by Jillian Veader

Last Updated: June 12, 2024

What is WSET?

There are a number of professional certifications available in the wine industry, from the Court of Master Sommeliers to Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) to Master of Wine (MW). The WSET is one of the most widely known and accessible programs due to its tiered structure that makes it approachable to all knowledge levels. From 2020-2021 alone, over 100,000 students around the globe enrolled in a WSET course.

What is WSET?

WSET, or Wine and Spirits Education Trust, is a London-based organization that delivers globally recognized qualifications in wine, spirits, sake, and beer, using standardized tests. After completing a course, you must pass the relevant exam or exams in order to receive your professional certification, paper certificate, and pin.

There are four tiers in the WSET program: Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4, also known as Diploma. Each level builds upon the information from the previous levels and becomes progressively harder.

Certification Total Qualification Time (TQT) Exams Required Entry Requirements
WSET Level 1 6 hours 30 multiple-choice questions None
WSET Level 2 28 hours 50 multiple-choice questions None
WSET Level 3 84 hours 50 multiple-choice questions, 4 short answers, plus a blind tasting of 2 wines WSET 2 or equivalent level of knowledge
WSET Level 4 Diploma 500 hours 5 separate theory exams, plus a blind tasting of 12 wines WSET Level 3 Award in Wines or WSET Level 3 Award in Wines & Spirits

When you enroll in a WSET class, you will receive a textbook, a tasting workbook with maps, and a copy of the relevant Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) sheet. If you successfully complete the course, you will receive a paper certificate and lapel pin.

Level 1

If you are new to wine or just want to get your feet wet in the WSET program, Level 1 is the perfect place to start. It typically costs less than $500, takes only a few weeks, and requires a short multiple-choice exam of 30 questions to be passed with a minimum mark of 70%.

Level 1 is designed for those with little or no previous knowledge. It is a great resource for anyone working in restaurants or hospitality who want to up their wine game, or folks who want to pursue a personal interest. You don’t have to work in the industry to enjoy this course.

Level 1 will also be your first introduction to the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (SAT), a standardized system of tasting and evaluating wine that will become more complex as you progress through the WSET levels. You will learn how to assess a wine’s flavors, characteristics, and quality with a shared vocabulary among your peers.

Sample Exam Questions

The following questions have been taken directly from WSET’s Level 1 course specifications:

1. Which one of the following grape varieties produces red wine?

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay

2. Chablis is:

  • A dry white wine
  • A dry red wine
  • A sweet white wine
  • A sweet red wine

Level 2

In WSET Level 2, you will build upon the foundational knowledge of Level 1, expanding upon topics such as the winemaking process, winemaking options, and bottle ageing. You will also cover a wider selection of grape varieties and their characteristics, and cover more winegrowing regions than Level 1.

The Level 2 course typically costs around $700-$900 depending on your institution, and takes 8 weeks to complete. Level 2 is still considered a beginner-level course, and you do not have to work in the wine industry to benefit from taking it. You do not necessarily have to complete Level 1 to take the Level 2 course, and can opt to jump right in to Level 2 if you feel comfortable.

Sample Exam Questions

1. Compared with red wines, white wines are generally fermented at:

  • Either higher or lower temperatures
  • The same temperature
  • Higher temperatures
  • Lower temperatures

2. Which grape variety is considered to produce outstanding quality white wines in both Germany and Australia?

  • Merlot
  • Semillon
  • Shiraz
  • Riesling

Level 3

Level 3 is a significant jump in coursework from Level 2, and is generally considered an advanced qualification in the wine industry.

Level 3 covers wine production for still, sparkling, and fortified wines all over the world, including location and growing conditions, winemaking techniques, maturation, and bottling. You are expected to understand how these factors influence a finished wine.

A Level 3 course typically costs around $1,800, and takes 15 weeks to complete. This course is geared toward industry professionals looking to advance their career; however, several students in the course that I took were in unrelated industries, and simply wanted to advance their personal knowledge and tasting skills.

While it is not required that you complete a previous WSET course before enrolling in Level 3, a decent understanding of wine regions, grapes, and winemaking practices is recommended, and will make studying for the exam easier.

What is On the Level 3 Exam?

In addition to a 2-hour practical exam, which consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and 4 short-answer responses, you will also be assessed on your tasting skills. During the first thirty minutes of the exam, you will be presented with two wines – one white and one red – and will be expected to apply the Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) to accurately assess each one.

The Level 3 SAT is slightly more nuanced than in Level 2. Here, you will also be expected to assess the development of a wine based on its aroma, as well as its readiness for drinking. The rest of the SAT criteria are the same. Keep in mind that you will not be provided with your SAT sheet during the exam, and are expected to memorize its structure and terminology.

Sample Exam Questions

Below are one sample multiple-choice question and two short-answer questions taken directly from the WSET Level 3 course guide:

1. What is the principle grape variety in the Rose d’Anjou blend?

  • Gamay
  • Grolleau
  • Malbec
  • Cabernet Franc **
  1. Chardonnay can grow in both cool and warm climates. Give an example of one cool climate region and one warm climate region in Australia where Chardonnay is grown and describe what impact the climate has on the fruit characteristics of the grapes.**

3. Vertical shoot positioning (VSP) is a trellising system often used when growing Chardonnay in a cool climate. Explain why a grape grower would choose to use this system.

Level 4 Diploma

The WSET Diploma is the most rigorous and challenging course of all the WSET levels offered. It is considered a prerequisite for the Master of Wine (MW) certification, which is arguably the most prestigious wine certification in the industry.

It normally takes between 18 and 36 months to complete the Diploma. Depending on your institution, it can cost upwards of $7000 spread out over the six units.

What Do I Need to Enroll in WSET Diploma?

To qualify for Level 4 Diploma, you must pass the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines, or the Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits. WSET suggests that the total qualification time required to pass Level 4 is 500 hours, so make sure you have the proper time set aside to study and attend all the courses.

WSET Diploma Unit Structure

WSET Diploma is split into six units. There are two foundation units, which must be studied together before moving onto the product knowledge units, which can be studied and examined in any order. Each product knowledge unit contains its own separate exam.

Foundation Units:

  • D1: Wine Production
  • D2: Wine Business

Product Knowledge Units:

  • D3: Wines of the World
  • D4: Sparkling Wines
  • D5: Fortified Wines
  • D6: Independent Research Assignment

How Will I Taste Wine in WSET Diploma?

The WSET Diploma level uses yet another iteration of the SAT. It builds upon the structure of the previous levels, but also requires observations such as deposit and pétillance, the nature of the tannins (soft, round, gritty, etc.), the wine’s texture (creamy, oily, etc.), and explanations for your assessment of the wine’s quality and readiness for aging. The Level 4 SAT is the most detailed and complex approach to tasting of all the WSET levels.

What Can I Do with a WSET Diploma?

When you study for your WSET Diploma, you are both fine-tuning your professional palate and taking your understanding of the world of wines to an extremely high level. Whether you are in the hospitality, distribution and sales, retail, or other branch of the wine industry, a WSET Diploma signifies your expertise. Since its inception in 1969, less than 12,000 people have successfully earned a WSET Diploma – including renowned professionals such as Jancis Robinson MW OBE.

A WSET Diploma is considered a prerequisite and springboard for the Master of Wine qualification, one of the highest honors in the wine industry.

Regardless of what level you achieve through WSET, you will undoubtedly find pleasure in surrounding yourself with likeminded peers in your exploration of the wonderful world of fine wine.


Course Specifications:

Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT):

Study Resources:

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