator, Madeline Puckette’s approach is so friendly, fun, and approachable. Her advice is quick, clear, and reliable. WSET can definitely be intimidating to the wine novice, but Wine Folly welcomes you with open arms. You will definitely want to bookmark this free resource.
Now, if you want to get a little more serious about your wine knowledge and wish to be certified, Wine Folly recently launched their Wine Courses. You can receive certification in general wine knowledge, French wine, Italian wine, Argentine wine, and more.
Now, while I have a deep respect for WSET and what it has taught me, I think I would have gone through Wine Folly’s program had it existed when I was getting my wine certification.
The Wine Folly program differs from WSET in several ways:
It is better suited for a wider audience of learners (and this is coming from a certified teacher!)
Let me explain that last one. I say this with years of educator knowledge, an understanding of how students learn, and experience with both WSET and Wine Folly. WSET is great if you are good with textbooks and simple workbooks. It is also a world-renowned program. So, it definitely has some prestige going for it.
However, from my experience with Wine Folly’s website, wine journal, map resources and more, I can tell you that Wine Folly is better suited for a wide variety of adult learners and learning modalities. Information is color-coded, clear, and inviting. If all their free resources are expertly designed, I can only imagine that their courses are even more detailed and impressive.
#3: The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil (PAID)
Wine education doesn’t get more classic than Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. This robust textbook is user-friendly and jam-packed with wine information including–but not limited to–wine regions, fun facts about wine, wine history, maps, anecdotal accounts, and so much more.
Karen MacNeil is an incredibly credentialed and award-winning wine educator, historian, speaker, and leader. Not to mince words, but she is a total badass. The Wine Bible was the first wine resource that I bought for myself when I really wanted to start learning more about wine.
MacNeil’s international best seller is definitely one to have on your shelf if you love wine and want to expand your education. What makes The Wine Bible a great resource is that it is a fantastic reference text. What is better is that MacNeil’s writing style is informative, accurate, and downright beautiful.
Karen MacNeil strikes again! Not only do I love her reference text, The Wine Bible (explained above), but I also love her FREE newsletter, Wine Speed. This is another stellar online resource for enhancing your wine knowledge for a number of reasons.
Every Friday newsletter is sent right to your inbox and is filled to the brim with fun facts about wine, quirky wine quizzes, and weekly wine recommendations. Again, MacNeil is one of the world’s leading wine experts and she composes a thoughtful, insightful, and genuinely exciting weekly newsletter. If you are a wine nerd like me–or an aspiring wine nerd–join MacNeil’s Wine Speed newsletter and wine nerd you shall become.
Cheers and happy learning!
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About the Author
Cleo de la Torre is the owner of Más Allá Wines. She is also a mother and former high school English teacher. She taught for several years before she and her husband, Jordan, took a wild leap into the wine world. She loves wine and its rich history, and much of her love is explored and explained through her blog.
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