The past three weeks have been pretty wine-heavy, from the trip to Avignon and inevitable summer wedding events and interspersed with studying for WSET Level 2. After enjoying my day at Leiths so much in February, I had almost immediately booked on Level 2 as the metaphorical ink had dried on this blog post. While I loved Leiths, in the interests of not having a stroke or a criminal record after travelling for three straight days on the Piccadilly line, I decided to attend the course at the WSET School, London Bridge – the flagship of the awarding body offering every level of qualification.
As with Level 1, the WSET takes Level 2 seriously. From the explicit instruction to “READ THE MATERIAL BEFOREHAND” in the introductory letter, to the very different demographic in the classroom itself. as an enthusiastic amateur it can sometimes be easy to forget that the WSET’s qualifications are highly sought after by employers and employees within the food and drink trade.
WSET School offers a number of ways to study Level 2 – one evening for nine weeks, one day a week for three weeks, three consecutive days or five consecutive Saturdays. There’s also a cheaper online course (starting at £299), but of course without a key element – the sampling – sorted for you. And that’s half the fun. I took the “day release” option over three weeks, feeling that this would at least give me time to read and digest the material without feeling rushed before the exam, and be able to enjoy the course with less pressure.
Day One, in summary, was an eye-opener. As a huge nerd with a 100% Level 1 score to aspire to, I had of course read the textbook twice prior to the start. After a brief overview of the course and wine tasting, by 10:30am the first six wines of the day were being passed around.
During the first two days, you taste 36 wines. And 12 before the exam on Day Three. Lauren Denyer (our course facilitator for Day One) was quick to note that the School “wasn’t licensed for drinking”, and it’s a bloody good job, or the day would have quickly descended into madness before lunchtime.
While the exact wines we tasted throughout the three days aren’t directly stipulated by the WSET, they do recommend styles and grapes to try. It really does open your eyes to new styles that, were you in the supermarket armed with a tenner and a dry throat, you probably wouldn’t give a second glance before reaching for a pale rosé. While an off-dry Gewurztraminer will likely firmly remain in the “not my sort of thing” bucket, I would definitely be interested in trying a Barolo again (both wines from the first session, to give an idea of how diverse the introduction was).
One of the most useful elements was covering the tasting lexicon that the WSET uses. While many reviews (myself included), can get a bit off the wall with descriptors, this really grounds your thinking into simple, understandable flavours and tastes. However, this didn’t stop me and my tasting partner describing a Alsace Domain Schlumberger Pinot Gris as smelling like “opening a packet of Walker’s Salt and Vinegar“. It really, really did. My thanks to Pete for honing in on the specific flavour.
The course is structured to cover all the key styles and grapes, as well as understand the geographical complexities that allow wines from the same grapes to be so diverse. For instance, while knowing that I liked Shiraz/Syrah from France and Australia, I had no idea why they tasted different, or was really able to pin down exactly why I liked them. But after this course, you feel armed with the information to communicate what you like, why that is, and understand some of the regions that you might want to delve into with less trepidation than previously. And, almost as importantly, all the information you need to help other people to understand exactly the same thing.
The Level 2 course is named “Wine and Spirits”, although this will change as of next year, with spirits being the subject of their own, separate award. I can see why – so many bars and drinks companies give spirits their own focus, and with the take up of the Level 1 Award in Spirits, it makes sense to have a specific examination tailored to the nuances of that industry. Indeed, the spirits segment is largely self taught through online videos and reading the textbook, and while it was interesting to have a brief overview, the main thrust of the programme really was on the wine element.
The exam, while more complex than Level 1, was challenging but also relatively easy to work out if you had followed the instructions about reading the textbook, and listened during the three day period – although safe to say, I was glad I took the day release option to give myself time to prepare.
Whether a weekend wine enthusiast or in the trade, I can highly recommend Level 2 not only if you’re looking to advise others, but also to really understand and express your own enjoyment of wine – and to fish out a few new styles to try that you might not otherwise run the risk with.
Whatever the result, I’ll be taking Level 3. All that remains is to decide where to study…
WSET Level 2 at the WSET School starts at £450 (or £510 for the Saturday option). Course fees include materials, wine samples, exam entry, and six ISO tasting glasses