Schools of Thought: Wine Education

Schools of Thought: Wine Education

If you’ve ever had the urge to take your wine knowledge from self-proclaimed enthusiast to a more sophisticated level, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re a lot like me a few years ago. Earlier this week I was thrilled to receive the grades from my advanced certificate in wine. It got me thinking back to when this whole journey into the wine industry began. For me, wine education was a dream and a definite career path, but many of my classmates were pursuing the courses for personal edification or a career change. Understanding the many avenues of wine education can be confusing. Most people you meet in the ‘biz are not like the ones you watched in Somm, most of the ones you meet will have been accredited by one of the following certification bodies, although there are others.

Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET)

In Calgary, WSET dominates wine education. The WSET is a London based school recognized worldwide. It’s a comprehensive, four level certification ranging from introductory to a diploma.

  • WSET I: The program naturally starts with the basics of wine with a focus on technical tasting, pairing, major varietals, basics of winemaking and service. It can be completed in one day, or over four weeks. Successful candidates pass a short multiple choice exam with a 98% pass rate.
  • WSET II: The logical progression from the introductory course giving students more in depth exposure to viticulture, winemaking, tasting and pairing, significant wine producing countries and an exploration of sparkling wine, fortified wine and some spirits. This can be completed in nine weeks or three days, followed by a multiple choice exam.
  • WSET III: This is a very respectable qualification, from my perspective and one that a large percentage of Calgary-based wine professionals hold. The advanced course explores countries and regions in depth, advanced technical tasting, labelling laws, spirits, sparkling wine and fortified wine. This course runs over six days or fifteen weeks and successful completion requires passing a blind tasting, a multiple choice and short answer exam.
  • WSET Diploma: This is the highest level of qualification available from WSET, only 300 people hold this credential (although expect many more in the next year or two). Top instructors lead this 15 month course over one weekend each month. Students will learn every aspect of wine including grape growing, production, business, spirits, light, sparkling and fortified wines. Students must successfully pass an exam at the end of each of the six units in order to obtain their diploma.

Pros – it’s very accessible to Calgarians (run through the U of C’s downtown campus), the progression is logical and the instructors are industry leaders. Levels I-III are available to online students as well.

Cons – exams are marked in London, England, it took 3 months (to the day, oddly enough) to get my WSET III marks! From a personal perspective I found the advanced course focused a little too heavily on France. Other significant countries received much less attention, which was disappointing as I would like to have learned each country in the same depth.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I had a very positive experience with WSET and found I learned a lot, especially in the advanced course. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more or are looking for a career change you’re in good company! Most of our team is accredited by WSET and we’d be happy to chat with you about it if you’re interested or intrigued! Click here for more information.

Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)

The CMS was established in the 1970’s, their focus is to improve and standardise the knowledge of people in the fine dining industry. They are now an international examining body with quite a prestigious reputation. So what does it take to complete your CMS?

  • Intro Sommelier Course: Explores basics of viticulture, vinification, tasting, pairing and major regions over two days of instruction and tasting followed up with a multiple choice exam.
  • Advanced Sommelier Course: The advanced course builds on the foundations of the intro course, however, seats are limited and each candidate’s qualifications are reviewed before admittance into the program. Students take 3 days of intensive lecture and tasting followed up with a 3 day examination period. Each student will have to pass a blind tasting, a multiple choice exam, short answer exam and a service exam. They have an average of 30% pass rate.
  • Master Sommelier: if you successfully pass the advanced exam you may be a candidate for the MS. If you are accepted there are three parts to the MS exam.
    • Part One – Theory: an oral examination
    • Part Two – Blind Tasting: candidates must identify six wines in 25 minutes including varietal, country, appellation and vintage
    • Part Three – Practical: candidates must give an MS an impeccable wine service

If you successfully pass the theory portion you have 3 years to successfully pass the other two elements – the pass rate? 10%! There are, to my knowledge, only 230 people in the world who have successfully earned this designation.

Pros – world class reputation, if you want to delve into the wine world in a serious way, this is for you. The intro course is an excellent foundation for beginning your formal wine education.
Cons – currently no Calgary courses are being offered, Banff and Victoria are the closest options.

Click here for more information.

International Sommelier Guild (ISG)

The ISG was founded in 1982 with a mission to become a leading provider of great wine and sommelier education. The ISG fundamental levels are an excellent foundation for introductory wine knowledge.

