Building Confidence with WSET Level 1 and WSET Level 2

You’ve decided to start a career in wine.  Your excited but nervous and keep asking yourself, “am I really qualified and do I know as much as I need to know to be successful?”

Or maybe you’ve just started getting interested in wine, and your friends seem to know so much more than you. Never fear – the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) has a solution that will give you the confidence you need in any situation. The WSET suite of beginner courses are designed to be fun, interactive and, most of all practical. 

WSET Level 1

WSET Level 1 is a straightforward one day experience that delivers you the basics on grape varieties, wine styles, service, and matching food and wine.  It also provides a primer on how to taste wine to assess quality – no more wondering if you are doing the right things when opening a bottle!

WSET Level 1 gives you hands on experience that literally peels apart a grape to understand how this squishy round fruit is transformed into an elegant beverage.  You also experience through trial and error how to correctly pair wine and food flavors.  By the end of the day you are armed with the foundational information you need to confidently discuss wine with anyone.

WSET Level 1 is ideal for the person who is just starting to explore the world of wine in their career or their social life.  It is also a perfect landing spot for anyone interested in a more structured wine certificate course, but who doesn’t want the commitment of multiple class days.

WSET Level 2

WSET Level 2 is an equally good starting place for a beginner that covers the same information as Level 1 but goes further. You do not need to have taken Level 1 to enroll in Level 2. 

WSET Level 2 is a journey into the major grape varietals that are grown around the world.  Over eight class segments you learn the basics of what factors impact a wine’s style, quality and price – not just on paper but through actually tasting and assessing over 45 wines.

WSET Level 2 takes you to the original regions for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and multiple other grapes. It then shows you how those same vines are transformed when taken to new geographies such as Australia, South Africa or California. Mastering wine labels and decoding terminology is a critical part of the WSET Level 2 course. The result is that you will have the confidence to talk about any major wine, whether you have tasted what is in the bottle or not!

WSET Level 2 is perfect for the complete beginner as well as the person who already has some foundational wine knowledge.  If you are beginner this course will give you the tools to move forward with assurance into the world of wine.  For the person who already has basic wine knowledge, WSET Level 2 will expand on what you know, fill in any major gaps and set you on a path of more wine enjoyment and authority.

Confidence is the name of the game for both WSET Level 1 and WSET Level 2.  Both classes will provide the boost that makes you more self-assured when talking about wine and gives the people around you the sense that you know what you are talking about.

Grape Experience Wine & Spirit School offers WSET Level 1 and WSET Level 2 throughout the year.  New Level 2 courses start this month and enrollment details can be found at:

Level 1 meets in San Francisco on February 5 and in Boston on April 9 and enrollment details can be found at:

An Introduction to Sake, By Marina Giordano, WSET Certified Sake Educator

How is sake made? Is it distilled? Brewed? Is it more like wine or spirits? Should I drink it warm? Cold?

Sake is a complex alcoholic drink that is gaining more attention in the US. More and more people are seeking out this ancient beverage – Would you like to learn more about sake?

Grape Experience is excited to announce we will be launching the new WSET Level 1 Certificate in Sake this fall. This new course is an introduction to sake and will answer these questions about sake and more!

As an introductory course it is intended to introduce production, ingredients, grades and styles of sake. It is designed for both consumers and professionals.

This course is great for sake enthusiasts who would like to learn about sake but aren’t ready to commit to the in-depth study of our Level 3 Certification. For industry professionals it is an excellent introduction to the growing category of sake, providing the knowledge you need to sell sake.

Learn how production methods can influence the style and category of premium and specialty sake. We’ll taste through various samples to demonstrate the complexity of this diverse beverage. Included in the course is a section on service and storage of sake, an important part of enjoying sake!

We will be offering this course in San Francisco this fall and in Boston in 2017. Level 1 Certificate in sake will provide a solid understanding of sake before continuing on to our Level 3 Sake Certificate.  To enroll just click here:

WSET Level 2 In Wine & Spirts – The Perfect Beginner Course

One of the most common things I hear from people interested in the WSET program is “I want to take Level 2 but I can’t because I haven’t taken Level 1 yet.” 


Let me set the record straight: you do not have to take Level 1 to take Level 2.  In fact, for most people who have some basic wine knowledge I strongly recommend starting with Level 2.


Level 2 is the perfect entry into formal wine study and, as a course, builds a complete foundation for future learning or a confident, successful wine career.  People enter Level 2 with various degrees of knowledge.  Some people may know very little beyond grape names and wine brands – their foundation has a few key “brick” out, but needs to be more formally built.  Other people may know quite a lot about a specific wine or wine region – Napa or Bordeaux for example – but have limited knowledge about other producing areas such Australia, Chile or Germany.  For this person Level 2 fills in the holes and creates a solid wine knowledge structure.


