Tasting Like a Pro: The WSET Structured Approach to Tasting (SAT)

Sonal C Holland MW
India's one & only Master of Wine.


Every wine lover dreams of being able to taste wine like a professional. Haven’t we all been in awe of experts who can decode a wine with perfection in just one or two sips? It takes a lot of practice to ace wine tasting- the more you do it, the better you get at it. However, unpacking the aspects of wine and writing notes that you can share with others or review yourselves are two different things and to master both these aspects you need the right approach and terminologies. This is where the WSET Structured Approach to Tasting (SAT) comes in.

The Wine & Spirits Education Trust has devised an approach that helps you describe the tasting notes in wine with accuracy and consistency. This is one of the many reasons why people seeking to pursue careers in the wine industry should get WSET accreditation. These certifications have different levels, based on your interests and requirements, with each one honing your skills further in different aspects. One such aspect is wine tasting.

Did You Know? The WSET Structured Approach to Tasting (SAT) empowers wine enthusiasts to decode flavors and aromas with precision, from primary to tertiary characteristics, enhancing their wine appreciation journey.

What will you learn in WSET Structured Approach to Tasting

For beginners, SAT introduces them to the framework of wine tasting and how to analyse it on the basis of appearance, nose and palate. For WSET Level 1, students will learn to decode wine as follows:

Appearance- red, white and rosé

Aromatic characteristics- like aromas of fruits, oak etc.

Palate- notable structural characteristics like sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol and body, and flavour characteristics in a wine such as fruit and oak

For WSET Level 2 students, the Systematic Approach to Tasting diversifies these existing parameters. So, while studying the colour of the wine, you have to also gauge its intensity- it can be light, medium or pronounced.

Even while describing the colours, students will learn to zero in on specific hues. For instance, the colour of a red wine can be purple, ruby, garnet or tawny, while a white wine can have lemon, gold  or amber and rosé can be pink, pink-orange or orange.

Also Read: How WSET Accreditation Can Boost Your Hospitality Career

For aromatic characteristics too, detecting the intensity becomes an important parameter, along with identifying primary, secondary and tertiary aromas in a wine. Meanwhile, for the palate, students must know the level of sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol and body, along with additional parameters like flavour intensity, finish etc.

Here are the notes for each category that students should learn to discern:

Sweetness: dry, off-dry, medium or sweet

Tannin: high, medium or low

Acidity: high medium or low

Body: light, medium or full

Flavour intensity: light, medium or pronounced

Flavour characteristics: primary, secondary, tertiary

Finish: short, medium or long

For WSET Level 3, students are introduced to parameters like clarity in colour (clear or hazy), condition (clean or unclean). They should also be able to describe how the wine develops on the nose (youthful, developing, fully developed, tired/past its best)

WSET Structured Approach to Tasting isn’t just about understanding a wine but also assessing its quality. So, while drawing their conclusion, students have to describe its quality in Level 2, and its drinkability as well (exclusive to WSET Level 3). This means that students should not only know if the wine is ready to drink or not, but whether it is too young to be consumed, can be aged further or is way past its prime.

Also Read: How to Ace WSET Level 3 with Ease

To ensure that they execute every tasting note with equal consistency, students should follow the following WSET guidelines on how they should prepare for the task:

·        Ensure there are no distracting smells around you

·        Use a white surface for tasting so that you can assess the appearance of the wine appropriately

·        Use a wine glass with a wide bowl and a narrow rim and inward-tapering walls

·        Make sure that you have a clean palate, with no lingering tastes of coffee, spices, fruits etc.

What are the advantages of WSET Structured Approach to Tasting

The WSET Structured Approach to Tasting can help you sharpen your skills as a wine writer, sommelier or in retail and marketing. You will be able to guide consumers during their wine-drinking experience, or through the aisles of a wine store as they look for a bottle that matches their taste. You will also be able to curate wine lists for cellars and special tasting events or help connoisseurs develop their wine collections. Even the most basic knowledge of SAT will enable you to answer questions about wine from consumers. 

However, theoretical knowledge of WSET SAT is not enough, you need to taste wines extensively to master it. But procuring wines for tasting isn’t for every pocket. So how do you go about it? You can either choose to pool in resources with other WSET students and buy wine for tasting, or you can choose a WSET course provider who will procure it for you. At Sonal Holland Wine Academy, we organise tasting sessions for WSET Level 1, 2 and 3, that too under the guidance of our experienced educators. 

Click here: To know more about our upcoming batches for WSET courses.

Originally published 22nd August, 2023

Elevate Your Palate: Enrol in WSET Courses Today!

Immerse yourself in the WSET Structured Approach to Tasting with our upcoming Level 1, 2, and 3 courses.

Join Sonal Holland Wine Academy today!