Top Levels of Wine Education

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The Wine & Spirit Education Trust

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust, often referred to as WSET, is a British organisation which arranges courses and exams in the field of wine and spirits. WSET was founded in 1969, is headquartered in London and is generally regarded as the world’s leading provider of wine education. The courses given by WSET were originally intended for people in the wine & spirit trade. The WSET programs have increasingly been attended also by non-professional connoisseurs. The WSET also offers professional certification in the United States, with programs in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Course levels

The course content of WSET courses has its focus on general theoretical knowledge of the world of wine and spirits (countries and regions of production, regulations, their style of wine and spirits, grape varieties &c.), and practical identification of beverages and their flavours, including wine tasting techniques.

As of 2008, the levels of courses were as following, using the levels of the National Qualifications Framework of UK:

Level 1

Level 1 Award in Wines, 1 day wine course provides basic wine knowledge as well looking at how to match food with wine.
Level 1 Award in Spirits, 1 day course provides basic product knowledge and skills in service and marketing of spirits to prepare a person for their first job in hospitality or the spirit industry.
Level 1 Award in Wine Service, 2 day course provides instruction in the art of wine service and includes the development of practical skills in a restaurant setting. It includes the Level 1 Award in Wine on day one of the course.

Level 2

Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits covers the major grape varieties and where they are grown around the world. Students are taught how to taste wine professionally using the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting.
Level 2 Award in Spirits gives a greater breadth and depth of knowledge in the specific area of spirits and liqueurs.

Level 3

Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits provides a more comprehensive coverage of the wide range of wines and spirits around the world. The qualification has an increased focus on wine tasting technique. International Higher Certificate in Wines and Spirits is available through International WSET providers only. It is also available in several different languages.

Level 4

Diploma in Wines and Spirits. The Diploma is a specialist qualification where detailed knowledge is combined with commercial factors and a thorough system for the professional evaluation of wines and spirits.

Level 5

Honours Diploma. The WSET Level 5 Honours Diploma is an individual research project that enables students to develop skills in research, evaluation and analysis in a wine and spirit related subject of their choice. This qualification is open to anyone holding the WSET Level 4 Diploma.

WSET's courses are also given by a large number of ‘Approved Programme Providers’ around the world. This has made WSET’s course levels the international de facto standard for ‘practical’ knowledge of wine and spirits, outside academic programmes of oenology, viticulture, food technology and similar subjects, where science and engineering aspects of beverage production tend to be in focus. WSET has created a membership body for WSET Diploma holders called ‘Institute of Wines & Spirits’, and upon completion of the WSET Diploma are permitted to put ‘AIWS’ (Associate of the Institute of Wine and Spirits) after their name. Qualification at the WSET Diploma level 4 is generally required to be allowed into the Master of Wine training, which is arranged by a body (The Institute of Masters of Wine) separate from the WSET.

Master of Wine (MW)

MW is a qualification (i.e. not an academic degree) issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom. The MW qualification is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. The institute was founded in 1955, but the MW examinations were first arranged in 1953 by the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Wine and Spirits Association.


The Institute of Masters of Wine is a non-profit organization funded by its members and by corporate sponsorship from within the wine industry. The Institute of Masters of Wine vision is one of knowledge and integrity. Its stated objectives are:

  1. To promote the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of wine;
  2. To uphold the highest standards within the wine industry;
  3. To enhance personal and professional goals in pursuing wine-related activities.

MW (Master of Wine) Qualification

Before being allowed to enroll for the three-year program of self-study and attendance of educational seminars presented by the Institute, potential candidates must convince the Institute that they have the necessary aptitude by submitting an essay and tasting notes. This generally includes holding the Diploma level qualification of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which is the highest level awarded by that organisation. In addition, they must be interviewed by, and obtain the mentoring of, an existing Master of Wine. Candidates must sit both the theory (four papers) and practical (three blind tastings) parts of the examination in the same year. If they achieve success in only one part, however, they may attempt the remaining part in the subsequent two years. If successful at the examination stage, candidates must then write and submit a dissertation within six months of approval of a synopsis by the Institute’s Education and Examination Board. The process is challenging and rigorous. From 1993 to 2000, of the 266 candidates who undertook the programme a total of 85 were successful in passing all parts of the examination and becoming Masters of Wine.