Confidence is the key word to describe the outcome of a successful Level 2 candidate.  The course focuses on creating a strong understanding of the major wine grapes and how they show themselves in regions across the globe.  Level 2 provides a survey of wine styles and levels of quality.  After Level 2, a student can look at any major wine label and identify how that wine should taste, its level of quality and relative price point.  They can speak about, purchase and make recommendations on wine with confidence.


Level 2 also showcases how to taste like a professional. It introduces WSET’s famous Systematic Approach to Tasting, which creates an even playing field to compare and contrast all wines.  During the 8 segments of the Level 2 course over 45 wines are tasted.


Level 2 delivers students enough knowledge to make them savvy wine consumers or assured wine professionals, but not so much as to overwhelm them.  Grape Experience Level 2 classes are interactive and designed to be fun. People work together to figure out how to speak about a wine and creatively convey its attributes.  There are no wrong answers or dumb questions.  Instead, the class is a safe place to formulate new ideas, build better understanding and to network with other people.


The Level 2 course culminates with a one-hour, 50-question multiple choice exam.  The exam tests knowledge learned in a fun, almost game-like way.  I like to say it is sort of like playing “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” except you can’t phone a friend or ask the audience.  What you can do is usually eliminate two of the four answer options.


So who is Level 2 really for?  The answer is just about everyone. If you are thinking of taking a formal wine course or starting the WSET program than Level 2 is for you.  If you are working in wine but want to enhance your knowledge to be better at your job or grow in your career, Level 2 is the place to start.  If you are thinking about starting a career in wine or want to work in regions outside of the US than Level 2 is what you need to begin that process!


Grape Experience has several options available to join a Level 2 course.  All can be found at

How to Succeed in Getting the WSET Diploma: Top Tips from People Who Know

The WSET Level 4 Diploma is one of the most sought after and challenging certifications in the wine industry.  Grape Experience is one of the few select WSET providers in the world who have been given approval to offer the Diploma. The course of study involves passing six sub-courses or “units.”  It is an understatement to say achieving Diploma certification is difficult. It takes maximum effort and knowing the best strategies to approach the enormous amount of material.

Grape Experience has had tremendous success in getting many of our Diploma candidates over the finish line.  We asked those now Diploma holders to share their top study tips.  I have grouped them into five key areas below.  Following their advice is not a guarantee of passing, but if you are thinking of taking on Diploma, incorporating their suggestions will put you in the best position for success. 

Tip 1: Form a study group early on in the program

Everyone mentioned a study group as a main key to their success.  Study groups should be not only for tasting, but also for theory.   Just about all Diploma holders admitted theory questions were the most challenging part of the exams.

In person or virtual group meetings should happen every month if not weekly, and as long as two people attend, said one Diploma holder, it is worth getting together.  For theory, Diploma holders suggest each week preparing a topic from a past exam and sharing essays or essay outlines.  This can easily be done virtually with each member of the group submitting their essays/outlines via email or a platform like Dropbox.

Tasting sessions should be used to train the palate and enable you to start to get the key elements of wine styles by region.  They also build confidence and cut the expense of having to buy all of the wines you need to taste on your own.

Tip 2. Utilize DAPS and the Study Support Sections of the WSET Global Campus

Most Diploma holders admitted that the Diploma Assessment Preparation Scheme (DAPS) for Unit 3-6 was frustrating. They love the idea that DAPS gives you real personal examiner feedback on exam questions, but noted the system was hard to navigate and that the feedback can range from very brief to overly harsh.

Still, everyone who commented here believed the frustration was worth it.  “It forced me to practice exam style timed writing,” noted one Diploma holder.  Another person commented that they had a better sense of what examiners looked for even when the feedback was brief. “You are really hurting your chances of passing if you don’t do DAPS,” bluntly stated a third Diploma holder. “Make it happen!”

Along with DAPS, the Study Support materials on the proprietary WSET Diploma web site, The Global Campus, were critical.  One Diploma holder summed up the thoughts of most others, “I went through old exam questions each week and picked one to study.  Then I figured out how much time I’d have on the exam and limited my writing to that amount.  Only when I finished writing did I read what the examiner posted about how students actually did or what they showed as an example of a good answer. “

Some successful Diploma holders used the material on the Global Campus as the basis for a Theory grid for each region: with headings of Grape Variety, Climate, Soil, Viticulture and Winemaking.  Other people made flash cards and either took them with them everywhere or used the Quizlet app to maintain them.

Tip 3: Teach Your Friends and Family

Many Diploma holders said that the more they talked with other people about what they were learning, the more it stuck in their head.  Writing information in a notebook is not as effective at remembering it as when you have to speak it to someone else.  This is likely because you actually have to think about the information you are conveying, respond to questions and organize your thoughts in a way that are not just bullets on a page.

One Diploma holder said that he “bored his partner and friends to death with explaining the techniques for making Hunter Valley Semillon and South African Pinotage.”  In the end though, it definitely helped him cement his knowledge and his audience was rewarded with great free wine tasting opportunities.

