This is your One-Stop Guide to Wine Courses for students about to take their first wine course.
First, I’ll explain the difference between sommelier schools and other wine schools. Each school has a particular focus in the world of wine. I’ll cover that too. Most of the schools reviewed here are for people who want to work in some part of the wine industry. The one exception to that is the Society of Wine Educators which only offers beginner wine courses.
And if you’re here because you’re about to take your first ever wine course, you may want to read my post on the 5 Most Important Things You Should Know Before Taking A Wine Course.
Table of Contents
What’s the difference between the sommelier schools and other wine schools?
Sommelier schools have a strong service component to the exam where they must open bottles of wine while making wine and food pairing suggestions and cocktail recommendations – all perhaps while dealing with a cranky customer! Many answers are provided orally for sommelier blind tastings and exams. Part of your exam will be in a simulated restaurant.
Other wine schools, like WSET and WSG don’t have the practical service component where they open wine bottles in person. They still have to answer questions about service however, answers are always written.
WSET and WSG are schools that teach wine education but are not sommelier schools.
Court of Master Sommeliers, the International Sommelier Guild and any school with the word ‘sommelier’ in it are sommelier schools. Their training is specific to working in restaurants.
Of course, we’ve included both types of schools in this One-Stop Guide to Wine Courses
Your One-Stop Guide to Wine Courses
Most established wine school and the most widely recognized!
WSET offers wine courses from Levels 1 (Beginner) to Level 4 (Very Advanced)
Is WSET for you?
- considered the wine course meant for people in all aspects of the wine trade
- if you like guidance – this course offers printed textbooks and study guides
- WSET is meant for traditional learners who like classroom settings and have excellent writing skills (especially for the Level 4 exams).
- if you enjoy marketing and the business of wine
WSET is not for you if…
- you don’t like data about wine markets (Levels 3+4)
- you can’t write well (Levels 3+4)
- if business and economics isn’t your bag (Level 4)
- you want to practice how to open bottles of wine and fine-tune your service skills (then you need a sommelier course)
Are you a Level 1 WSET student?
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What jobs can I get after taking WSET courses?
- restaurant, hospitality manager or a retail store clerk
- a buyer for a supermarket chain, a marketing / account manager for a wine related business or run a wine program in a restaurant
- work in major hotel chains
- wine judges and wine journalists
- after completing you Level 4 DipWSET, you can register for the Educator’s program to become a wine instructor
WSET Course delivery
- courses are in-person or online
- Levels 1, 2 and the theory section of Level 3 can be taken online as well (blind tasting must be sat in-person)
- Levels 1 and 2 in offered in sake and spirits
- Further, WSET focuses on largest export markets; France, Italy and Spain are given more detail in the course compared to other regions.
- What goes into the cost of a bottle is a key theme
- Level 3 Advanced
- Level 4 Diploma
Most detailed wine courses and best historical context ! This school also offers wine-study trips that are high in demand.
Is WSG for you?
- courses are online only
- if you love food and history, these courses are fantastic – this had to be included in this one-stop guide for wine courses!
- Courses about France, Italy or Spain
- if you want to learn a specific region (like Champagne) and don’t want to know about the entire world of wine, WSG is for you!
- If you don’t want to learn to blind taste wine
WSG is NOT for you if…
- you are a novice in wine; you should complete an introductory wine course with another school first
- Although, it looks like WSG is moving to change this as they have now added an IWS prep course for people who have little to no previous experience in wine.
- you require the comradery of in-person classes
- you are not interested in the Old World Regions of France, Italy and Spain
What jobs can I get after taking a course in WSG?
- Really, these are not courses you take to get a job. However, if you were running a wine list in an Italian, French or Spanish restaurant, these courses could really set you up for success.
Wine Scholar Guild Course delivery
- courses are mostly online although there are some approved program providers that offer in-person courses – check their website link above for more information
- Wonderfully, the site offers wine study tours – book early because they sell out fast!
- there are 2 formats for courses:
- you can take part in a set schedule in an instructor-led course.
- Or for those that are self-motivated, you can choose to learn at your own pace and take the exam at your convenience.
Most accessible courses for those just starting out and the only school which provides practice exams and flashcards !
Is the Society of Wine Educators’ CSW for me?
