The successful sommelier
Food & Wine

Best Sommelier Courses

The successful Somm

 – By Christina Brooks – I Love Wine

The wine industry – along with beer & spirits – is one of the fastest growing industries in America. The demand for professionally educated staff is rapidly increasing. The wine industry is formed by a group of diverse, educated, and highly devoted people. It is not uncommon for people to think sommeliers get paid to sit around and drink wine all day, even travel to drink wine. However, these are just some of the job perks.

A sommelier education is a career game changer

The wine industry is made up of winemakers and cellar assistants, viticulture professionals, tasting room managers, wine club managers and staff, event coordinators, sales directors, lab technicians, graphic designers, bloggers (hi!), professors, restaurant staff, and sommeliers. The list goes on forever.

What makes the wine industry so competitive is the fact that many of these professionals have a sommelier or other wine certification under their belt. Pursuing this education is not for the faint of heart. It is a continuous stream of studying, and the courses are rigorous.  You will often be alone in your home (wine-less), hunched over books and writing essays.

However that may be, pursuing a sommelier certificate is an excellent career move for anyone who loves wine (obviously), enjoys learning and has an interest in one of the many wine industry branches. Sommelier courses are not just for those who want to become wine waiters, it is highly beneficial for anyone in the industry to have a certificate. An extended wine education will give you a leg up with your career and will certainly set you up for success in the wine industry.

The successful sommelier
The successful sommelier

Here are some of the most highly accredited and internationally recognized sommelier courses.

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)

National Wine School (NWS)

Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW)

International Sommelier Guild (ISG)

Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)

Your career goals should be the deciding factor in which program to pursue. Key parameters to consider are whether you prefer to work internationally, whether you need to pursue the program at your own pace, whether you are able to attend classes in person or need online courses, and whether you want to specialize or pair a program with another degree.

To help you decide, here is the rundown on some of the most popular wine education programs; including cost, certificate levels, and the pros and cons of each program.

Wine Spirits Education Trust
Wine Spirits Education Trust

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)

What they do:

WSET provides comprehensive education and training for those entering the field of wine, spirits, and sake. Beginners to established professionals can begin or continue their education through a series of programs. The program is a non-profit that teaches courses through APP’s or Approved Program Providers.

Levels of Education and Cost (Approximate cost)

• WSET Level 1: Award in Wines ($800)

• WSET Level 2: Award in Wines and Spirits ($600)

• WSET Level 3: Award in Wines ($1000)

• WSET Level 4: Diploma in Wines and Spirits ($7500)

As you can see, some of your training will include education in spirits.

Level 1 Award in Wines

This is a beginners course that is not necessary to move on to Level 2. The course is a same-day 6-hour lesson with the examination taken that same day. This can typically be done online or in person. The cost varies on whether you are doing the course online, in person, and whether it is done in a group setting.

What the course includes:

• Types and styles of common wines

• Common grapes and their characteristics

• Storing and serving wine

• Food and wine pairings

• Description training

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Tasting room associate

• Beginner Sommelier in a fine dining restaurant

• Lead for wine and spirits shop

• Most entry-level jobs in the wine industry

Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits

This is the second level of qualification that WSET offers. It also includes education on spirits, although there are also separate spirits certifications you can take. This is considered a beginner to intermediate level certification and can be taken without having to previously take the Level 1 course.

This course requires a minimum of 28 hours of study time, 16 of which must be in a classroom or online setting with a WSET certified instructor. You must pass the exam to receive the certificate.

What the course includes:

• Major varietals

• Wine regions

• Styles of wine produced

• Key classifications and terminology

• Overview of spirits and liqueurs

• How wine is made

• Factors that influence wine

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Tasting room manager

• Wine educator

• Wine sales director

• Wine marketing

• Manager of a wine shop

• Sommelier at fine dining establishment and hotels

Level 3 Award in Wines

This is an advanced level certification for those looking to advance their careers in the industry. This course provides an in-depth understanding of multiple aspects within the wine industry. You will be able to successfully assess wines and explain wine quality and character.

This course requires a minimum of 84 hours of study time, including 30 hours of classroom or online studying. You must pass the exam to receive the certification.

What the course includes:

• Understanding of key factors in the growing and making of wine

• How key factors influence wines

• How to apply your understandings

• In-depth practice on assessing and analyzing wines

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Lead sommelier

• Wine educator

• Wines sales director or manager

• Lead wine buyer

• Wine distribution management

• Key roles in the wine industry

Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits

This is the highest level of certification that the WSET offers. When the studies and exam are completed, you will be a specialist with expert knowledge in all aspects of the wine and spirits in industry. It is also the next stepping stone for those wishing to pursue their Master of Wine certification.

To complete this level you must have a minimum of 600 hours of study time, including 118 hours in a classroom or online setting with a certified instructor.

