Using the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) can be a bit daunting at first but honestly, it’s there to help! There are many sensations that we experience when tasting wine and it can be difficult to put them all in the right order. Our sense of smell, taste and touch are all stimulated when wine tasting and the skill to recognise and characterise them, quickly and accurately need to be learned and developed.

This is what the SAT does.

It provides a framework for analysing a wine, allowing the taster to focus on the key characteristics of the wine in their glass, this helps the taster:

a) determine the style of the wine, is it dry, aromatic, fruity, oaked, unoaked, light-bodied, full-bodied

b) build a portfolio of tasting notes that will build the taster’s knowledge of the world’s wines

c) identify whether the wine is “fit for purpose” for example to serve by the glass in a bar without food or to serve with roast beef for Sunday lunch

d) write an accurate tasting note, for use on a restaurant wine list, for personal records or to help describing the wine to customers or friends

e) make an objective and unbiased judgement on the quality of the wine, is it an entry level wine, a premium level wine, or a fine wine

f) decide whether they like the wine on not

g) to pass the WSET Examination and achieve the qualification!

WSET Level 3 SAT Tasting Note
WSET Level 3 SAT Tasting Note

At Case Studies Wine School we use the SAT when tasting all our samples on both our classroom and online courses. By the end of the course students will have built a large portfolio of tasting notes (approx 40 for L2 and 80 for L3) of a range of wines and have an excellent understanding of the different styles of wines made around the world.

The examination is a 2 wine blind tasting where students are asked to write a tasting note for the wines that are presented to them. We offer a practical tutorial session where students are able to take mock exams to help them prepare.

Tardieu Laurent Cornas
Tardieu Laurent Cornas

Tasting is usually the bit that students most enjoy about a WSET course, The Tardieu Laurent Cornas was particularly well received when we tasted it during our Rhone class last week. It was a great opportunity to show students primary (blackberry), secondary (vanilla and toast and tertiary (prune, leather) characteristics found in older wines that were matured in oak and have had some bottle age.

Click here for a link to the WSET’s collection of Systematic Approach to Tastings:

WSET L2 Wines & Spirits

WSET L2 Spirits


4 Brand New MW’s

Congratulations to the 4 New MW’s who were awarded their letters today!

I know first hand how tough the programme is and am always delighted to hear of those that have successfully completed it.

The Master of Wine qualification is the ultimate wine qualification for the wine trade and requires application of the key characteristics of learning: knowledge, skills, experience and perhaps most importantly attitude!

These guys have all done it! 🙌🙌🙌🙌

Full details here …

New Masters of Wine!

The WSET Examination – how to prepare

I get as nervous as my students when it comes to exam time. They all work so hard and I just want them to do their best and show the examiner why they deserve to be given their wine qualifications. So I have the following revision advice to help them fully prepare:

Revision is an ongoing process, not something you should be doing the week before the exam, here are some of my favourite techniques and exercise:

Record cards are among my favourite tools, they cost about £3 a pack from a good stationers and are incredibly useful.

  1. Write a question on the front, the answer on the back create a whole deck per chapter of text and go through them, over and over until you’ve learnt them all.
  2. They are also great for learning flow charts (gin production for example). Write each step of the process on a card, mix them up and then spend a few minutes putting them back in the right order. Keep doing it until you do it in your sleep!
  3. One thing I know many students find difficult is remembering wine names and grape varieties (particularly in Italy!), use your record cards to help. Write the wine name on one card (Barolo), the grape variety (Nebbiolo) on another, mix them, then match them.

Alternatively use the Chegg Flashcards app then you can easily carry your questions with you and use them whenever you have a spare 5 minutes!

Mindmaps are an excellent way of recording notes an organising your thoughts particularly if you’re a visual kind of person. Use flipchart paper (that way you get everything on one sheet) or the Inspiration app on your tablet write the topic in the middle. Chardonnay for example. Draw a circle around it, or if you’re a little bit arty you could draw a grape.  Then draw lines, like the spokes of a bicyle wheel that lead to more bubbles with facts that you need to remember about Chardonnay. Take the flavours of Chardonnay for example. It could look something like this …

Wine Study Skills Chardonnay Mind Map

Re-draw it, refine it and soon you’ll have remembered all the information on it!

Multiple choice questions are used in the WSET exams so why not write your own. This is such an excellent revision tool that I wrote a whole blog post on it click here. Or, trawl the internet for quizzes that have already been created, like the WSET Level 2 quiz from Decanter magazine. I also found this one …

Another great tool is the WSET Knowledge Centre click here and in particular their 3 minute wine school and 3 minute spirit school series.

However you choose to revise don’t overdo it, only let yourself study for 40 minutes at a time, then stop and have a cup of tea, look out the window, go for a quick walk. Breaking regularly will keep you fresh and focussed!

And my final piece of advice …

Keep calm and remember your SAT

Write your own exam questions

One of my favourite methods of revision and a method I always recommend to my students is to write your own questions.

Pick a subject that you want to revise and look through the relevant chapter in the text book. For each paragraph prepare a question that you think you might be asked in the examination and then come up with four possible answers. It often helps if the answers are similar, maybe they start with the same letter. For example:

Which region in California is well known for its cool climate Chardonnay:

a) Constantia

b) Carneros

c) Central Otago

d) Condrieu

You can then put all the questions together in a document or notebook and go through them regularly until you know the answers without even thinking! Maybe get friends or family members to ask you the questions or you could use an app that I recently discovered called Chegg.

Short answer questions are a little bit harder to write but if you keep the subject specific it will be easier. Again choose a subject you need to revise and, break it down into the most important factors that you need to understand about the subject and then write appropriate questions to help you remember the answers. For example:

What are the three grape varieties used to produce Champagne?




What are the climatic hazards often experienced by viticulturalists in Champagne and what effect does this have on wine production?

Factor: Cool summer temperatures

Effect: Underripe grapes, low alcohol, high acid wines

Factor: Spring frosts

Effect: Reduction in yield


I recently held a WSET L2 course at Monachyle Mhor and was very impressed with their approach to study. All of the group were involved in preparing flashcards like this …

Flashcards, WSET Revision Techniques… questions on one side, answers on the other. They had piles and piles of them! Then they asked each other the questions, over and over again, picking questions at random and shuffling the pile.

Might work for you too!