- great introduction to wine especially for those who just want to get their toes wet
- great if you need to exercise your brain and don’t want to bother with an in-person exam or a written exam with essays – everything is multiple choice
The Society of Wine Educators is not for me if…
- you are already enrolled in CMS, ISG or WSET as those courses cover everything that will be in the CSW and more
What jobs can I get after taking the CSW exam?
- not detailed enough for a job per se
- most people who take this have careers in other fields and simply want to see what wine is all about
Course delivery of CSW
- there are 2 ways to access courses – either through paying for the individual certification or by becoming a Professional Member of the Society for Wine Educators for $135 US/ year.
Now, I’ll discuss the schools that prepare you to work in high end restaurants…
Your One-Stop Guide to Wine Sommelier Courses
The CMS is considered the benchmark qualification for running high-end wine programs delivering the highest standards of service! The final stage is the coveted Master Sommelier exam where only 10% of attendees pas
Is CMS the course for me?
- You must be working in a restaurant when you enrol in the CMS.
- If you want to be a certified sommelier and plan to run a wine program
- if the world of fine wine excites you! Students in the CMS program gain intimate knowledge of only the best wine producers of the world!
The CMS course is not for me…
- if you don’t work in a restaurant
- if you are not disciplined to take charge of your study plan and implement it
- if you don’t love service – this is a major part of the exam
- if you don’t want to learn about every other beverage within a restaurant – by the Master Sommelier level, you must know about cigars, coffee, tea, sake, beer, cocktails, spirits and the world of wine
What jobs can I get after completing the CMS?
- run a fine wine program in a restaurant
- By the time your a Master Sommelier, you can be a brand ambassador for a Champagne house and be hired for speaking events
CMS Course delivery
- most of your hours are spend conduction individual study
- then you attend a course day, followed by the exam
- CMS 1 – Introductory Sommelier Certificate
- CMS II – Certified Sommelier Examination
- CMS III – Advanced Sommelier Certificate
- CMS IV – Master Sommelier Diploma
Courses training people to work in restaurants that supply their own textbooks and curriculum !
Is the International Sommelier Guild for me?
- if you require in-person training to become a sommelier in a restaurant
International Sommelier Guild is not for me if…
- you don’t work in a restaurant as that is a prerequisite for taking ISG
What jobs can I get after taking ISG?
- specifically for fine-dining or Michelin star restaurants with exceedingly high levels of service and premium wines
- also great if you are planning on moving into other aspects of the wine trade such as a winery, or wine shop
Course delivery of ISG
- you can sign up for in-person classes, online classes or a ‘Live on Line’ which I assume is an online course with live webinars – anyone?
- this is the only sommelier course where textbooks are provided for each level.
- Level 1 Intermediate Wine Certificate –
- Level 2 Advanced Wine Certificate –
- Level 3 Sommelier Diploma
- Level 4 ISGM Sommelier
- Level 5 ISGM Degree
With so many wine courses out there, it can be really difficult to choose where to put your money.
Sommelier schools train people to work in restaurants whereas WSET courses focus on the business of wine. No matter which school you choose, you will be learning about grape varieties and famous wine regions and wines.
Online courses through Wine Scholar Guild allow you to take courses that dive deep into just France, Italy and Spain.
All of these schools offer so much for learners, but the style of learner you are will impact which school you thrive in. Furthermore, what your goals are will also affect that decision. I truly hope you found Your One-Stop Guide to Wine Courses helpful.
I’ll admit… if I had unlimited funds, I’d take them all!
Hi there! I’m a DipWSET alumni and a WSET educator. I run a wine school in Whistler called SommWine. I have also passed the Level 1 and Level 2 Advanced with the International Sommelier Guild. I welcome your comments at the bottom to help all wine students find the right course for them!
*** Special thanks to some of my twitter followers who took the time to write and share their experiences in wine schools. I’ll mention these great wine tweeps here. You can reach out to them on Twitter!
@MegandMerlot @TimtheWineGuy @Christy_Frank @jjhorsey10 @wsetlondonwine @sommfitz @liam3494 @fullygodwin @londonfare @LizGabayMW @sybaricious @DanitzaVinka @sarah_may_g @unravelingwine @thecitywino