Home News > April 2020 > Learn, Listen & Read – The best recommendations to keep wine professionals entertained & educated

Learn, Listen & Read – The best recommendations to keep wine professionals entertained & educated

There aren’t many straws to clutch at just now. But if there’s one vague positive from COVID-19 it's that from being immensely busy we all suddenly have loads of time. So why not get your knowledge to the next level for when life finally gets back to normal?


Do a Course…

The Wine and Spirit Education Trust are the go-to organisation for all forms of drink-related learning. They have four levels of wine course, three of spirits and one for sake. All but sake and the top spirits qualification are learnable online.

The first two wine courses are pretty basic – most somms would learn them pretty fast or be above this level, and there’s no tasting element to the exam.

Level 3 and Level 4 (The Diploma) are more involved, involving written essays and some tasting, too. Before starting a course, if you haven’t already done the level before it, you should take the online entry test to check you’re learning at the right level.

For all the courses, you will be assigned an educator to help you through. At levels 1 and 2 you’re unlikely to need them – online info should be enough. But for Levels 3 and 4 their input is crucial. The good news at the moment is that these educators are – like most of us – a lot less busy than before, so if you do decide to take on a course they’ll probably be able to help you through it easily.

All the exams involve a sit-down exam, and the Level 3 and Level 4 exams also include one and two Tasting Days. These, obviously, still need to be conducted in an officially sanctioned venue but the actual learning can all be done online.

The Level 1 course is £115, Level 2 £355, Level 3 £540 and Level 4 £1,290.

Learn (and get help) online…

A non-profit website for everyone from top somms to newbies to amateurs, the GuildSomm website is a real treasure trove of information: articles, study guides, discussion forums, videos and podcasts. Though the site recognises the Court of Master Sommeliers (and is a great resource for those studying) the two are quite separate. It’s for anyone who’s keen on wine, whether sommelier, importer or amateur oenophile. As they put it, ‘Our content is beneficial to those working across varied roles and toward any sort of certification—or none at all.’

Either way, there’s a real community feel to it. Some of it is (understandably) very US focused, but the vast majority of it isn’t. A superb resource for any serious somm, the impressive catalogue of producer profiles (top 25 in any region) and blind tasting hints alone make it well worth the $100 membership fee for industry professionals. It’s $150 for non-trade bods, and $300 if your venue wants to get a shared staff log-in.

Maybe not for those in the upper echelons of wine knowledge, but for less experienced wine lovers (and junior somms) it’s a great website. Lively, accessible, with brilliant maps and graphics, and a massive amount of information, you can get your wine expertise from nought to sixty very quickly here. A good ‘first port of call’ for most wine questions, it’s not a bad place for more experienced somms to brush up on their basics either.

PX+ Community
PX+ is a big hospitality festival – a joyous summer-time coming together of chefs, somms and food and drink suppliers. But it’s always had a strong ‘wellness’ as well as ‘celebratory’ element, and their website offers much needed emotional and practical support at what is a difficult time.

Totally anonymous, it’s a kind of Samaritans for the on-trade, staffed by people who’ve probably been where you are now. If they can’t help they’ll find you someone who can. Whatever your worries – job, money, mental health – if you’re struggling, go to pxplusfestival.com and leave your details, and someone will get back to you.

Read actual books…

The World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW
There’s a reason why so many industry professionals cite this when they’re asked the ‘if you only had one wine book to read for the rest of your life’ question. It’s big, it’s authoritative, it’s well written and this eighth edition as up to date as print media can be. Not necessarily something to read for three hours at a time, but brilliant for dipping into in short info-fuelled bursts – and essential if you’re studying.

Tasting Victory, Gerard Basset
If you’re looking for inspiration at what is, admittedly, a pretty dark time for everyone, then the late Gerard Basset’s wonderful autobiography is it. It’s the tale of a rather directionless young man who arrived in the UK with a St Etienne scarf, but no money, no qualifications and no plan and went on – through sheer force of will – to become the number one sommelier in the world. Human, honest, gently witty and utterly captivating.

Phylloxera – How wine was saved for the world, Christy Campbell
1860 and the wine world stands helpless in the face of an invasive menace. Sounds familiar? Only this time it’s vineyards not cities that are being closed down: vines across France are dying and viticulturalists are powerless to stop it. This book explains mankind’s discovery of, battle against and ultimately victory over phylloxera vastatrix. And yes, there are echoes of Covid bloody 19. By turns technical, political and tense it’s a good look at a hugely important point in wine’s history.

Listen on your daily walk…

I’ll Drink to That!
Jancis Robinsons describes Levi Dalton’s podcast as the ‘gold standard’ of wine podcasts, which should be recommendation enough for most of us. An ex-somm, Dalton interviews the great and the good of the wine world in his living room. There are getting on for 500 two-hour episodes now, so there’s quite a back catalogue. The sound quality is excellent, and Dalton is a sensitive interviewer – always ready with good questions but never dominating.

UK Wine Show
The husband and wife team of Chris and Jane Scott do education (WSET authorised), events and private tastings. But Chris also knocks out regular podcasts. They’re UK-focused in nature, but there’s no shortage of visiting winemakers and Chris interviews them well.