WSET Level 3

WSET LEVEL 3 DIARY: PART 1 - DECIDING BETWEEN WSET 1, 2 OR 3 & CHALLENGING LEVEL 3

In this new series, Wine Prep Courses student John will be sharing his thoughts on pursuing the WSET Level 3 Award in Wine

Diary of a WSET Level 3 student.JPG

Why WSET?

I’m not in the wine trade but I’ve developed a fair interest in wine. Mainly by exposure from wine loving friends who’ve generously shared good bottles and by travels abroad. A trip through the Rhône opened my eyes to wine and made me curious to know more. Then a good friend who happens to work in wine took his WSET 3. Although it sounded pretty tough I thought ‘why not go for it too?’.

Deciding where to start - WSET 1, WSET 2, or WSET 3

Having had no professional exposure to wine I wasn’t sure whether I should just start with Level 1. My friend said it would be too easy (and that seemed to be the consensus in online forums too).

After I mentioned I was thinking of enrolling in WSET 1 he asked me ‘Do you know what Chardonnay tastes like?’ and then ‘What country is Burgundy in?’. When I answered correctly -yes - and -France- he told me to skip Level 1 and think about Level 2. I did some online research and saw I could start directly in Level 3 if I could pass an online quiz. Being someone who enjoys a challenge I figured I’d give it a go.

Challenging the online entrance test for WSET 3

I got a copy of the WSET Level 2 textbook (Wines and Spirits Looking Behind the Label) and read it a couple of times. It’s about 80 pages long and can be read in a few hours. It covers information on the different main grapes such as Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and how wine is made step-by-step. If I’m honest it had me consider that starting with Level 2 may not be a bad idea (especially the section on Germany). You know, just in case the online test didn’t pan out.

It cost 25GBP to write the challenge test but if you pass you can apply this amount as credit towards the course fee. After I signed up WSET sent over a link to a timed online test platform. The test is multiple choice. Each question has four possible answers.

I found that many of the questions were pulled directly from highlighted sections in the book. I had 45 minutes to answer 50 questions. Some were super easy and others I had to read through a few times. I won’t write any of the questions here verbatim as WSET may reuse them but just know that if you have read the text they will not seem too hard or unfair. At least one and sometimes two of the possible answers could be rejected almost right away.

But you do have to get a whopping 90% of the questions correct in order to pass. WSET do tell you right away after the test is completed whether you passed or failed.

I started getting test anxiety as I worked through the quiz and my heart was really pumping at the end. I’d forgotten how stressful exams can be. Especially when I hit the ‘done’ button and my results were being calculated.

After what felt like ages but I’m sure was only a few seconds my results flashed up onscreen. A pass! What a relief but also a bit nerve wracking as now I was in for some serious study.

Course supplies arrive

My WSET kit arrived a couple weeks after registering for the course. It was a bit like Christmas opening everything up to see just what I’d embarked on. The first thing I noticed was that the WSET Level 3 text book was substantially thicker than the Level 2 one. The pack also contained a laminated sheet on how I was to taste wine called the ‘Level 3 Systematic approach to Tasting Wine’ and a Study Guide with sample test questions and lots of maps. There was also a Specification which summarized the many different wine regions we’d be covering.

It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to study for a test so right now I feel a mixture of excitement (about tasting some really good wine) and a bit of dread (about just how I’m going to pass this exam and whether I am in too deep)!

Next steps

First thing first I think will be to read through the new text to get my bearings on the material. I’ve also enrolled in Rachel’s Level 3 Prep course which I think will be a big help in tackling the content. There are 200 pages in the text book and I figure I can fit in an hour of reading each morning on the ride to work. Hopefully that’s enough to get through it in the next week. There’s a lot of geography in there so the online quizzes will hopefully help with memorization. I’m also looking forward to tasting some wine next week. Wish me luck!

Q&A: HOW TO STUDY FOR LEVEL 3 WSET EXAM?

WSET Level 3 Review

Q: Hi Rachel, I've got my Level 3 WSET exam coming up in three weeks and don't feel ready for the theory portion. We tasted a lot in class and I feel good about my tasting ability. After procrastinating for so long on theory maybe I should just reschedule the exam. What do you think, can I still pass?

A: Thanks for your question! I can definitely relate to your situation. When I was studying for Level 3, it was while I was on a summer contract as a yacht chef. I stayed up late to get an hour or two of reading and flashcards each night, but the exam was coming up fast. 

If you can devote a solid block of time each day to your studies, and even more for the week prior to the exam, here's an intensive, fast track plan for your studies.

The #1 challenge here will be to maintain a consistent study practice. This schedule is rigorous but doable, if you are doing a bit each day. If you miss a few days, it will be very difficult to catch up without losing sleep. 


Reading & Note Schedule (WSET Understanding Wines textbook)

Below is the full schedule, but before you jump in, I wanted to share a sample of my notes from the latest WSET textbook for Level 3. I allow myself 5 minutes per page, and that means writing fast! I jot down only the key information from each page.

For this note on Beaujolais, I spent less than 5 minutes for the two pages. Yes, that's really quick but you'll need to be going at a pace like this to get through the ~200 pages of material. 

Title your sheet with the region name, and reference the page numbers.

Give your notes headings so you can easily review later on. Also, draw graphics, such as the hierarchy for Beaujolais. Making sketches like this help you to retain the information.

Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information

Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information


Week 1 - Read Section 3: Still Wines of the World & Take Notes

This week, you'll cover the still wines of the world from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 77-89 (Introduction to France, Bordeaux, Dordogne & SW France, Burgundy)

Day 2: pg 90-107 (Beaujolais, Alsace, Loire, Rhône, Southern France)

Day 3: pg 108-119 (Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece)

Day 4: pg 120-138 (Italy, Spain)

Day 5: pg 139-155 (Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile)

Day 6: pg 156-172 (Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

Day 7: Flex Day - Take a break or review your notes!


