Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Any wine tasting can be educational. But if you want to become really knowledgeable in wine, it helps to obtain a wine certification. I decided that I wanted to become certified this year.
To do that, I had to take an in-depth wine education course and pass a rigorous exam. Here’s how I learned how to ace a wine education course.
1. Choose Which Course Best Fits Your Needs
There are several different wine education courses to choose from. Some certification programs specialize in a particular wine region or sommelier training. Your choice depends on your objective in taking a course. I opted to take the globally recognized wine education course offered by the renowned Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) because it provided a thorough all-around instruction of the main styles of wine with wine tastings and the key principles of winemaking. It seemed a better fit for someone writing about wine. I took the course online through the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C.
There are other wine education courses, such as the specialist classes offered by the Society of Wine Educators or the Court of Master Sommeliers, made popular by the “Somm” movies. I opted not to take those courses because they were more focused on service and sales.
I’ll admit the course was a bit intimidating. I optimistically skipped Level 1 and signed up for the Level 2 course (WSET has four levels in all). There were 147 students in my class, from all over the world. Most of them were in the wine or hospitality industries. Two of them owned wineries. There were only two other bloggers.
2. Stick to the Curriculum
Don’t confuse yourself with terms and information that won’t be on the exam. For instance, while “minerality” is a common way to describe wine, WSET doesn’t use it, so I didn’t use it when reporting my wine tasting notes. I knew I wouldn’t be tested on that.
Likewise, this is not the time to confuse yourself by reading up on how winemakers are using innovative techniques in Oregon or the new grapes vintners are experimenting with in Australia. I avoided reading Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast during the course so I wouldn’t trip myself up.
3. Dust off Your Test-Taking Techniques
I hadn’t taken a long-term study course with an exam in more than 35 years, so my study skills were very rusty! I resorted to two methods from my youth: (1) flashcards and (2) acronym and alliteration tricks. To remember the regions in Spain that grow Garnacha I coined the term “NPR” (Navarro DO, Priorat, and Rioja DOCG). I used the double “b” in Nebbiolo to remember that the Nebbiolo grape was grown in Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG.
4. Buy the Tasting Samples from the Course if Possible
If the course is not onsite but offers to send the wines to be tasted, I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity. That way you’ll get what the course views as representative samples and a better sense of you’re supposed to be learning. I simply went to the local wine store with my list of wines, but I don’t think I purchased the best wines for comparative tasting, and my tasting notes didn’t seem as complete as some of my classmates. Luckily for me, WSET doesn’t grade on your tasting at Level 2.