For an overview of wine certifications, including WSET, CMS, and NWS reviews, you can refer to our Sommelier Certification 101 page.
Level 1 Award in Wines
This qualification is ideal for beginners in the world of wine. The course focuses on introducing different wine types through the deductive tasting method. It covers topics such as grape varieties and characteristics, fundamental food and wine pairing concepts, and accurate wine description. Successful completion includes a 30-question assessment, with a lapel pin and certificate awarded.
Level 2 Award in Wines
Building on Level 1 knowledge, this certificate delves deeper into wine topics. Students learn about various grape varieties and how environmental factors, winemaking, and aging influence wine. The course also introduces sparkling wine, fortified wine, and major wine regions. The assessment consists of a 50-question multiple-choice exam and a blind wine tasting. Completing the course earns you a lapel pin and certificate.
Level 3 Awards in Wines
Considered a professional qualification, Level 3 offers an in-depth exploration of viticulture, fermentation, aging, and wine distribution. It covers sparkling, fortified, and still wines from around the world. The tasting component requires students to evaluate and describe wine professionally.
The assessment includes a 50-question multiple-choice section, a short written paper, and a blind tasting. Successful completion earns a lapel pin and certificate, and students can use ‘WSET 3’ as their professional signature.
Level 4 Diploma in Wines
The highest level of WSET certification, Level 4 Diploma, offers expert knowledge in winemaking, wine businesses, fortified and sparkling wines, and an independent research assignment. Completing this diploma takes 18 to 36 months. Upon finishing, a lapel pin and certificate are awarded, and students can use ‘DipWSET’ in their professional signature.
In addition to wine qualifications, WSET offers spirits and sake certifications.
Levels 1, 2, and 3 in Spirits
These qualifications follow a similar structure to wine certifications, with each level building on the previous one. Topics include spirit production, types, flavor influences, and taste analysis.
Levels 1, 2, and 3 in Sake
Like wine and spirits qualifications, these levels form the foundation for advanced sake knowledge. Topics include sake types, styles, serving, and storage, with the third level covering essential aspects of the sake industry and export markets.
Whether you’re interested in wine, spirits, or sake, WSET offers high-quality options held to rigorous standards, suitable for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
WSET franchises its educational programs to individual contractors, providing PowerPoint presentations and wine tastings. While these schools offer comprehensive wine knowledge, some students find them lacking in creativity and diversity. The program caters to restaurant professionals, covering modules on serving etiquette, spirits, beer, and cigar service, which may not appeal to all students.
For the best WSET education, we recommend researching individual wine schools. Top programs often feature instructors at the forefront of the field, such as the Napa Valley Wine Academy, which offers an exceptional in-person WSET experience. The first Wine and Spirit Education Trust school in the United States is the International Wine Center in New York.
Our research suggests two types of students who benefit most from wine education: those without college degrees and international students. WSET’s demanding program allows non-degree holders to excel in their careers. Its global recognition appeals to students working worldwide, thanks to its consistency and hierarchical structure, offering clear steps for advancement.
While some students have concerns about PowerPoint presentations and lack of diversity within the organization, WSET’s reputation motivates many to pursue their Diploma despite these drawbacks.
Founded in 1969 in London, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) arranges courses and exams in wine and spirits. It opened its American headquarters in 2017 and is renowned globally for wine certification. WSET’s inception was supported by the Vintners’ Company, growing from the Wine and Spirit Association’s Education Committee.
WSET’s Programs for Restaurant Staff
Initially intended for wine and spirit trade employees, WSET courses have primarily attracted restaurant workers. However, non-professional enthusiasts also enroll. WSET offers professional certification in the United States through franchises nationwide.
The cost of a WSET exam varies by location and level. Online classes or in-person seminars include exam fees. Keep in mind these are the costs for just the exams and do not include the cost of classes and wine.
The Diploma includes sections such as The Global Business of Wine, Wine Production, Light Wines of the World, Spirits of the World, Sparkling Wines of the World, and Fortified Wines of the World. The total cost for all WSET exams is estimated at $9,100+.
WSET Certification Versus WSET Schools
WSET franchises its educational material and certifications to independent contractors across the United States. The quality of WSET schools can vary, from excellent to disappointing. Fine Vintage LTD is a dominant player in this space, with a strong presence in many cities.
To ensure the quality of your WSET education, consider schools in Napa and NYC, which may offer a superior experience. It’s essential to review individual wine schools before committing.
Legal and Organizational Concerns
WSET America’s classification as a private foundation raises legal and organizational concerns. It claims to provide education, run wine courses, and award professional certifications, which may conflict with its status as a private foundation. This discrepancy could lead to IRS audits and potential shutdowns, impacting the reputation of affiliated WSET wine schools.
One potential solution is for WSET to reorganize as a trade school or trade organization to provide legal rights and protections for its accreditations. WSET is not accredited, licensed, or approved to offer sommelier certification in many U.S. states.
Is a WSET Certificate Worth It?
Wine education holds value, but whether a Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification is right for you depends on your preferences. WSET emphasizes memorization and analytics, making it suitable for some individuals. Organizations like the Court of Master Sommeliers and the National Wine School focus on different aspects of wine education, such as restaurant management and experiential learning.
To be WSET certified, you must complete at least one Wine and Spirit Education Trust program level. While WSET does not explicitly offer sommelier certification, completing its Level 3 program is often considered equivalent to a certified sommelier.
Challenges and Standards
WSET Level 3 is a demanding program, on par with other Level 3 sommelier programs. It requires dedication and commitment to succeed. However, WSET faces challenges related to continuing education exams and compliance with U.S. professional certification standards, which may impact the validity of its diplomas in the future.
The programs are just so dated. I’m in my sixities and I find these programs to be outdated. I can’t imagine what someone in their twenties would think of this material.