As a self-proclaimed wine-lover and enthusiast, getting an official wine qualification was always going to be on the cards for me. Wine was something that I’d been interested in learning more about for a long while – probably since around the time that I first started up the Wine Wednesday wine review series. So, when the opportunity to gain my first wine qualification came up, I jumped at the chance to do it. Join me as I share my experience getting my WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. Maybe it could help some of you decide if you’d like to earn your certification too.
What is the WSET?
Standing for Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the WSET is the largest global provider of wine, spirits and sake qualifications. Founded as a charitable trust in 1969, the WSET specialises in giving top-notch education around the UK wine and spirits industry. The WSET is globally recognised as the international standard in wine and spirit knowledge and offers qualifications in wine and spirits to those starting out in their careers, enthusiasts and even well-established professionals, too.
The WSET Level 1 Award in Wine
What is the WSET Level 1 Award in Wine? It’s essentially a beginner-level course, run by the WSET, that offers an introduction to the world of wine. The WSET advertises it as being specifically tailored towards anyone who’s looking to start a career in wine or is simply just interested in pursuing an interest in wine. The course is typically taught over six hours (but might be slightly longer depending on which course provider you use) and, at the end of it, you’ll take a short test that, if you are successful, will result in you receiving a Level 1 qualification in wine. Pretty cool, right?
Throughout the Level 1 course, students follow a specific book of material that will cover the basics of wine. This is everything from the core grape varieties, the wine-making process and, of course, how to properly taste wine!
The WSET highlights these five points as the key learnings from the course:
- The main types and styles of wine
- Common wine grapes and their characteristics
- How to store and serve wine
- The principles of food and wine pairing
- How to describe wine using the WSET Level 1 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine® (SAT)
At the end of the course, learners will sit a 30-question multiple-choice test where they’ll need to receive 70% to pass.
My Experience on the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines course
With the facts out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about my experience on the course, starting with what made me want to get my WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. Aside from the fact that I simply wanted to learn more about wine, it was the thought of being able to actually describe wines in more detail in my writing that drew me in – especially for my Wine Wednesday series!
As much as I think I could get by with my minor wine knowledge, I wanted to expand what I knew and dive a bit deeper with my wine reviews. Taking the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines seemed like a natural next step for me to get there. When the opportunity arose to get my award through my blog, I knew I had to take it! And I’m so thrilled that I did.
Virtual Learning with One Foot in the Grapes
There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and other venues across the UK (and Worldwide) where you can take your WSET course. However, I actually did my WSET Level 1 Award in Wines entirely over Zoom. Now, you might be thinking “But how the hell do you do a wine tasting over Zoom?”. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely possible, and with the help of Jane from One Foot in the Grapes, who taught me everything I needed to know, it’s actually really bloody fun too.
One Foot in the Grapes is a Liverpool-based wine company run by wine journalist, Jane Clare. Specialising in wine events and education, One Foot in the Grapes can help you gain qualifications in wines and organise your very own personalised wine event. Although my course was entirely online, it was Jane who took me (and a group of four other learners) through the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines over Zoom. Every Monday, for four weeks, we’d log on for an evening of wine education and tasting. The WSET recommends a minimum of six hours for the Level 1 course, however, Jane prefers to split her sessions into four, 2-hour lessons to give learners more time to learn the material and put it into practice in the winetasting – something that I was most grateful for!
Sitting the final exam
Once I’d finished my four sessions, it was time to prep for the final exam. As I’ve mentioned already, I did the WSET course virtually, from my home. So, when it came to sitting the exam, I also took that from home. The final exam is a 30-question, multiple-choice test that will quiz you on everything that you’ve learnt over the four sessions.
Even though my test was sat from home, I still had to create a proper test environment before I could sit the exam. This meant that I had to film my entire room before I sat the test, set up my phone so that it filmed me throughout the test and also set up screen recording. It was a lot. But, it’s the only way to ensure that you aren’t cheating on the day! After I’d taken the exam, I was told it could take anywhere up to eight weeks to hear back with my result. Around six or seven weeks later I heard back, and I’d passed! *pops a bottle of prosecco*
My thoughts on the experience
The WSET Level 1 Award in Wines course was an all-around incredible experience. It’s given me a whole new understanding of wine, but also made me realise just how much I knew about wine already. My favourite part of the whole experience would have to be the food and wine pairing session. It was the perfect opportunity to put my knowledge to the test. Out of everything that we covered on the course, the food and wine pairing definitely felt like the most useful in everyday use. In fact, since taking the course, I’ve ended up picking a few bottles of wine for the table when I’ve eaten out – and they’ve gone down a treat with everyone that I’ve been out with (success!).
Is the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines something you’d consider doing yourself? If you’re interested in learning more about wine then I couldn’t recommend the course enough. I also couldn’t recommend Jane enough! She made the experience so engaging which, considering it was entirely virtual, was absolutely incredible.