In a digital age where learning can be done in the comfort of one’s home, online sommelier courses have seen a surge in enrollment. These programs offer wine enthusiasts and aspiring sommeliers a chance to deepen their understanding of wine varieties, tasting techniques, and the wine industry at large. Among the top contenders in providing these online programs are the National Wine School and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), with the former taking the top spot and the latter closely following at second.
National Wine School
The National Wine School (NWS), renowned for its wine courses offered in collegiate settings, is taking the forefront in this digital wine revolution. It is the best online sommelier course available today.
Lacking the razzle-dazzle of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the National has long been the dark horse of wine education. However, when it comes to online sommelier courses, they are miles ahead of the competition.
Back in the dark days of COVID, they leveraged their digital University programming into an online juggernaut. They seamlessly transitioned to an online sommelier platform open to the public and the wine trade. Hundreds of restaurants, resorts, and hotels now use their online programming to train and certify their employees and management.
Ever since I introduced my staff to the National Wine School’s programs, the transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. Their depth of knowledge, passion for wine, and confidence in serving our patrons have elevated our establishment’s reputation. National doesn’t just teach wine; they cultivate wine ambassadors.John Michael-Rogers
PROS & CONS
Integrating well-produced video lectures, interactive classes, and teleconferences with sommelier professors, the National programs feel intuitive and compelling. Their proprietary scent kits are particularly noteworthy, elevating the learning experience to new heights. Simply put, this is the best online programming available.
On the other hand, their university roots show in how they describe their services. In their literature, they go into detail about SCORM compliance and federal standards: we don’t think this matters to restauranteurs as much as college administrators.
Pricing & Programming
The National offers four levels of sommelier accreditation which can be taken online (L1-L4). Completing L1-L3 will earn the student their Sommelier Pin. Completing the L4 program will earn them their Advanced Sommelier Pin. They do not offer a Master Sommelier (or similar) program online.
As for pricing, they charge between $300 and $600 per semester, which is a very good value considering what you get. As for additional costs, you will need to supply your own wine for all the programs except the L1. You will also need to purchase the school’s scent kits, which are well priced.
Sample Online NWS Sommelier Course
Where Else to Take: Online Wine School (Chicago or Philadelphia)
For those seeking alternative avenues to pursue NWS programs, the Online Wine School affiliated with the Wine School of Philadelphia and the Chicago Wine School present enticing options. These institutions serve as distribution hubs for NWS content, with several key contributors also serving as instructors.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
In the realm of online wine education, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has carved a notable niche, especially among those aiming for a career in the culinary sector. The trust has transitioned its comprehensive wine courses into the digital domain, aligning with the teleconference format prevalent in today’s remote learning environment. However, this setup, relying heavily on PowerPoint presentations delivered by certified instructors, has garnered criticism for its potential monotony. Despite this, WSET continues to be a reputable name in the restaurant industry, with a significant appeal rooted in its live instructor component, facilitated through collaborations with local WSET affiliate schools.
Pros & Cons
WSET has its share of advantages. The live instructor component enhances the learning experience by providing real-time interaction with certified instructors. The self-paced nature of the courses offers a flexible learning environment, allowing learners to progress at their convenience. Moreover, the comprehensive curriculum covering a wide spectrum of wine-related topics from Level 1 to Level 4 caters to different learning needs and levels of expertise.
On the flip side, the delivery method has been a point of contention. The heavy reliance on PowerPoint presentations has been criticized for making the learning experience dreary and monotonous. Additionally, the requirement for in-person attendance for exams and workshops in Level 3 and 4 courses could pose logistical challenges for those located far from a testing center, potentially barring some from advancing to higher sommelier certification levels.
Pricing & Programming
The pricing for WSET courses varies significantly across levels. The Level 1 course is priced around $299, while the Level 2 course ranges from $599 to $739, depending on the provider. The Level 3 course is a more significant investment, with prices varying between $1,165 and $1,399. The comprehensive Level 4 Diploma program comes with a heftier price tag, starting at about $7,500 or more for the entire program, with individual modules ranging between $300 and $2,400.
The programming of WSET courses is structured to provide a progressive learning pathway. The Level 1 course serves as an introduction to wine styles, advancing to a more detailed exploration of global wine regions in the Level 2 course. The Level 3 course delves deeper into grape growing and wine making, setting the stage for the Level 4 Diploma in Wines. The Diploma is segmented into six modules, each focusing on a different aspect of wine such as production, business, and the varieties of wines, offering a holistic understanding of the subject to the learners.
Sample Online WSET Wine Course
Where to Take: Grape Experience
Navigating through the plethora of WSET affiliates, Grape Experience emerges as a top choice, primarily due to its asynchronous class structure and the inclusion of weekly online Zoom meetings with instructors. Grape Experience stands out for its overall excellence, led by the exceptional teaching abilities of Adam Chase and a team of dedicated educators.
