The WSET Diploma Mise-en-scène


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.

Rhône Valley
Alsace and Beaujolais
Loire Valley
Bordeaux 1
Bordeaux 2
South of France
Northern Italy
Central Italy
Southern Italy
Australia 1
Australia 2 and New Zealand
Spain 1
Spain 2 and Portugal
Central & Eastern Europe
North America
South America
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.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: ChipDWood
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    See; when I see something like this I get to thinking about working through it. I taste wines anyway, right? I read about wines, their producers & histories anyway, right?

    Aside from a great time & tasting notes- this would give me something to carry with me in kind payment for my… “arduous studies”.

    Color me intrigued.

    Jan 17, 2009 at 12:00 PM

  • Snooth User: fibo86
    Hand of Snooth
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    Wow RB interesting

    Mar 22, 2009 at 5:02 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    Macaron, where are you located? I did my diploma studies through the International Wine Center in NYC. There's an increasing number of locations offering courses around the world.

    You can pursue the WSET Diploma one of 2 ways - self-study or attend weekly classes. It is not a full-time commitment, but it does take up a sizable chunk of your free time outside of work depending on a) your study habits, b) your efficiency, c) you existing wine & spirits knowledge & d) how much you are exposed to wine (tasting especially) during your day job. N.B. - The WSET Advanced Certificate (nee Higher Certificate) is a requirement for the Diploma. This takes 1 semester with a couple of hours a week of study outside of class.

    If you chose self-study, the tuition fees are lower and you can study more at your own pace. You will in contact via e-mail with tutors to answer your questions and critique your work. However, this requires a lot of self-discipline and any savings on tuition will be easily eaten up by what you have to spend to purchase and taste the wines in the curriculum. At the end of each course, you'll have to go to an exam site (NYC, San Francisco, London, etc) to sit the exam. Colin Smith's excellent blog details his experience as a recent self-study Diploma student:

    If you are attending a class, your wine tasting costs will be partially defrayed, you'll get to interact with other students, and you might get some great instructors. It will also be easier to form a study group or tasting group with your fellow students. Classes are once a week for ~3 hours in the evening. If you are really dedicated, you can finish in 18 months (Units 1 & 2 the first semester, Unit 3 or Units 4, 5, & 6 the following semesters.

    I found that Units 2, 4, 5 & 6 didn't require as much work outside of class (say 3 to 5 hours a week) as Units 3 and 1 (assessed by research papers) which I'm spending up to a dozen hours a week on.

    Mar 22, 2009 at 11:31 AM

  • Snooth User: macaron
    154600 2

    Hi RBoulanger,

    Thanks for sharing this information with us. I am seriously thinking about taking WSET diploma. However, it takes 2 years or more. Can someone do it part-time? Or you have to dedicate your time to this program by full-time?

    May I know at which institute you take the program? Thank you very much!

    Mar 22, 2009 at 12:54 PM

  • Snooth User: wineluv
    149616 78

    Hi RB! This is what I've been interested in doing and searching for an institute that offers a diploma class,,, and I find it extremely difficult to find such place in Southern CA, unfortunately. I finished my advanced course and got the cert. Last time I heard, there's no MS in entire LA (county it is)!! If I decide to study by my own, then can I get study materials somewhere? Or do you happen to know a place in LA area offers a diploma class?? Your advise will be greatly appreciated - thanks!

    Mar 23, 2009 at 1:13 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Have you contacted the school where you got your advanced cert and asked about continuing on to the Diploma? They may have some answers… and they may be able to connect you with similar-minded individuals to help form a study group.

    I believe that Diploma classes are only being offered in Napa, New York City and Philadelphia right now. See these 2 sites below.


    You should the IWC in NYC and also reach out to Adam Chase who is continuing on the Diploma classes that used to offered at Copia. They will be able to mail you self-study materials and plug you in to the online tutor system.

    Again, I can't stress enough - read Colin's blog ( about self-study for the Diploma. It can be a very rewarding experience, but it takes discipline!

    Let us know what you find out!

    Mar 23, 2009 at 5:28 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    RB (and GDP), this is the other of your threads that I was recommending for inclusion in a Wine Resource Center location…

    Mar 27, 2009 at 10:36 AM

  • Sarah

    I am considering taking the diploma, as home study, would this be too hard with the tasting part?

    Jul 26, 2009 at 12:42 PM

  • Snooth User: JIKvig
    71238 101

    I wish you the best of luck. I had my intermediate today, crossing my fingers :-)

    Oct 05, 2009 at 4:30 PM

  • Snooth User: Constance Chamberlain
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    I am currently taking my Advanced Certificate at home and find it to be quite challenging (not only tasting alone and discussing with only myself, but the cost and actually buckling down to study!) I do work in the industry so that is helpful, but we focus on Austrian wines and Jacob's Creek so a large portion of the more prominent regions are lost! I live in CT (if anyone else out there is in the same shoes!) RBoulanger - do you have any suggestions for me for the Advanced Course. I plan to take my exam somewhere between February and March at the International Wine Center (Where I also did my Intermediate certificate.)


    Jan 05, 2010 at 1:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    Home Study can be very challenging. Yes, you save money by not paying for classes you attend, but you miss out on the regularly scheduled class time and all the tastings (6 wines per week) as well. In my Diploma class there was one woman who commuted from Hartford to IWC in NYC for the weekly classes, so it can be done, but it is a huge commitment.

    Grapefan, a UK blogger, wrote a spectacular set of pieces about getting his Diploma via home study in the UK. The entire blog is full of wisdom, but here's one of the most pertinent posts that also applies to Advanced study:

    I don't know if the IWC can help you find other students in your neck of the woods to taste with. Similarly, I don't know how much instruction in the WSET tasting methodology you get as a home study student. I would strongly recommend asking the IWC staff some questions about the tasting and how best to prepare for it.

    However, at this point, tasting is not that critical for the Advanced Exam - especially with just 6-8 weeks left to prepare. I have a coworker who is currently studying for his Advanced and he's totally focused on the green textbook. I strongly suggest you review that book over and over again since all the theory answers are in there. On exam day, you'll only have to taste one wine and it has less of a bearing on your passing than how well you know the structure of the Bordeaux and Burgundy appellations or the distinction between kabinett and auslese.

    Jan 05, 2010 at 2:39 PM

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