Membership of the Institute of Masters of Wine

A Master of Wine is someone who has demonstrated, by way of rigorous examination, a thorough knowledge of all aspects of wine and an ability to communicate that knowledge clearly. They actively encourage others in the pursuit of knowledge as well as seeking to bring wine communities together. Until 1983 the examination was limited to United Kingdom wine importers, merchants and retailers. The first non-UK Master of Wine was awarded in 1988. In 2005, there were 278 members of 18 different nationalities, living in 19 countries throughout the world. Most of the 74 members living outside the UK became members since about 1990. As of July 2010, there were 280 MWs in the world. Through their members - at present the international community of 299 Masters of Wine - and their activities, the institute promote excellence, interaction and learning across all sectors of the global wine community.

Today, members hold a range of occupations including winemakers, viticulturists, winemaking consultants, wine writers and journalists, wine educators, and wine service, restaurant and hotel management. In addition, many are involved in the purchasing, importing, distribution, sales and marketing of wine. Typically, sommeliers choose to become Master Sommelier, but a handful of individuals have achieved both qualifications.

Master Sommelier (MS)

A sommelier or wine steward is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food matching. The role is much more specialized and informed than that of a wine waiter. The most important work of a sommelier is in the areas of wine procurement, wine storage, wine cellar rotation, and expert service to wine consumers.

A sommelier may also be responsible for the development of wine lists and for the delivery of wine service and training for the other restaurant staff. Working along with the culinary team, they pair and suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item. This entails the need for a deep knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits and other beverages work in harmony. A professional sommelier also works on the floor of the restaurant and is in direct contact with restaurant patrons. The sommelier has a responsibility to work within the taste preference and budget parameters of the patron. In modern times, a sommelier’s role may be considered broader than working only with wines, and may encompass all aspects of the restaurant's service, with an enhanced focus on wines, beers, spirits, soft-drinks, cocktails, mineral waters, and tobaccos.


The modern word is French. It derives from Middle French where it referred to a court official charged with transportation of supplies. This use of the term dates to a period when pack animals would be used to transport supplies. The Middle French probably finds its origin in Old Provençal where a saumalier was a pack animal driver. Sauma referred to a pack animal or the load of a pack animal. In Late Latin, sagma referred to a packsaddle.

Education and certification

Though sommelier is a job title potentially anyone may claim, becoming a certified sommelier requires classes and an examination. The certification is offered by a wide range of educators, and a basic education may be attained worldwide for US$800-$3,750 over the course of six months.

The Court of Master Sommeliers, established in 1977, is the examining body for

  1. the Master Sommelier Diploma
  2. the Advanced Sommelier Certificate
  3. the Certified Sommelier Certificate and
  4. the Introductory Sommelier Certificate

It was created under the supervision of the Vintners Company, The Institute of Masters of Wine, The British Hotels & Restaurants Association, The Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain and The Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association.

The Court also offers an intermediate level of Education titled ‘Advanced Sommelier Course’ which invites carefully selected candidates to sit and be both tested and educated in the rigors of the Master Sommelier program. The course is generally offered 2-3 times per year and acceptance is highly controlled. Often candidates will apply for 3-4 years before being offered a position. The course is extreme in its preparation and testing for potential Masters Candidates.

There are now 118 professionals who have earned the title Master Sommelier in North America (101 men & 17 women). Since the Master Sommelier Diploma was introduced in 1969, total of 186 people from around the world had become Master Sommeliers by 2011. Just three people: Ronn Wiegand MS (1986) MW (1991), Doug Frost MS (1991) MW (1993) and Gerard Basset MS (1989) MW (1998) - have managed to qualify as both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine.

The Institute of Cape Wine Masters (South Africa)

The Institute of Cape Wine Masters is an active group of knowledgeable people who are formally qualified, objective, passionate and informed on local and international wine matters. The first successful candidates of the examinations for CWM (Cape Wine Masters), held under the auspices of the Cape Wine and Spirit Education Trust were graduated in 1984. The Institute of Cape Wine Masters was formed in 1984. Seventy five people have graduated from the Cape Wine Masters examinations since 1984, and there are currently 68 members and 3 honorary members.

Also, in South Africa, the Cape Wine Academy has introduced the Cape Sommelier programme as a response to a huge demand and support from the hospitality industry for a suitable professional qualification, and to ensure that South Africa's service levels compete globally.