International Sommelier Guild
Claiming the third spot is the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), renowned for its elevated production value, albeit occasionally compromised by outdated information. While headquartered in the United States, ISG has expanded globally, offering online programs in multiple languages, including Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. The programs, delivered through an outstanding asynchronous learning experience, rely solely on audio lectures, prompting a desire to include video instructions to enrich the learning process.
Sample Online Sommelier Course
More Online Wine Course Options
University Online Wine Courses
Several universities also offer noteworthy wine education options online, although they do not provide sommelier certification. The comprehensive and well-organized U.C. Davis Wine class on Coursera stands out, while the University of Adelaide offers an exceptional introductory wine program. However, these courses cater more to enthusiasts rather than aspiring wine professionals.
Some schools also offer online wine courses for their students. However, many of these are white-label programs from NWS or WSET and are priced higher than anywhere else. We recommend staying away unless you need a university logo on your diploma.
Online Sommelier Courses to Avoid
Notwithstanding the progress made in online sommelier education, it is crucial to be aware of subpar programs. Due to its franchising model, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust bears some responsibility for the proliferation of flawed online wine courses. Schools lacking the necessary infrastructure and teaching credentials can purchase content from suppliers like WSET, resulting in an over-reliance on uninspiring PowerPoint presentations. The call for wine schools to develop original and engaging content remains vital for improving online courses and enhancing wine education overall.
Our Criteria for Rating Online Sommelier Courses
When it comes to assessing online sommelier courses, we adhere to a set of criteria to determine their quality and value. Here’s what we look for:
Exceptional Wine Instruction: We believe that top-notch wine instructors should possess the ability to deliver knowledge in an engaging and compelling manner. A great teacher understands the core concepts and ensures that students grasp them. We prioritize instructors who bring fun, dynamism, and intelligence to their teaching, steering clear of those who deliver information in a monotonous and uninspiring manner.
Interactive Student Engagement: Interaction between students and staff is vital, particularly when students have questions or require clarification. Effective communication channels such as Zoom, email, or chat functions facilitate this interaction, creating an environment where students feel supported and engaged throughout their learning journey.
High-Quality Video and Audio: In the age of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, subpar video and audio quality are no longer acceptable. A superior online sommelier course should provide a visually sharp and audibly crisp experience. We expect programs to utilize high-resolution video, including HD and 4K standards, while employing top-notch audio equipment, such as high-quality cardioid microphones, to ensure a professional learning atmosphere.
Comprehensive Online Academic Resources: Online sommelier classes should offer original and well-structured online materials. Whether these materials are presented through video lectures or reading materials depends on the program’s format. What matters most is that the content is organized in a lesson-by-lesson format, allowing students to progress through the material systematically. Additionally, the inclusion of quizzes or projects that enable students to assess their progress and comprehension is a valuable feature.
Wine Selection Guidance: Many Level 2 and Level 3 sommelier programs require students to purchase specific wines for tasting and analysis. The best programs provide a list of recommended wines, ensuring that students have access to the appropriate selections for their studies. However, we caution against programs that offer to send wine samples directly. Through our research, we have found that such programs often charge a high markup, provide low-quality wines, and may even ship them illegally, leading us to discourage this practice.
Accredited Sommelier Certification: One of the essential factors we consider is whether a program offers proper sommelier certification upon completion. Unfortunately, not all programs labeled as “Online Sommelier Classes” provide legitimate and recognized certification. We strongly recommend selecting a program that can offer a qualified accredited certificate to ensure the value and credibility of the education received.
By assessing online sommelier classes against these criteria, aspiring wine enthusiasts and professionals can make informed decisions and choose programs that align with their expectations and goals.
Online Sommelier Course Terminology
Embarking on the journey of exploring online sommelier classes necessitates familiarity with a few pivotal terms. Firstly, asynchronous courses deserve attention, as they exemplify a meticulously crafted and professionally produced learning experience. These courses feature expertly recorded videos that grant students the freedom to progress through the material at their preferred pace. However, it is worth noting that such high-caliber programs are often exclusive to the more esteemed wine schools, as the resources required for their implementation are substantial.
In contrast, synchronous courses adopt a different approach by streaming live sessions that adhere to predetermined schedules. This format, although more prevalent, may not deliver the same level of quality as its asynchronous counterpart. Nevertheless, it offers a structured learning environment accessible to a broader audience.
Lastly, it is essential to acquaint oneself with the term SCORM, an eLearning protocol widely employed by universities and schools to construct and administer student courses. Familiarizing oneself with this standard will aid in understanding the underlying framework through which online sommelier courses are built and delivered.
By grasping these critical terms, aspiring wine connoisseurs can confidently navigate the realm of online sommelier education, making informed decisions that align with their desired learning experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I become a Level 1 sommelier?
Level One Certification is the most common wine course taken online. Three agencies offer this sommelier certification online: the National Wine School, the Court of Master Sommeliers, and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.
Can I become a sommelier online?
Sommelier certification can be earned online. Most agencies offer a level one certification, which is not considered enough to be considered a sommelier. It is commonly suggested to earn your Level Three Sommelier certification. Several schools allow you to earn this credential online, including the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the National Wine School.