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As many sommeliers will say, the more you know about the wine world, the more you realize how much you don’t know. There are hundreds of wine-producing regions and thousands of grape varieties, not to mention a diverse range of styles and cast of characters behind the bottles.
There are books designed to help oenophiles brush up on wine knowledge, but if you’re the kind of learner who needs organization, tutelage, and deadlines, an online class will have you well on your way to a sommelier accreditation.
Traditionally, sommelier classes were taught in person, with days of curriculums and tasting. But thanks to the digital age, the wine world has shifted online and now, many of the best certifications can be earned from the comfort of your couch. There are standardized certification courses and also classes that focus on grape science or the world of Champagne. Below we rounded up the best online sommelier classes.
The 8 Best Online Sommelier Classes of 2020
- Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET): Best Overall
- Society of Wine Educators: Best Budget
- American Wine Expert: Best American Course
- Jancis Robinson’s Udemy: Best for Beginners
- International Sommelier Guild: Best for Industry Professionals
- Champagne MOOC: Best for Sparkling Wine
- Winemaking Certification Program at the University of California Davis: Best Splurge
- Wine Scholar Guild: Best European
Best Overall: Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Real wine fans are looking to go beyond wine delivery. The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is one of the premier wine education programs in the world, with courses offered in 77 different countries and 19 different languages. Courses range in length, complexity, and specification, from single-day beginner courses to master-level diplomas on saké and spirit production.
Level 1 is perfect for those looking to test the waters of the wine world—the material covers the essentials, including familiar grape varieties, pairings, and storing and serving wines.
The higher tiers (Levels 2 through 4) dive into specialist-level knowledge. Each expands on the information learned in the previous levels, covering the winemaking process, established and upcoming regions, varieties, and wine service.
Levels conclude with a standardized test via an accredited classroom—Levels 1 and 2 are written assessments, while Levels 3 and 4 also include tasting exams, using the WSET’s highly-regarded codified wine evaluation grid. The programs require disciplined study and time commitment, but the tiers lay out a clear path for those looking to continue their wine education long-term.
While pricing depends on the provider you choose, classes start at roughly $500.
Best Budget: Society of Wine Educators
The Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) program via the Society of Wine Educators is a rigorous 12-week course that pushes candidates to master the world of viticulture, wine production, and knowledge.
As one of the most acclaimed programs in the industry, the curriculum covers faults, physiology of taste, wine composition and chemistry, and wine etiquette and service.
Study tools include over 800 graphic wine map flashcards and drag-and-drop exercises. There are 900 digital flashcards are available for purchase, as are several practice tests and quizzes based on the certified study guide and workbook.
The program is capped off with a multiple-choice exam, written through partner testing centers. Candidates who achieve over 75% on their final exam receive a lapel pin and certificate, and are encouraged to use the CSW post-nominal.
For about $135 per year, members of the Society of Wine Educators are offered online classes and monthly webinars to assist in their studies. One of the big draws of the society is the range of seminars available. For those looking for higher education, the CSW leads into the Certified Wine Educator certification.
Best American Course: American Wine Expert
Wine is made in all 50 U.S. states, and this comprehensive certification course is dedicated to American wine regions, covering everywhere from Sonoma and Napa to the under-the-radar winemaking areas.
Students will learn about different styles and varieties that make up America’s diverse winemaking scene and the winemakers leading each region. Much of the information cultivated is exclusive to the course—the certification partners with regional winemaking associations for a thorough, up-to-date curriculum.
The course pushes readers to get a working knowledge of the American wine scene, covering microclimates, geography, grape species and varieties, history, industry milestones, as well as the varying appellations in the country.
Buying into the self-taught course (about $399) will get you 12 months of access to the online database, where all materials, including interactive maps and online quizzes, are available 24/7. Each class concludes with practice and final exams, and successful candidates receive a flashy AWE certificate.
Best for Beginners: Jancis Robinson’s Udemy
British wine writer Jancis Robinson is one of the most revered figures in the industry, and her series of Purple Book wine manuals are considered industry bibles.
Thanks to online course marketplace Udemy, her knowledge has been pooled into a 3.5-hour course (about $200). Aimed at those looking to brush up on their wine skills, this class is designed to give students the confidence to traverse a wine menu with ease and the fluency to decipher most wine labels. The materials covered also prepare you to pair wines with different social settings and explore bargains.
The curriculum targets beginners, but Robinson goes into enough detail that oenophiles of all levels will complete the course with fresh knowledge; drinkers of all levels (from restaurant professionals to home wine buffs) are open to taking this course.
