Two weeks have gone by since I sat my WSET Level 3 Exam and it already feels like an eternity. January 2023 was the longest January I ever experienced, but also the most intense one in a while. It is time to reflect upon this experience and I want to share with you my highs but also my lows.
Where do I begin? I’ll start with the moment I decided to do it. After the first wine tasting I organized in Berlin I realized some of my WSET Level 2 knowledge had faded away. The attendees had so many challenging questions and I felt underprepared. Nothing unusual, my old friend the impostor syndrome was with me. So I decided to get rid of it and take up the WSET Level 3 challenge. I managed to drag Laura (our Social Media Manager) into it, hoping this would ease the pain.
We decided to do it in Romania, in English, with the tutor she had had for Level 2 and for whom I had already received so many good recommendations. The course was scheduled for December 2023 and the exam 5 to 6 weeks afterward. I booked my flights to go home earlier before Christmas in order to attend the 5-day classes marathon.
It is maybe time to explain what WSET actually is.
I have the feeling you all know, but I know I am wrong. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust provides globally recognized education and qualifications in wines, spirits, and sake, for professionals and enthusiasts. You do not become a sommelier afterward, but rather gain wine knowledge on different levels. There is a total of 4 Levels when it comes to Wine. I passed Level 1 in 2018 (a very easy 1-day course with an exam the same day). When I turned 30 I received the Level 2 course as a gift from all my friends and family and I did it in 2020 passing with Distinction. Interesting times, online course with lonely tastings on the balcony and an exam in my own living room. They recommend 20 hours of private study but it was more like 80 hours for me.
In October I received my book and it was only in November that I managed to open it. When I was only halfway through it (and sweat drops were already rolling on my forehead), the course got moved to January. I had already planned to be done with this chapter in January and my tutor agreed (in fact, highly recommended) that I sit the exam directly after the 5-day course.
I, therefore, went ahead and finished reading the book. As soon as I finished it, it was almost Christmas and the craziness everybody working at least a little bit in Sales is experiencing in the shopping madness month, was finally over. I focused exclusively on studying and I followed the amazing free content on Youtube from talented educator Jimmy Smith (Wine with Jimmy). His videos were really my salvation and added some salt and pepper to the book reading, map drawing, and village names memorizing. If I had to do it all over again, I'd definitely get his paid subscription. (this is not a paid add, just a big personal recommendation).
What does WSET Level 3 actually consist of?
Unit 1 (assessed by a closed-book exam of 50 multiple-choice questions and a (not so) short-written answer paper aka 8 pages A4 filled with open-answer questions):
- The key factors in the production of wine: location, grape growing, winemaking, maturation and bottling
- How these key factors influence the key characteristics of the principal
- still wines of the world
- sparkling wines of the world
- fortified wines of the world
- How to apply your understanding to explain wine style and quality
Unit 2 (assessed by a blind tasting of two wines, a white and a red):
- How to taste wines, describe their characteristics, and evaluate their quality, using the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine® (SAT)
As the 5-day course was approaching and I had almost finished going for the second time through the book, I decided to start already tasting some wines and using the SAT method. I had done an extra course in October, just for fun, focusing exclusively on this part of the exam, which had been indeed very helpful. I invited a friend of mine over and for 2 days we tasted I believe about 15 to 20 wines every day, comparing our notes and trying to have some fun. In preparation for this intensive tasting session, I also managed to break a 20-year-old Rioja Reserva. Oh well, one bottle less to analyze :)
The tension was growing inside of me and I had to remind myself quite often that I was actually doing this for myself and for fun… I ignored successfully all the distractions around me, avoided meeting friends, and spent time at the desk in a desperate attempt to absorb all the information. The day of my flight to Bucharest arrived, I packed my studying material and heard the clock starting to tick as I left my Berlin home.
The best part is yet to come, so please bear with me as I write the sequel blog post.