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Mar 3, 2008 02:26 PM

WSET VS ISG wine courses

I'm wondering if anyone has any insihgt about the two courses - I've been wanting to take these classes forever and I'm finally going to do it this year!

What classes have been taken? recommended? recognized? what have people done with their education after?

I'm in Calgary AB and there are both courses offered here.

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  1. I haven't taken the WSET, but I have taken the first two levels of the ISG, and will be taking the 3rd in September. I really enjoyed the course, it presents a lot of information in a very focused and manageable way. It was a lot of work and requires a lot of studying, but is very rewarding.

    Though it is less well known in America (compared to the Court of Master Soms) it is based in Canada and therefore may be very useful there. If you are just starting out in the industry, it is a great way to jump in and become familiar with just about everything you could need to know. It may be daunting if you are taking it for personal interest. The first level focuses a lot on vineyard care and management which may be of less interest to you and if you are not interested in memorizing yield restrictions and minimum sugar levels etc, the second will be very challenging. The WSET does offer some courses just for those looking to enhance their personal enjoyment of wine, rather than those pursuing a career in wine.

    As to what you can do with the degrees and certification- The ISG is very useful to those interested in becoming a Sommelier or managing a wine program or wine shop. The WSET is highly regarded and most of the people I have met who have pursued this degree are less in the service realm and more in the writing/reviewing area.

    7 Replies
    1. re: pierrot

      Last year I took the WSET Intermediate & advanced courses in the New York location. They took about 9 months total. The course requires alot of study and dedication of personal time.

      I cannot comment on the Court of Master Soms or any other wine education courses, however of the 26 people in my class there were 3 chefs, at least 2 waiters from one of the top NY restaurants, 4 wine distributor sales people, 1 wine educator, 1 winery owner (from Virginia) 2 wine importers, and 6 assistant soms from NY restaurants. I do not recall most of the other students affiliations,but only 3 of them were not in the food/wine industry.

      When it came time for the final examination there were only 14 of the original 26 students left. Of the 14 only 9 passed the test.

      It was an excellent program that I would highly recommend for anyone looking to expand their wine knowledge for professional or recreational purposes.

      1. re: pierrot

        While it is true that a number of people who hold either an advanced degree from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust or a Masters of Wine degree are indeed writers (Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, and others), this is MOSTLY a British phenomenon. There are substantially more British MWs and WSET graduates involved in the wine trade than in writing/reviewing, and that's certainly true of the American, Australian, French, and other MWs as well. They are wine buyers for various companies, wine importers, wholesalers, retailers -- they can be found throughout the wine industry. Also there are several winemakers and/or other winery employees (sales, marketing, etc.) with WSET and MW degrees . . .

        Most of those with Master Sommelier degrees do tend to actually work IN restaurants, however, rather than as writers/reviewers. A few of the exceptions here in the US would include Fran Kysela (wine importer), Ronn Weigand (wine educator), Emmanuel Kemiji (winemaker), Peter Granoff (retailer), Doug Frost (writer) . . .

        Keeping in mind that a) I'm an American, and b) I'm not as familiar with International Sommelier Guild as I should be . . . I'd opt for WSET. Clearly some of this is merely bias on my part -- I'm more familiar with their program. But also it's been around much longer than ISG, and -- regardless of the "international" in ISG, WSET has a much more important reputation worldwide and a much larger following.

        But that's my 2ยข, and probably worth far less, so . . .


        1. re: zin1953

          Be careful with your wording - these are not degrees. They are certificates or diplomas. The Masters of Wine is not a masters degree like a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. There are universities that offer degrees (probably only undergraduate, but maybe postgrad as well) in oenology and viticulture, but they are very different than these short certificate programs.

          1. re: Dan G


            a) They aren't all that short; b) EVERYONE in the trade -- which, in this context, is all that counts -- knows EXACTLY what an MS or MW means; c) it is quite conceivable to earn a university Masters of Science AND a PhD. in both Enology and in Viticulture from numberous universities around the globe.


            1. re: zin1953

              Yes, I said there are degrees in oenology and viticulture, just wanted to point out that Masters of Wine and WSET programs are not DEGREES. DEGREES come from universities (and in the US, colleges). EVERYONE reading here, who do count, regardless of what you think of them, might not understand EXACTLY the difference.

              1. re: Dan G

                The OP was asking for my opinion. I gave it to him, and to the dearly departed . . . .