Udemy also offers other courses for wine lovers, including a wine tasting course with winemaking guru Mike Mazey to a wine primer course from Australian winemaker Michael Macfarlan.
Best for Industry Professionals: International Sommelier Guild
This multi-tiered program is built for wine students of all commitments. The International Sommelier Guild (ISG) begins with the introductory Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC), then progresses to the Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC), and the ISG Master Sommelier certification (ISGM).
All levels cover the features of each grape varieties, how they’re grown, and how they are made into wine through extensive videos, text, online lectures, and suggested wines tastings. Each level builds on the previous program’s knowledge. Through the IWC and AWC, two sommelier instructors are available to students: one for fielding tasting questions and the other for knowledge questions.
Once students have completed intermediate-level studies, they can pursue the full ISG Master Sommelier diploma. Over a course of 30 weeks, students progress through 300 live video classes and 400 structured tasting videos. Six instructors are available for questions. The diploma course concludes with one practical and three theory exams. This isn’t a course for the hobbyist—ISGM graduates are required to pen a dissertation.
The International Sommelier Guild’s recent global expansion means the course is now offered in Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Latvian, Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and German. Classes start at about $500 and increase from there.
Best for Sparkling Wine: Champagne MOOC
Champagne has a long history, filled with monks, rappers, and celebrations large and small. A course designed by the Comité Champagne—an association of trade growers and makers of the Champagne region—dives into this history and teaches vino lovers and professionals about the world’s premier sparkling wine.
The classic version of the program (free to all) covers the process of making the sparkling wine, the storied history of the product, and service notes. The premium version (roughly $53) builds on the classic one by adding extra videos, skill-testing modules, and a certification of completion.
Both levels include tasting modules. The courses are offered in English and French, with subtitles available in seven additional languages (French, English, Italian, Spanish, Russia, German, Japanese, and Chinese).
Learning is self-paced and takes a max of five hours to complete. The course content is broadly geared to appeal to wine industry professionals (think sommeliers, oenologists, merchants, and buyers), as well as enthusiasts and tourists headed to the region.
For industry members, this deep dive into méthode champenoise provides a solid foundation that can be applied to other sparkling wine regions.
Best Splurge: Winemaking Certification Program at University of California Davis
Catered to serious oenophiles, the winemaking certification program at the University of California Davis covers its science, spanning the important factors of growing grapes, understanding sensory perception, fundamental analytical chemistry, and assessing the quality of wine.
For around $8,000, this program is particularly aimed at the sommelier who is considering a future in winemaking or those interested in learning about wine at a chemical and microbiological level. Over five quarters in 10 weeks, students will learn practical knowledge and techniques that will benefit their career in a vineyard winery or service setting. Students receive access to world-class instructors and the school's network of 250,000 alumni across the globe.
For a less extensive course of study, UC Davis partnered with Coursera for a free sensory wine course aimed at beginners, or those looking to get a feel of the program. Winemaker John Buechsenstein leads the sessions, guiding participants through how the senses interpret wines via sensory vocabulary, tasting techniques, pairings, and faults. The program concludes with a peer review.
Best European: Wine Scholar Guild
For students who want to focus their efforts on a particular country, the Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) offers programs specializing in vino from France, Italy, and Spain. The courses discuss regional appellations, local grape varieties, and what shapes their identities. All lessons are aided by the regional ministries of agriculture for an exceptional level of rigor.
For around $595, the program can be further specialized with regional-focused, master-level certifications. Candidates can focus on any of the major wine regions of France, including Alsace, Bordeaux, and Loire. The WSG is releasing Italian courses on the Piemonte region later in 2020.
The WSG is friendly toward wine professionals, enthusiasts, travelers, and anyone looking to expand their knowledge. Curriculums are self-paced with reading materials and quizzes, or you can opt for in-person instruction and examinations held at certification centers or via an online proctor.
For those who prefer to study in situ, the guild runs immersion study trips to European winemaking regions. All graduates leave the program with post-nominals.
How We Chose the Best Online Sommelier Classes
While the world of wine requires all senses, the industry has adapted favorably to moving online. Now, you can traverse the world of wine from your couch—regardless of budget.
The above classes range from quick blanket guides on all things wine to more extensive deep dives into varieties and terroir. There are some that are highly regarded and require time and monetary commitment, and others are more fit to quickly brushing up on skills. We also included free and cost-friendly courses that narrow in on specific grape-growing regions and styles, like Champagne and Loire.