Top free online wine courses to get you through the lockdown

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

27 March 2020

Thirsty for wine knowledge? Worry not, promotional bodies and trade associations have responded to the rising demand for online activities by releasing plenty of virtual educational programmes

One never knows enough about wine. It's when you think that you master a region that a new appellation pops up, a labelling term changes, maximum yields drop, and you've got to start all over again. Unsurprisingly, sommeliers and wine professionals spend most of their career developing, increasing, and updating their knowledge.

As demand for online activities keeps rising due to impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, drinks professionals are presented with the unmatched opportunity to widen or simply refresh their wine knowledge.

The internet, however, is full of online activities, so finding a suitable – and free of charge – programme might turn into a painfully frustrating web search. Whether you're a bartender looking for more wine knowledge or a somm preparing for WSET Diploma or the CMS, we’ve selected some of the best designed and up-to-date e-learning activities available for free to help you in your research.

If you know of any online activity or programme that you believe should feature in this list, just drop us an email at jacopo@imbibe.com, we’ll keep it updated.

WineEd Free Online Accredited Level 2 Wine Service Qualification 

London-based hospitality wine training firm WineEd is now offering its Level 2 Certificate in Wine Service for free. The course is taught through South Essex College and Bournemouth & Poole College and funded by the government’s Adult Education Budget (AEB).

The programme is mainly aimed at hospitality professionals who need to learn the fundamentals of wine service, including wine knowledge and guest management. It's made of three units that candidates have 12 weeks to complete. The first unit looks at wine styles, colour, grape varieties and regions; the second focuses on storage, presentation, food pairing and service; the third aims to help candidates develop the necessary skills to 'achieve a high standard of the guest experience'.

After each unit, candidates are tasked with a simple assignment and a multiple-choice test, and a minimum overall mark of 70% is required to get the accredited certificate.

For more details and to check eligibility, visit wineed.co.uk.

Symington Family Estates' School of Port

This new digital platform was developed as a response to the Covid-19 lockdown, when training sessions could not take place offline. The online training consists of a series of digital workshops and video courses, mainly designed for professionals working with Port in the on- and off-trade.

The first training module, 'School of Port – The Essentials', will have to be requested online at schoolofport.com. It concerns Port winemaking, styles, pairing suggestions, and practical advice for selling Port in both the retail and restaurant sectors.

Meanwhile, workshops will be taught via Zoom by a professional Port educator. This will be followed by a short test and a certificate will be issued to successful attendees.

School of Port is also active on Instagram @schoolofport, with an 'informal, behind-the-scenes look at various aspects of how Port is made and consumed'.

Wines of Portugal

Promotional body Wines of Portugal has unveiled a free online education course on Portuguese wines aimed at hospitality and retail professionals, as well as consumers with a specific interest in Portugal's wine-growing diversity.

Indeed, the course focuses on the diversity of the county's 14 regions, covering a variety of topics over six modules including history, geography, grape varieties, fortified and sparkling wines, and food and wine pairing.

Each study module is followed by a multiple-choice questionnaire to help students assess their own understanding of the subject. The next module can be only accessed by achieving an 80% minimum mark.

Students can take the course at their own pace, download the content for a more detailed study and resume the online session at a later stage. A certificate of completion is issued at the end of the six modules.

To access the course, visit formacao.viniportugal.pt.

Australian Wine Discovered

Trade body Wine Australia has just revamped its Australian Wine Discovered course, originally launched in 2019.

The new format features 25 topics all focusing on Australian wine, including Australian varieties and regions, plus themed sections such as Foundations of Australian wine, Organic and biodynamic wine, and Aged Australian wines.

There are additional, downloadable resources to support the study, including tasting mats, videos and certificates of attendance.

Rioja Wine Academy

Last month, Wines from Rioja upped its education game. The new Rioja Wine Academy is an online educational platform made up of a range of courses each focusing on different student profiles, all free of charge.

The Rioja Wine Diploma is mainly aimed at enthusiasts, while the Diploma in Rioja Wine for Trade and Distribution allows professionals to ‘establish the bases for [Rioja wine] sales and marketing by means of a market launch plan’. Finally, the Diploma in Rioja Wine Tourism focuses on the ‘implementation of experiences, activities, customer service, situation management, wine and tasting services’.