                The Court of Master Sommeliers issues diplomas -- see

                The Institute of Masters of Wine issues diplomas -- -- the prerequisites include a diploma from WSET, and/or degrees in enology and/or viticulture from universities such as the University of California at Davis, the University of Bordeaux (France), Geisenheim University (Germany), the University of Adelaide, Waite Campus (Australia). Additionaly, students are also advised to have at least five years of experience in any segment of the wine industry ON TOP OF their university degree.

                a) If you want to argue the semantic differences between a diploma and degree, have at it. Everyone I know refers to -- and KNOWS the DIFFERENCES between -- an MW/MS degree and a Master's and PhD. degree in Vit and/or Enology . . . it's not really worth wasting the bandwidth.

                b) There is no doubt that the WSET/MW/MS programs are held in much higher regard worldwide than the ISG, which is what the OP was concerned about.

                c) I noticed you didn't answer Gussie Finknottle. DO YOU think than an MW or MS is a "short certificate program"?

            2. re: Dan G

              You think that the MW is a short certificate program?

        2. I have just finished the first level of ISG and am starting the second level next week. While I don't have anything to compare it to yet, I am very happy with the program so far. I find it much more motivating than online classes or books. I really like instant feedback, and I've been able to taste many wines that I would have been too intimidated to buy on my own.

          I may look into other courses before I move on to the 3rd level, just to make sure. I am new to the industry, and hoping to make a career change within the next couple of years, so I want to immerse myself in as much information as possible.

          1. The original comment has been removed
            1. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is a WORLDWIDE organization founded in 1969. See:

              The WSET, which is headquarted in London, is the only wine and spirit education body approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the UK government's regulator for education. You may, if you have not already done so, look here:

              Throughout the wine trade worldwide, and CERTAINLY in the English-speaking world of wine producing and wine selling nations (that is, in the UK and Ireland, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of South Africa, and elsewhere), the WSET certification is recognized as a considerable achievement and is often (though it need not be) used as a sort of "stepping stone" to obtaining a Masters of Wine or a Master Sommelier degree.

              Indeed, the Institute of the Masters of Wine holds a seat on the Board of Directors of the WSET.

              You may also wish to check out the Institute of Masters of Wine. The Institute was formaly established in the UK in 1955, although the first exams were conducted in 1953. There website is located at

              The Court of Master Sommeliers was ALSO established in London in 1969. Their website may be found here: The American chapter, established in 1977, has a different website located here:

              Mary Ewing-Mulligan holds a Master of Wine degree. She is the President of the International Wine School (IWC). This school was founded in 1982. In 1994, International Wine Center was the first organization in the U.S. to become affiliated with the prestigious Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), and offer its courses. The WSET trains members of the wine and spirits trade internationally; its highest accreditation, Diploma, is the traditional qualification necessary for those who wish to become Master of Wine candidates. To date, over 100 individuals in the U.S. have received the WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits through International Wine Center. In 2003, International Wine Center became the US headquarters of the WSET.

              I can only speak for myself, but prior to the OP asking about the International Sommelier Guild v. Wine & Spirits Education Trust programs, I had ONLY heard about WSET.

              In and of itself, that doesn't mean much. After all, I've never heard of you before this thread, nor had I ever heard of Sarah Palin before McCain -- well, you know. My point is that there are lots of things I've never hear of, and as a simple matter of fact, it doesn't mean much. But I would have THOUGHT that, after spending 35 years in the international wine trade, I would have. I have not.

              Then again, today -- when I took the time to contact 10 people I know who are still in the trade -- only two had heard of the ISG.

              No one I know -- again, it's "I know" and, admittedly, that is a limitation -- but no one I know who is employed full-time as a Sommelier in a high-end restaurant claims to hold a diploma from the ISG. Dozens (if not hundreds), however, proudly display their diplomas from the Court of Master Sommeliers in the restaurant, or in their office; place the coveted initials "M.S." after their name; and so on and so on . . .

              In searching the ISG website ( ), I can find no information about when they were founded, only that they have offices in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) and in Coral Springs, Florida (US). Hardly world capitals of wine, are they? Maybe that's why they sought state approval from New York? It's got to be more impressive than saying "We're approved by Florida!", don't you think?

              The WSET courses are now offered in 41 countries and teaches over 21,000 students per year.


              2 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                I am currently taking the WSET Intermediate course, I have 1 more class and then my exam. I certainly have learned a lot but let me just say I didn't know much about wine I just drink a lot. I hope this will enable me to pursue a career in wine sales, that is my goal. I would highly recommend the course to anyone looking to learn more about grape varieties and grape growing regions but I can not offer any comaprison to the ISG courses.
                FYI, the course I'm taking is at Johnson & Wales University.

                1. re: worktime

                  Keep going. The intermediate course is relatively basic and the Advanced course is a big jump. Not to disparage the Intermediate class at all, since I've taken it as well, but a good amount of curiosity and access to this board for 6 months should teach you everything the intermediate course can teach you. The Advanced course is really where you'll learn about wine in a serious manner.

              2. The original comment has been removed