Week 2 - Read Sections: 4, 5, 1, 2 & Take NOTES

This week, you'll work through the remaining sections from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 173-183 (Sparkling Wine)

Day 2: pg 184-195 (Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats)

Day 3: pg 1-18 (Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine, Wine with Food, Storage & Service of Wine)

Day 4: pg 19-32 (Vine, Growing Environment)

Day 5: pg 33-54 (Vineyard Management, Common Elements in Winemaking & Maturation)

Day 6: pg 55-70 (White & Sweet Winemaking, Red & Rosé Winemaking)

Day 7: pg 71-76 (Factors that Affect the Price of Wine, Wine & the Law)


Week 3 - ReVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW

Devote as much time as possible to your review this week. Remember to get up from your chair each hour to stretch and drink water. Most importantly, get proper sleep each night to be in your best form for exam day.

Below is a sample of how I review before an exam. Taking the WSET Level 3 Specification, open it to the topic you are reviewing. Take a blank page of paper and brainstorm what you can remember for the given subject. Check against your syllabus, and review your notes from weeks 1 & 2 to refresh your memory.

Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Day 1: Review Section 3 - France, Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece

Day 2: Review Section 3 - Italy, Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand

Day 3: Review Sections 4, 5, 1 - Sparkling, Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats, Wine & the Consumer

Day 4: Review Section 2 - Factors Affecting the Style, Quality & Price of Wine

Day 5: Review Sections 3 & 2

Day 6: Review Sections 3 & 2

Day 7: Exam Day

EXAM WEIGHTING BY LEARNING OUTCOME

Some of the WSET material reads like a stereo manual, so I've parsed through it to decipher what exactly they'll be focusing on in the exam. The five major topics (aka 'Learning Outcomes') are:

Learning Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} ID the principal natural and human factors in the vineyard and winery that are involved in the production of still wines of the world, and explain how they can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} ID & describe the characteristics of the still wines produced in the principal wine producing regions of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal sparkling wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal fortified wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery and law can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} Demonstrate the ability to provide information and advice to customers and staff about wines.

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS

There are four short answer questions on the exam, at 25 marks a piece. Below, you'll see the possible topics.

Takeaways:

-Short answer questions relating to Sparkling and Fortified can appear on only one of the four questions (Weighting 20%)

-Vineyard/Winemaking topics will come up on all four questions (Weighting not specified, assume 100%)

-Still Wines of the World topics can come up on three of the questions (Weighting 70%)

-Wine Recommendations/Wine Faults/Food & Wine Pairing/Social & Health Issues can come up on two of the questions (Weighting 10%)

These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS

Remember, you only need 55% to pass, and a third of your theory mark will be made up of multiple choice questions. This means that if you have a familiarity with the textbook, this section should be straightforward (and yes, you should go with your first instinct for multiple choice, unless you are sure you should not change your answer). 

There are 50 multiple choice questions on the exam. Below you'll see WSET's breakdown of the exam topics.

Takeaways:

Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} 16% or 8/50 questions

Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} 56% or 28/50 questions

Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} 8% or 4/50 questions

These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

The lesson here if you are very short on study time, is to cover everything, but in particular give focus to Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} & Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD}.

If you would like more help with your studies, be sure to check out my Level 3 Theory Prep course, which is chock full of flashcards and review quizzes for the curriculum.

Best of luck with your studies and let me know how it goes!

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

FINDING A WINE TASTING STUDY GROUP

start a wine study group

Hello fellow student of wine! I've had several requests to help peeps find a local wine study group. I thought you may find it helpful to have a place to leave a comment if you're seeking study partners or tasting groups.

Be sure to mention your study level (ie Diploma, WSET Level 3...) and your region.

Cheers, Rachel

THE IMPORTANCE OF TASTING 'OPEN LABEL'

blind tasting vs open tasting

I talk a lot about blind tasting here, but wanted to cover something that's important to do when your goal is building up tasting memory, and that is tasting 'open label'.

AKA tasting while knowing what you are tasting.

 

Here's why this is so important:

You can assess a wine blindly, for acidity, tannins, body, etc, but until you've tasted a broad range of wines, you have no context.

When I was just getting started learning about wine, I found it helpful to taste the flights open label first (i.e.: knowing what they were). Then, our tasting group would repeat the tasting of the same wines, but this time the wines would be bagged so we could taste blind. This helps to develop palate memory. Moreover, even when you're a relatively advanced taster, this technique is helpful to revisit.

When tasting a particular type of wine (i.e. McLaren Vale Grenache, GC Chablis, etc), note to yourself as you taste: what are the key markers or characteristics of this wine? On your tasting notes, {circle} items that jump out at you.

After tasting several Chablis for example, do you have any flavours or characteristics that you particularly notice about these wines (here are some of mine: green apple peel on Chablis, burnt toast and lime curd on Hunter Valley Sem, grapefruit pith on Pinot Gris).

 

Once you ‘get’ a particular flavour or aroma, it’s like learning a new verb in another language, and as you add more and more to your lexicon, you will become fluent in your new language.

These are the tells which will later help you when you are narrowing down your list of likely wines in a blind tasting or exam. 

 

Should I watch the grid?

I’d also recommend open tasting while looking at your WSET grid and descriptors, and asking yourself if you sense each category while you taste.

It takes a little practice, but you will naturally memorize the different flavour camps, and eventually, will be able to run through them in your head by rote as you taste: ‘do I taste citrus, stone fruit, oak? etc.

 

PS: When you write your notes, be methodical about writing out the categories in the order of the tasting grid. It will help organize your thoughts as you taste (and will be helpful for the exam, because you won't miss any point categories).