Champagne Campus

Comité Champagne has its official online training programme too, dubbed Champagne Campus, accessible here

The programme offers three training pathways: ‘novices’, ‘enthusiasts’ and ‘lovers’, which Comité Champagne says are intended for enthusiasts as well as educators.

Users are first asked a range of questions to assess their level of knowledge, then assigned a suitable pathway. The programme explores wine-growing regions, vines, winemaking, tasting and history, and ends with a quiz. Users can test their knowledge on the complimentary Champagne Campus app too, which features 150 questions on Champagne wines and the Champagne region.

Sherry

The Sherry consejo regulador offers periodic in-class training to sommeliers, educators, and restaurant and bar staff.

However, with Spain now busy battling against covid-19, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend in person anytime soon. Fortunately, the Sherry.wine website offers some of the best content on the famous fortified wine that is freely available online. It features thorough information on history, viticulture, winemaking, ageing and bottling. Really worth spending an afternoon on.

Discovering Bourgogne Wines + Bourgogne Maps

Once only dedicated to industry professionals, Discovering Bourgogne Wines is now available to all. It includes films, 360-degree photos, interviews and quizzes. It only takes 90 minutes and is mostly aimed at beginners, yet it’s been recently updated with the latest key figures and new appellations, so worth a look anyway if you're an expert.

In addition to the official e-training programme, there's a range of very detailed maps now available on the website, which CMS and WSET students will definitely find useful to look at. Bourgogne Maps has been recently launched; it's an interactive cartography tool that features an accurate mapping of all appellation segments, plot by plot, from régionale to grands crus appellations. Wine geeks could spend hours with this. I definitely can.

Vins Alsace

On a similar note, Vins Alsace's official website features a remarkable mapping tool too, freely available for all geeks and students out there to play with.

The tool allows you to visually identify soil types and even highlight single communes. But it’s the grand crus that Vins Alsace has decided to focus on. Not only does the tool give crucial information such as soil type, grapes planted, altitude etc; it offers spectacular 360-degree birds-eye views, too. Stunning.

Wine Tasting: Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis by University of California, Davis

A little more serious this one, one that requires more commitment, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you’ve got weeks of lockdown ahead of you.

The course introduces students to the physiological aspects of wine tasting and teaches how to ‘set up your own tasting, pick up sensory vocabulary, examine the defects in wine, and master the techniques used to spot the defects’. It’s a beginner-level course but could be useful to intermediate-level professionals too as it offers a different approach to tasting when compared to WSET. It’s free to audit and accessible here.

Wines of South Africa

The promotional body for South African wine has its own Online Wine Course too.

It features six modules covering a variety of topics ranging from history and varieties, to wine styles, winegrowing regions, sustainability and tourism. Each module takes about one to two hours, and closes with a multiple choice quiz, which you'll need to pass (minimum of 80% of correct answers) in order to to progress to the next.

Usefully, you'll be able to save your session to login at another time and redo the test if you're unsuccessful on your first attempt.

The Online Wine Course

Beverly Hills-based sommelier Cristie Norman is offering her Online Wine Course free of charge to any hospitality professionals who are out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The course is aimed at beginners and takes about 3.5 hours to complete (but students are allowed to start and stop as they wish). It features videos - each with its own worksheet, 16 sections, 16 quizzes and a final exam.

To get the free access, email Norman at cristie@cristienorman.com or DM her on Instagram @cristienorman_somm.
For those who like to purchase the course, Norman is offering a 50% discount using the code SUPPORTSOMMS, with $50 (US) will be donated in the purchaser's name to the The United Sommeliers Foundation to benefit somms out of work

Related content

News |  Wine

The drinks podcasts to get you through Lockdown 2.0

As the second lockdown hits and many in hospitality find themselves furloughed once again, now is the perfect time to further educate yourself.

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

Top free online learning tools for bartenders during lockdown

If you’re struggling to fill the days that stretch ahead during coronavirus, these free online courses for bartenders will keep you sharp.

News |  Wine

Lockdown lowdown: The best activities to get through the Easter Bank Holiday weekend

From tastings and cooking demos, to imbibing some of our industry's best books, here are some of the best industry activities to keep you going over the next four days.

News |  Wine

Lockdown lowdown: The latest and greatest drinks activities to keep you entertained through lockdown

From the world’s biggest cider tasting, to whisky apps and puzzles, here are some of the latest activities to keep you entertained during covid-19.