So you want to be qualified in wine?

Getting to know your WSET’s from your CMS’

If working in the wine industry is your dream then maybe is time to start thinking about cracking on with some qualifications. There are 2 major organisations for training in wine and taking the exams, Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS). Both offer different learning styles, so I have listed the main points of difference so that you can make an informed decision on which organisation to go with.

Of course, there are also many other courses out there, some even free, however, if you’re from the UK and are serious about getting into the wine industry then these are the two globally recognised qualifications.


The WSET actually offers 9 different courses, covering topics including wines, spirits and sake. I have completed Awards 1,2 and 3 in Wine and have loved each and every one of them!

I recommend these wine courses because of their back to basics, interesting and interactive style.

Firstly, level 1 is a really great day. You begin with sucking lemons to understand the acidity in wine, perhaps chew on a grape skin to literally get to grips with tannins and learn all about the international grape varieties. Then you get to taste some wines for yourself and talk about what aromas and flavours you find…by the way you’re never wrong with this and if you do end up saying something completely wacky, you’ll just get a few laughs out of it and move on. At the end of a day full of wine class (must be the best class in the world right?) you will take a multiple choice exam. The instructor encourages you throughout the whole day that you will pass this test because you’ve just spent the whole day learning, you are full of confidence (maybe it’s that wine talking…) that you’ll pass too, because come on, how hard can it be…?

Level 2 does start to get slightly more serious, but mostly just because you are actually investing a lot more time and money in this one so the pressure is pumped up a notch. I can’t quite remember how my classes were scheduled but I can tell you that you’ll spend 16 hours with your class and instructor, so get to know them well. This course was perhaps my favourite since you sit in a room with a bunch of other people who are pretty serious about wine and get chatting with them. It was the first time I’d really ever spoken to people as passionate about wine as I am and it felt great! When I did this course it also included spirits, however, it has been condensed to only teach and examine on wines now…quite a bummer if you ask me because that spirit knowledge has come in handy many a time!

Now then, level 3. Definitely make sure you have completed level 2 before even considering this beast. You’ll need to have a good understanding of all of the main wine producing regions of the world, the grape varieties they grow and the styles of wines they produce. This course is certainly a tough cookie but by far the most interesting. It’s the first time that you’ll talk about the vine in detail and how the management of it can effect wine, along with many other points and wine lexemes that you might have never come across! I loved this course material so much because it enabled me to really understand wine and gave me the ability as a Sommelier to answer the multitude of questions a guest might have, with confidence.

And for level 4? One day…


The Court of Master Sommeliers is an organisation created to “encourage quality standards for beverage service in hotels and restaurants”…they’ll be no peeling grapes together and laughing about hose pipe aromas in Riesling here, CMS is about as serious as it gets in wine examinations. People take the levels in the hope to eventually reach mastery as a Sommelier, seriously though, the final level is called Master Sommelier, a title you get to carry with you for life once passed.

I’ve just completed the first level called Introductory Sommelier, next would be Certified Sommelier, moving up to Advanced Sommelier before reaching that all important Mastery title. I can compare Introductory Sommelier to the WSET level 3 course…

So with WSET I can be only 1 course away from achieving their highest wine accolade, Diploma in wines (level 4) whereas with this CMS I could barely reach the 2nd level with that exact same knowledge?! This is where I must stress that the Court of Master Sommelier exams are not for entering if wine is just a major hobby in your life, it needs to be pretty much taking over your life. I mean working it (preferably as a Sommelier for having enough access to wines for tasting), coming home and studying it and then going to bed to dream about it and perhaps having your breakfast with it.

This is something that I could not quite get to grips with…for me all of the fun involved with learning about wine and talking to people about it was beginning to evaporate like water from a late harvested grape. I did enjoy knowing all of the 1st -3rd growths of the 1855 Medoc Classification in Bordeaux and felt more confident speaking with guests about Bordeaux wine once I had this knowledge. Nevertheless, a question on this arose once in the whole examination…There really is a mammoth amount of work you need to put in (and memorise) to be able to pass these examinations and this is why being a Sommelier is such a serious business. It’s competitive, stressful and deeply deeply rewarding and it’s the Court of Master Sommeliers who ensures we are all doing our jobs to the highest standards with the best knowledge possible.

If you’re interested in either of these organisations for developing your wine knowledge then take at look at their websites but just remember that generally WSET= Fun and interactive and CMS= Serious and Professional.

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