What the course includes:

• Wine and spirits production

• Wine regions and styles

• Global trade aspects

• The global business of wine and spirits

Jobs you will qualify for:

• International and national wine sales manager

• International wine buyer

• Global marketer and director

• Sommelier manager and director of buying for major restaurants, hotels, and hospitality business

• Major roles in the wine industry

WSET is a great choice to start and complete all your wine studies. If you are just starting in the industry, level 1 is a great certification for those in tasting room associate positions or those who want to move up in their fine dining career. The levels go all the way up to those who want to become a global force in the wine industry and take on important roles.

National Wine School
National Wine School

National Wine School (NWS)

What they do:

The National Wine School is based in Los Angelas, California with program courses offered elsewhere in the United States. They combine online and classroom learning, allowing you to learn hands on. Their cost is approximately $700 per semester.

While their main focus is their sommelier course series, they also have different course selections that include:

• Wine Foundation Certificate

• Global Intermediate Program

• Old World Wine Scholar Program

• Master Wine Scholar Program

• Professional Wine Making Program

• Regional specializations that include California, Spain, Italy, and France.

Their sommelier course levels:

• Level 2: Foundation Certificate

• Level 3: International Certificate

• Level 4: Advanced Certificate

• Level 5: Master Certificate

The National Wine School is for those looking to dive into a classroom focused learning environment. The courses are based in different parts of the United States and there are many courses to choose from. This program is for those who want to specialize in specific regions or learn how to make wine. There are also programs on food & wine pairings and beer making.

National Wine School

Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW)

What they do:

The Institute of Masters of Wine offers the most highly accredited and rigorous certification there is: The Master of Wine. This is a very respected title and is the highest level you can go to any program. To enter into the program you must have a previous high-level certification from the WSET or equivalent, have three continuous years of experience in the industry, and have a reference from a Master of Wine or senior level wine industry expert.

There are less than 400 Masters of Wine in the world. The certification takes an average of 7-10 years to complete with a 10% pass rate on the last exam. While this is clearly for those pursuing excellence in wine knowledge and the highest credential possible, it is important to know who the Masters of Wine are and what they did to earn that title.

Stages in the Masters of the Institute

Stage 1:

You will begin with a five-day seminar and two online course days. You must submit six pieces of work for assessment by the end of this stage. You will also take an exam and be assigned a Master of Wine mentor that you will keep throughout all the stages.

Stage 2:

You will begin this stage just like you did Stage 1, with a five-day seminar and two online course days. Throughout this stage, you will need to pass a closed-book theory and practical exam. You must submit three Assignment Marking Scheme papers, as well as a Practical Assignment Mark Scheme, and a Research Marking Scheme.

Stage 3:

This is the final stage the institution offers. You will be fully dedicated to providing a 6,000-10,000 page research paper on your approved proposal. These wine-related research papers can be on many different aspects of wine: science, arts, humanities, social sciences etc. You must pass the exam in order to receive your title as Master of Wine.

What does the institute provide?

This program is self-directed, meaning you are 100% responsible for your education. However, the institute will provide you with all the tools you need to study. They will organize trips, provide an events calendar with seminars and other events for you to attend, workshops, tastings, provide you with a syllabus, and assign you a Master of Wine mentor that will help you through the whole process.

Jobs you will qualify for:

  • Judge international wine competitions
  • Lecture at wine courses and seminars
  • Lead tastings
  • Sample and assess the world’s finest private cellars
  • Advise the leads of restaurants, hotels, airlines, and other businesses
  • Mentor students
  • Provide courses and write essays, contribute to wine magazines, conduct research and write books
International Sommelier Guild
International Sommelier

International Sommelier Guild (ISG)

What they do:

ISG is an internationally recognized certification program that allows students to study online or in a classroom environment. There are classrooms in multiple countries and courses are available in a wide range of languages online.

Online and in-classroom students are provided with books, live videos, maps, audio instruction, powerpoints, and quizzes. There are also online sommeliers that provide you with essay evaluations. You will need to complete a final exam. This is a great program for anyone looking to gain knowledge of the wine industry, especially those who are internationally based.

Levels of Education and Cost:

Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC): $500 online, $850 classroom

Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC): $1,000 online, $1,450 classroom

International Sommelier Guild Master (ISGM): $4,500 online (2 of 6 exams taken in a classroom), $6,000 classroom

Teacher Education Program (TEP): $500

Fundamentals of Wine (FWC): 1-day program, cost varies

Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC):

This is for those who are working their way to the ISG Sommelier certification and those who are looking to advance or begin their career in the wine and hospitality industry. This certificate is eight sessions, for a total of 24 hours course time.

What the course includes:

• Grape varieties

• Wine evaluation techniques

• Professional sensory evaluation

• Fortified and sparkling wines

• Terminology

• Labels

• Appellation concepts

• Service techniques

• Wine and food pairing

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Tasting room attendant

• Wines sales

• A lead server in a high-end restaurant

• Entry to intermediate level roles in wine industry businesses

Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC)

The AWC is for those who are building or moving up in their wine industry career. This is also the next step before advancing to the ISG Sommelier program. This program takes a regional approach and broadens your knowledge on an international scale.

