As I mentioned in my previous post, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a British non-profit offering wine education courses available throughout the US and around the world. Their courses emphasize both the theoretical (viticulture, vinification, wine types, wine regions, and spirits) as well as the practical (tasting) aspects of wine.
Currently, the WSET offers the Intermediate Certificate course (eight two-hour sessions) for wine novices, the more challenging and comprehensive Advanced Certificate course (fifteen two-and-a-half hour sessions) and the multi-year Diploma. I took the advanced certificate course a few years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly; in all my years of university, I would say that this was by far the most educational and enjoyable semester-length course… and that's not just because you get to taste 100 wines during the semester!
N.B. – The Advanced is a prerequisite for the Diploma, but the Intermediate is not a prerequisite for the Advanced. I'd recommend that anyone with some wine knowledge who is up for a challenge, dive right in and start at the Advanced Certificate.
I then moved on to the Diploma, which is divided into 6 units and usually studied over 2 or more years.
In New York City, units 1 and 2 are offered together. Unit 1 is an introduction to the wine and spirits business, and is, in my opinion, the weakest part of the program. This is exacerbated by the fact that the wine business is so different from country to country and even state to state. Unit 2 covers viticulture, vinification, maturation and the major grape varieties of the world.
Once you have completed these units you can proceed through the remaining units however you like… but unit 3 is 5 to 10 times as much material as the other units. I took Units 4, 5 and 6 all in one semester a couple of years ago. Being a big fan of cocktails and having drunk my share of ardent spirits, unit 4 was pretty straightforward. However, wine geeks who don't drink hard alcohol that much can have trouble here as Whisky and Brandy are covered in detail. I found unit 6 on fortified wines (Port, Sherry, Madeira, etc.) to be particularly difficult as these wines are rarely consumed in the US. However, this unit turned out to be the most personally rewarding as I have developed into a huge fan of these wines thanks to the course.
This week I will start unit 3, the centerpiece of the Diploma. Removing sparkling and fortified wines still leaves an awful lot of ground to cover under the aegis of “Light Wines of the World.” The sense of foreboding is amplified by the fact that the textbook is Jancis Robinson's 840-page Oxford Companion to Wine. Anyone who knows this book can tell that although it's a truly awesome reference work, it doesn't come close to falling under the category of “light” reading in any sense of the word – the book is six-and-a-half pounds after all.
Here's the (daunting) course syllabus of what we'll be studying over the next 20 weeks.
Alsace and Beaujolais
South of France
Australia 2 and New Zealand
Spain 2 and Portugal
Central & Eastern Europe
South Africa, Asia, Israel
Just one single day on the wines of North America?
That means that everything you know about the wines of Napa, Sonoma, the rest of California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Virginia, Canada and Mexico won't even get you 10% of the way there!
A full day on the wines of Central & Eastern Europe?
Too bad I have no professional experience (apart from selling a couple Grüner's and a Tokaji) with the wines of Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria(!!!), Greece and Cyprus. This tasting will be a real eye-opener.
Everything about Italy crammed into just 3 classes?
But each of Italy's 20 region is like a separate country – there's little regional overlap of wines, grapes, and wine culture.
Anyway, I am off to read up on the wines of the Rhône. I'll offer my next update after the first class.
“The Rhône Valley can be divided into two parts, the southern Rhône and the northern Rhône. The northern Rhône is the home to 8 appellations, the most famous of which are Côte…”
The Wine Messenger, an online wine retailer focused on small grower wines from around. Rodolphe is currently finishing his WSET diploma at the International Wine Center in NYC.