  • Fundamentals I: a once per week course that will give you a basic understanding of major varietals, fortified and sparkling wines, and an improved understanding of terminology. Passing a multiple choice is exam is required to advance.
  • Fundamentals II: Naturally builds on content from the first level integrating elements of blind tasting, viticulture, vinification and regional laws. This course runs once a week and the exam consists of an essay and blind tasting exam.
  • Sommelier Diploma Program: Wine education gets more serious at this point, six months of once per week, eight hour lectures. You’re taught everything from viticulture to cellaring. Successful students require a 70% for a passing grade on a multiple choice, essay, service and pairing exam.

Pros – accessible to all knowledge levels in the early stages
Cons – their 2016 calendar shows no Calgary classes and their website is not user friendly, if you want to access pricing you have to create a personal account, including your SIN number.

Click here for more information on the ISG.

All that being said, your personal exploration into wine is the most important journey you can embark on if you want to gain a better understanding of it. Regardless of if wine courses are in your future or not, if you want to learn, drink wine. Drink lots of wine. Drink different wines, try to never grab the same bottle twice. Taste technically and critically and write notes! By tasting wine you’ll get to know it in an intimate way that textbooks and instructors can never teach you.

– Selena Gaudet

1 Comment

  1. Ever consider taking a sabbatical in Oregon? We could teach you more than them books could ever teach you. Consider visiting us at the Enso Winery this summer…


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Whites with snappy acidity and vibrant flavours that will awaken your senses

Our crisp whites offer lovely refreshing acidity and a nice citrus punch; these wines will revive you and make you feel like you’re enjoying fresh fruit in an orchard in the middle of July. Think about of the last time you were out somewhere in the heat of the summer; one of those days when the pavement was melting, the paint was peeling off buildings and all you could think about was how badly you wanted something to quench your thirst. When you stumbled onto a lemonade stand and took that first sip, you were cured.

We can’t say our wines will cure dehydration but they are a great option while you’re enjoying patio weather.



You’ll find varietals like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling and Vinho Verde and more!



Loved for their understated qualities these whites are beautiful and exotic

Talking about mellow wine is like talking about a classic film star. She’s a lady with international acclaim and classic appeal. Mellow wines don’t jump up and down screaming for attention; instead they prefer to lure you in with their quiet charm and feminine wiles. Swirling a nice Viognier or Pinot Gris is all about soft, intricate and attractive flavours that might make you think about your favourite perfume, stepping into a flower shop or leaving a patisserie where they’ve just taken almond pastries out of the oven. This is Sophia Loren in a glass.



If you enjoy varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc you’ll love this style!



Whites that ask to be a muse. This is Claude Monet’s water lilies’ in a wine glass.

Lavish and luxurious wines with all the razzle-dazzle. Think about the things in life that make you feel like you’re living large. Imagine yourself wearing layers of pearl necklaces, leading a ticker tape parade, eating popcorn laced with truffle oil and lounging on the king bed of the Ritz Carlton penthouse all at the same time. Lush wines are what we drink when we’re feeling on top of the world and when we want to celebrate life. This is 4th of July fireworks and the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Eve all rolled into one beautiful gold package. Bottoms up!



Varietals like Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are found here.



Ruby reds with a timeless style and appeal; wines that will never go out of fashion.

Elegant reds ask you to dig a bit deeper. Some people enjoy them for the romantic ideas they conjure while others enjoy the subtle nuances that each bottle possesses. We can’t think of a better way to describe elegant reds than talking about Coco Chanel. Think about No. 5, the little black dress or the most importantly the iconic Chanel suit, a true couture item that is well lined, carefully crafted and something that will always be in vogue. An elegant wine is like a nice stroll along the promenade in the seaside town of Biarritz or a day at the ballet in red maillot.



Here you’ll find Pinot Noirs, Gamays, Chiantis and more!



Reds that are pleasant from start to finish

Supple and velvety, smooth reds are a real crowd pleaser; something that everyone loves. Like a popular jazz standard, the best way to sum up these wines is to think about hearing Miles Davis on vinyl. Everyone has heard those tunes and when the horns come in on the track you can’t help but connect over the sheer universal joy in hearing something so incredibly smooth and pleasing to the senses. Miles Davis was one cool dude and that’s how we feel about the wines in this section. You’ll feel like you’re slipping on a new pair of driving gloves every time you pour yourself one.



Varietals such as Grenache, Merlot and mouth-watering blends can be found here.