This program is 16 sessions long, with 48 hours of instruction time. This includes lectures, tastings, reviews, and quizzes.

What the course includes: 

• Knowledge of wines, spirits, and ales

• Vinification

• Viticulture

• Regional appellation laws

• Old/New world wines

• Develop blind tasting skills

• Store and wine management techniques

• Winemaking

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Tasting room manager

• Wine buyer for a wine shop

• Lead server in a high-end restaurant

• Wine sales

• Marketing and branding roles

ISGM Sommelier Certificate:

This is the top certificate that the International Sommelier Guild provides. This will give you the official sommelier title as well as all the tools you will need to lead a successful career in the wine industry.

The course is 30 sessions, with a total of 300 hours of lessons. Lectures, tastings, reviews, and quizzes are included in this time.

What the course includes:

Advanced knowledge in the following – 

• Viticulture

• Vinification

• Tasting techniques

• Cellaring

• Investment strategies

• Menu design

• Regional analysis

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Sales manager

• Lead sommelier

• Marketing director

• International sales

• Tasting room and winery manager

Teacher Education Program (TEP):

The teacher education program is a three- day seminar that is meant to establish the minimum competencies in order to teach ISG classes. It is for potential and current instructors.

Qualifications for potential instructors:

• Completed IWC & AWC courses

• Sommelier diploma program

• 5 years of hospitality experience

• 3 years of teaching experience

• Post-secondary degree

• Resume

• Cover letter

• Industry and educator references

Fundamentals of Wine (FWC)

This is a one day course designed to allow large restaurants and hotels the opportunity to properly educate their staff. This is a one-day seminar that will be put on for your employees by a certified instructor. No exam required.

What the course includes:

• Fundamentals of wine

• Hospitality industry training

• Basic understanding of popular grape varietals

• How to sell wine

• Serving techniques

Court of Master Somm
Court of Master Somm

Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)

What they do:

This is a series of in-person courses and exams designed specifically for those in the hospitality industry, working with beverages in the restaurant and hotel setting. The courses are designed to be short and concise, usually consisting of one weekend where you will take the course and exams.

Levels of Education and Cost:

Level 1: Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam- $595

Level 2: Certified Sommelier Exam- $595

Level 3: Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam- $1,195

Level 4: Master Sommelier Diploma Exam- $995

Level 1: Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam

This is the first of four levels that will lead to the Master Sommelier Diploma. This is a great start for those beginning their careers in the hospitality industry, especially for servers looking at becoming a sommelier. This course will be given over a two day period and will provide wine and hospitality professionals the knowledge they need to properly serve and taste wine.

What the course includes:

• Classic wine service

• Wine region overview

• Instruction on wine, beer, and sake

• How to discuss and introduce wines

• Tasting methods

Jobs you will qualify for:

• Fine dining server and bartender

• Lead server positions

• Assistant wine buyer

• Sales

Level 2: Certified Sommelier Exam

This is the second of four levels to become a Court of Master Sommelier’s Master Sommelier. You will be examined on your proficiency as a beverage professional in a restaurant setting. This is a one day course and exam.

The exam has three sections:

Section 1- Tasting Exam: Describe and identify four wines

Section 2- Theory Exam: 45 written questions

Section 3- Service Exam: Properly set table and serve wine

 Jobs you will qualify for:

• Wine steward

• Salesman

• Beverage program manager

Level 3: Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam

This is a three-day program and exam that is designed similarly to the Level 2 course, but more in-depth. This is for those pursuing management and leadership positions within the beverage industry.

The exam has three sections:

Section 1: Theory- written

Section 2: Tasting- verbal

Section 3: Service/Salesmanship- practical

 Jobs you will qualify for:

• Lead wine steward

• Beverage program manager

• Wine buyer

• Hospitality management roles

Level 4: Master Sommelier Diploma Exam

This is the fourth and final exam course you will need to take in order to become a Master Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. This is the highest diploma you can receive for the hospitality and service-specific courses. The program is designed similar to the second and third level.

The exam has three sections:

Section 1: Practical Service Exam

Section 2: Tasting- six wines

Section 3: Theoretical oral exam

 Jobs you will qualify for:

• Lead wine steward

• Wine buyer

• Lead wine salesman

• Hospitality management positions

There are many routes you can make in order to pursue higher education and career advancement within the wine industry. Whether you are looking for a job internationally, within the hospitality and restaurant setting, or just want to increase your knowledge as a hobbyist.

These courses are designed in ways for you to best learn. Online courses can be a great way for people to learn at their own pace and for those who cannot travel for extended periods of time. There are also many courses offered in person for those who learn best in a classroom setting.

These courses allow you to pursue any career in the wine industry. As the industry grows, it becomes more competitive, and any knowledge and certifications you have will ensure that you stand out and get the job!