Tip 4: Don’t Worry About Getting the Wine Right

Many Diploma holders said they often missed identifying the wines on the exam 100% correct, but still passed.  It is more important to get the components and quality level of the wines right, rather than correctly stating what the variety and origin is.  “The points are in the body of your tasting note – not in getting the wine type spot on,” said one Diploma holder. 

Tip 5: Create a Study Schedule and Stick to It

The WSET gives an estimate of the minimum required study hours for each unit. Successful Diploma students said creating a weekly study schedule at the start of undertaking a unit and not diverting from it is critical.  This means that you should block time off each week on your calendar for studying and not change it or make it a low priority. One person suggested “treating it like it is a doctor’s appointment that you can’t miss.  If someone asks you to do something in that time and it was really a doctor’s appointment, you wouldn’t cancel it.” 

Inevitably some study time will need to get cancelled for “life” reasons, but make sure that you build in extra contingency study hours and only give up your study time in a real emergency.  At the same time, while you are studying, make sure to keep things in perspective.  This is a course on wine and spirits – things that give people enjoyment – and so you too should find some level of fun in the program

Diploma is truly a rewarding experience.  You meet other people, build your wine and spirit knowledge to an incredibly strong depth and, if successful, get one of the most respected certificates in the industry.  It is also a prerequisite for the Masters of Wine program.

To begin Diploma you must first pass the WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine.  The next Diploma and Level 3 Certificate courses start at the beginning of August.  For more information go to:

The All New WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine

This August, WSET will launch an all new Level 3 Certificate in Wine, and Grape Experience Wine & Spirit School will be among the first providers to implement the new course.  The new Level 3 is the most dramatic and best revision of this sought after qualification I have ever seen in my 20 years as a student and WSET provider.

Everything about Level 3 is new: the course program, textbook, exam, and even the suggested teaching method.  Gone are the days of the old WSET Advanced Certificate with its black and white books and formal lectures.  The new Level 3 is more relevant, interactive and designed to allow students to immediately put in place what they learn into their daily lives and work.

The new WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine Materials

The new WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine Materials

The new Level 3 utilizes the Socratic approach to teaching – a method familiar to people who have attended business or law school.  It is one of my favorite components of this new WSET course.  This approach focuses on giving students questions, not answers, to foster critical thinking. Team engagement and debate drives learning.  Teachers will guide students through material but the onus will be on each class member to explain thoughts, ideas and apply their own knowledge. 

Utilizing the Socratic method may scare some WSET providers.  Instead, they may just use the old Level 3 lecture approach and session plans to teach the new course.  I believe this would be selling our students and the program short.  Grape Experience has spent time and resources to attend in person WSET training programs on the new Level 3 and to teach our teachers how to best deliver the new material. 

My goal as a provider has always been to put the highest quality course forward, even if it means we make less profit margin. I know first-hand the power a great WSET course has on a student’s enthusiasm and ability to use information learned.  I had that feeling in every WSET course I ever took and I want people who enroll in a Grape Experience WSET course to feel it as well.

The new Level 3 course program spends considerably more time on the natural and human forces at work in the vineyard and winery.  It then drills down at how they manifest themselves in similar wines styles and terroirs.  For example, white, lesser aromatic wines of Burgundy are studied with similar styles from the Loire and Bordeaux.  Rich Mediterranean red wines are also studied together.  The old region by region approach is not lost, it is just reformulated to make more sense and to have more applicable across the board relevance for students.

Support materials for the course have also improved.  There are now 13 short films that students watch online to review the basics of regions.  The text book is more clear, up to date and has considerably more information on viticulture and winemaking.  The study guide is larger and contains some of the best and most useful wine maps I have ever seen.

The exam format remains relatively unchanged but with greater onus on the student to explain and apply key production and style drivers.  The tasting component no longer requires students to identify a specific wine and price, but rather focuses on the style of the wine.  I believe preparing for this exam will help make those students who want to go on to Diploma more successful.

Grape Experience is excited to launch the new Level 3 starting August 8 in Napa and August 9 in San Francisco.  Boston will begin on September 26.  Classes will meet one night a week for 16 weeks.  We feel this format gives students more time to live with and learn the material – rather than cramming the course into 4 weekend days.  It also makes preparing for class participation more focused and less daunting.

If you have never taken WSET Level 3 now is the perfect time.  If you already have the certificate I hope you will encourage your friends and colleagues to take the course.  Information can be found at:

The people at WSET who spent so much heart, soul and time working to build the new Level 3 deserve credit and appreciation.  Your efforts show in a job well done!

Great Unexpected Gavi

I’m always looking for something new to serve at a summer party. There is only so much Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc I can take. This 4th of July I thought why not Gavi? This Italian white wine is light and has the crispness, and lemony, slightly grassy flavors that go so well with summer foods

Time for a Cocktail

More and more bars, pubs and restaurants are focusing on their cocktail lists with the result that a customer has a huge range of options from which to choose. I like the trend of many smaller restaurants specializing in one particular type of spirit – Bourbon, Scotch, Rum and Tequila. It allows us to try different brands without committing to an entire bottle