WSET and Me

Having recently finished the WSET Level 1 Wine course I’ve come to the conclusion that while drinking wine is all fun and games, learning about wine is more like going back to college (and I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in a very long time.) To satisfy my interest in learning about wine, I usually read books, articles, blogs, and newsletters from a variety of sources. Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, Wine Enthusiast, Dracaena Wines and Enofylz blogs, and networking with Twitter and Instagram contributors brings an abundance of free material to my inbox and browser. With all this free information, why did I pay for a wine course?

Some of the 38 students in our online class work in wine-related businesses; restaurants, wineries, wines shops. Others were exploring a new interest or pursuing their passion in a more formal way. Some were young, just married, raising children. Others were looking for “Fun Employment” or checking off things to accomplish during retirement. The one thing that brought this diverse group together was our interest in learning more about wine.

One of my goals for learning about wine in a structured, methodical way is to improve my writing about wine. The systematic approach to tasting (SAT) which is the foundation of the program, provides students around the world with a standardized approach to identifying aromas, flavors, and structural characteristics of wine. It’s easiest to communicate when everyone is speaking the same language.

The more you know about a subject, the better you’ll be able to appreciate its finer points. As a musician, I find myself analyzing the cleverness of a chord progression, marveling at the variety of tools an instrumentalist will bring to improvisation or getting emotionally wrapped up in a singer’s story-telling abilities. Wine, like music, is better appreciated when you’re armed with knowledge, familiarity with the characteristics of grape varieties, understanding the impact of terroir, and appreciating the expression of the wine by the winemaker.

In addition to the joy and fulfilment of learning about a subject I love, completing the course also adds some formal wine education to my resume and allows me to add the postnominal, “WSET Level 1 Award in Wines”. WSET was founded in London in 1969 as a charitable trust with the purpose of providing a systematic approach to tasting wine across the trade so that wine professionals could speak about wine with a common language. In 1977 the organization began expanding access to WSET qualifications abroad through a network of approved program providers and today it is available in over 70 countries. In its 50+ years WSET has become one of the most prestigious organizations for providing education in wine and spirits around the world.

WSET Level 1 begins with the basics on grape growing and the winemaking process. Throughout the four-week course we studied grape varieties and examples of wine from around the world, tasting on our own as well as two guided tastings on Zoom with an instructor. The aromas, flavors, and structural characteristics were expected to be memorized even for wines that weren’t part of a tasting. Effects of climate were noted such as aromas and flavors of a cool climate Chardonnay that may consist of green apple and citrusy lemon versus a warm climate Chardonnay with aromas and flavors of peach and tropical fruits such as pineapple. I gained a better understanding of wine’s structural characteristics, sweetness, acidity, body, alcohol, and tannin. With repeated methodical tastings, the “See, Smell, and Sip” approach along with the checklist of aromas, flavors, and structural characteristics became a habit by which to gauge a wine’s type, style, varietal, and terroir.

Wanting to get the most out of the class, I went through the online modules several times. The course material was very well-presented, thorough, and easy to navigate. I tested my retention of the information many times using the flashcards and quizzes provided. We were told that the exam would be a “closed book” test although I had no idea at the time how that would be accomplished with an online test. It turned out that setting up a laptop and phone with apps, video, audio, and scanning your room to show the proctor that you aren’t hiding crib notes or a wine expert under your desk was harder than the actual exam. I even had to video my ears to prove I wasn’t wearing earbuds! The exam proved easier than the setup, consisting of 30 multiple choice questions to be completed in 45 minutes.

The WSET course consists of four levels, culminating with the Level 4 Diploma in Wines comprised of six units that may take students up to three years to complete. There are approximately 250 graduates of Level 4 Diploma in Wines per year with over 10,000 Level 4 graduates in the past 50 years. Notable honorary presidents of WSET have included Jancis Robinson (wine critic, journalist, and author of The Oxford Companion To Wine), and Steven Spurrier (British wine merchant and champion of French wines as fictionally portrayed by Alan Rickman in the movie Bottle Shock).

I’m happy to announce that I passed the exam! To celebrate we opened a bottle of Roederer Estate Brut sparkling wine. This multi-vintage dry sparkler is made from estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley, California. Anderson Valley is a cool-climate AVA primarily known for its most planted grape, Pinot Noir, and second most, Chardonnay. It’s a cool climate with a wide daily temperature range creating cool nights and warm days. The dramatic swings in temperature have the effect of producing grapes that are high in acidity and sugar as the exposure to sunlight increases ripening and the nighttime drop preserves the balance of natural acids.

The winery location is the California outpost of Champagne Louis Roederer, maker of Cristal. Roederer Estate Brut builds on a 200-year tradition of fine winemaking and remains true to the French style Méthode Champenoise. The winemaker selects a portion of the best wines for aging in large French oak casks for four years on average. Wines from this reserve are added to a blend to create a multi-vintage cuvée. The wine undergoes extended aging on the lees (allowing the wine to mature on top of spent yeast from fermentation).

On the nose are notes of apple, citrus, graham cracker, nuts and honey. Rich flavors of apple and citrus continue on the palate along with toast, hazelnut, and pineapple. Creamy textured body with medium to high acidity and 12.5% alcohol. Smooth, medium to long finish.

Life is good…Cheers!

Published by J Reilly

Boozy Lifestyle: Elevate The Everyday With Booze As Your Muse by Julia Stacey Reilly is available on Follow J Reilly @boozy_lifestyle on Twitter and Instagram.

4 thoughts on “WSET and Me

  1. Thanks so much for the mention in this blog post. I’m thrilled that you find my blog helpful! Much appreciated. I take my WSET 2 Exam next week. Like you, I think a structured approach to tasting can be helpful and taking the course IS a bit like going to college. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe the structure is similar but more grapes and regions are covered. WSET 2 covers roughly 30 unique grapes and 70 or so regions. I decided to skip WSET 1 because I felt like I already had a grasp of the fundamentals based on my years of reading and experiences. Hope this helps!

        Liked by 1 person

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