The Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) offers four courses – levels 1, 2, 3, and Diploma. A person may start at level 1, 2, 3 depending on their wine knowledge and confidence. The WSET Advanced is a globally-respected wine credential and a great way to study for the Certified Sommelier (CS) exam. It’s fair to say that if you study the WSET 3 book well and can pass “with distinction”, “with merit”, or maybe even just “pass,” you will have the wine knowledge to pass the theory portion of the Certified Sommelier exam.
As you study, be sure you have a grasp of all areas before you memorize the minutia of a particular area. For example, it’s great to know the percentage of Baga grape required in Portugal’s Bairrada DO, but don’t memorize that until you are at least familiar with all the regions of Portugal and have memorized the details of more “classic” Portuguese wines, like port.
Speaking of port, spend a lot of time studying fortified and dessert wines. They are at the end of the book, but you certainly don’t want to wait until the week before the exam to finally start studying these chapters. When it comes time for the essay, you will be asked to write about a subject with many details or steps (to give you the opportunity to write several sentences/paragraphs), and fortified/dessert wines have plenty of peculiarities and processes. So really study these.
As you go through the book, have notecards and a pen at hand so you can make flashcards. If a term is in bold and you don’t know it, make a flashcard. You should have a big stack by exam day. Cards you make yourself will be more effective than searching the internet for flashcards.
On test day you will start off with a blind tasting of a white and red wine. Don’t rush right into smelling, analyzing, and recording; before you even pick up your glass you should write down all the things you should be looking for. Be sure to use the WSET’s vocabulary; say the wine is “clean” instead of “sound” like you would in a Court of Master Sommeliers exam. Your test proctor will evaluate the wine before you arrive and write down a range of realistic possibilities for structure and aromas. If they think it has Medium-Plus (M+) acidity, they will probably say acidity could be Medium through High. If you think the wine has High acidity, you will get that point. They will write down any realistic aroma/flavor and not just the three that stand out the most to them. When you evaluate aromas/flavors, write down anything you smell/taste, but don’t just write a laundry list of all possible red wine aromas – the people who grade the test will see what you are doing and fail you.
Don’t be afraid of the tasting section. If you write down the checklist and put something in every category, you’re going to get a lot of points. And the hardest part of the tasting exam (the question that asks the wine’s identity) is multiple choice with three options.
On the multiple choice section of the theory, take your time and don’t get upset when you find questions you don’t know the answer to. It’s ok. It’s going to happen. Just cross off answers you know are definitely wrong, take your best guess, and your chances of getting that question right just went from 25% to 33% or even 50%.
On the essays, you should write down everything you know and fill the space provided. If they ask about a wine or process you know nothing about, just try to write something. If you think it’s a fortified wine from Spain, then write that down. Is it white? Oxidized? Sweet? Blended? Write as much as you can.
When it comes to spirits, just stick to the book. The book has a few pages on each spirit, so learn that and don’t go looking for more. You won’t be a spirits expert, but you’ll pass the exam.
If you were hoping this post contained sample questions, flash cards, or other shortcuts… sorry. The WSET Advanced is a lot of material and it simply takes time and effort to learn the facts and methodologies.
You may also be interested in reading my post that compares the CSW, WSET, and Court of Master Sommelier wine certifications.
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