Our deepest most complex reds; these wines make a statement

Full and flavourful with an intense fruit core, these reds are the talk of the town. Bold wines have an intensity about them that not only commands your presence but also asks you to stay a while. Pretend for a minute that Clint Eastwood has just walked into a bar, stared at you for a long hard second and proceeded to put out a cigar out on his forearm before challenging you to an arm wrestle. You’re heart might skip a beat but you’ll be happy that you tried it. That arm wrestle might be one of the best things you ever do in your life. That’s how we describe a bold wine.



Food friendly varietals like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are right at home here.



There’s nothing quite like hearing that cork pop!

Call us crazy but the sound of a cork being popped just makes everything better. Headaches dull, clouds seem to part and even the sound of crying children can be drowned out by the wonderful thought that you’ll soon have a stem in hand and an effervescent treat to tickle the end of your nose. A glass of bubbly just spells a plain good time. It might be a celebratory drink with friends, an excuse to get all gussied up for a fabulous night out or it might just be a date with the couch to watch Sex and the City re-runs solo.



Here you’ll find everything from Champagne to Cava, Prosecco, Lambrusco and everything in between!



Wines made with a little extra TLC

What are you going to find in this section? You’re going to find late harvest nectar, ice wines, delectably sweet Rieslings and 5 puttonyos worth of sweetness. And why are you going to love these wines? The grape juice that you’ll find in our Rich section took a lot of extra TLC to make the transition from vine to glass and can be used to make some of the most magnificent food and wine pairings known to man. We just have 3 words for you: Oysters and Sauternes.



This style houses dessert wines like Sauternes, Ice Wine and Tokaji.



Simple and Straightforward

When you think of simple and uncomplicated you can’t help but think of a guy in his college freshmen year. The beers that we’ve categorized as Clean are straightforward and unassuming with bright flavours and not too much complexity. You’ll enjoy these beers more than a keg stand and find them to be about as fresh as a 19 year-old guy at an all girl frat party. Big time!



Light and easy, simple Lagers, Pilsners & Blonde Ales.



Find your zen on our beer wall

Life Coaches and self-help books will tell you that balance is the key to a happy life. That may true but when we’re talking about a balanced style of beer we’re talking about the merits of a good pale ale with well integrated hop and malt flavours. Balanced beers won’t help you understand the deeper meaning of life but they’re still worth sampling for their easy-drinking quality. Take that Deepak Chopra!



Brews such as Brown Ales, Red Ales, Cream Ales, Black Lagers & Dunkels.



For your fun side, beers not meant to be taken too seriously

There is fruity like the Village People and there is fruity like wonderfully citrus kissed Hefeweizen, warm kirsch Belgians and bubbly orchard fruit ciders. While there is no denying the fun of disco and flamboyant cowboys, our Fruity section will give you options to keep you singing and dancing all year long. This is an amiable selection to accompany garden time, dinner parties and of course they pair wonderfully with dessert.



If you’re after a Cider, Radler or any fruit infused brew, you’ll find it here alongside Wheat beers.



The safe way to have an intense experience…

Here’s a short list of things that are truly intense: squirrel suit jumping, big wave surfing and the insane ramblings of Gary Busey. While our Intense selection of beers could be described as big and loud, they certainly won’t lead to death on impact, shark attacks or being verbally abused on Celebrity Apprentice. You’ll love the IPAs and scrumptious Trapist ales. Gary agrees.



Some like it hopped! Here you’ll find IPAs, DIPAs, Trappist brews, Sours & Barleywines.



Beer that leaves an impression

Powerful, sturdy and strapping are all great words to describe the Robust section. Everything you find here possesses strong brawny flavours that leave a lasting impression. Just think back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version of Conan the Barbarian; despite the horrifically bad acting that comes with those 80s classics we just can’t help but love the brute force and thick accent. Conan would call you an infidel for drinking anything else.



Home to heartier brews like Stouts and Porters & some Barrel Aged offerings.



We have many amazing wines in our online shop.

Shop Clean
Shop all styles



Effortless and exhilarating in any season

It’s undeniable, Rosé is in vogue. It’s enjoying a renaissance following the White Zinfandel craze that swept North America in the 70’s. Today, Rosé is the queen bee. Rosé is your ever fashionable friend. It’s the timeless accessory you can turn to in any season. In the spring it’s like wearing peeptoe shoes on a warm day. In the summer, a breezy dress. In the fall it’s the perfect boots and in the winter, a cozy knit scarf.



Rosés are the product of a myriad of varietals, some of the most common are: Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cinsault.