WSET - New Level 3
It's been over three years since I took the WSET's Level 3. At the time, it was exactly what I was looking for: a broad, comprehensive, yet vigorous overview of the world of wine, how wine is made, and how to taste wine. Since then, I've gone on to take the WSET Diploma, taught both WSET Levels 2 and 3, and taken the WSET Educator course which puts me on track to becoming an accredited WSET Educator. Despite the many strengths of the Level 3 course, I've also discovered some of its weaknesses - its concentrated focus on France can be off-putting to many students, its structure can seem too formulaic, and, put bluntly, the blind tasting exam is too easy.
But all that is about to change, as in August the WSET are launching a new Level 3 which is quite different from, and I think better than, the previous one. The biggest and most immediate change is to the tasting exam. Under the current format, 95% of students were passing the exam, which is far too high a proportion. I remember dreading the tasting part of the exam, and before taking the course I went to Berry Bros & Rudd in London to take an evening class to prepare for the blind tasting. As useful as that class was in honing my tasting skills, it wasn't really necessary. The tasting wasn't truly "blind," as there was a choice of three wines at the bottom and it was obvious which one was correct. In my exam, the choice for the white wine was Soave, New Zealand Chardonnay, and Auslese Riesling. It was immediately apparent that the wine was a Chardonnay, and I could write a tasting note without even tasting the wine. That's what a lot of students were doing, which is why the WSET have changed the format of the exam. There will no longer be a choice of wines; in fact, the student will not even have to identify the wine. Instead, they will have to write an accurate tasting note based on what they are tasting rather than what they think the wine is. I think this is a much needed improvement: it will sharpen students' tasting skills and, by making the exam harder, it will better prepare students for the Diploma where students' tasting abilities have been found to be lacking.
The other change to the tasting part of the course is to the Systematic Approach to Tasting, the WSET's sometimes frustrating guide to tasting a wine. Whereas the aromas were previously divided into floral/fruit, spice/vegetable, and oak/other, now they are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary and these are terms students have to use in the exam. This is to ensure that students are able to show where aromas in a wine come from: primary aromas (flowers, fruits, herbs) come directly from the grape; secondary aromas (oak, MLF, lees) come from winemaking practices; and tertiary aromas (oxidation, bottle ageing) come from maturation.
The theory part of the course is also different. Previously, classes were organised by region which meant a prolonged trudge through France's many, varied regions without looking at any other countries for several weeks. Now, the classes are arranged by style; for example the aromatic white wines of Alsace, Germany, Austria, and Hungary will be studied together rather than separately. I think this is a vast improvement, as continually comparing regions will force students to think about what makes each one distinct.
Another major change is that spirits will no longer be covered - hopefully, there will be a separate Level 3 for spirits in the near future. Madeira is also no longer covered, as apparently students found its terminology too difficult. Now, it's only to be studied for the Diploma. That's a great shame, but I guess we have to remember what a minor category madeira now is.
I'm excited to teach this updated version of Level 3 as I think it will be both more challenging and more invigorating for students. I'll let you know if that's the case in practice.