Note: This article was published prior to 2019, when the WSET overhauled its WSET Level 4 Diploma curriculum. While the list of books below is an excellent library of resources for any student of wine, the WSET no longer requires reading books outside of its own textbooks/study guides for the Diploma program, so this list should be viewed as optional, not essential.
The WSET Diploma requires breadth and depth of wine knowledge. Determining which resources to use can be daunting because there is so much information available. I was successful by using a variety of sources that allowed me to grasp both the big picture and the small details. Looking back, it’s easy to identify the resources that were the most helpful in my studies because I still have them sitting on my bookshelf, and reference them often for concise, well-written, and well-researched information.
- The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson MW (buy on Amazon)
Easy to use for its alphabetized topics, the Oxford Companion provides relevant, up-to-date information on the world’s most important wine topics. You can find information on a region’s climate, topography, most important growing regions, key grape varieties and much more within these pages.
- The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW (buy on Amazon)
The World Atlas is one of the most valuable resources for a WSET Diploma student. Knowing the world’s wine geography gives you context as you study. Detailed maps cover everything from the major growing regions in Chile to the landscape of Grand Cru Burgundy. The style of writing is engaging and creates a narrative, making it easier to remember all the little details.
- Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson (buy on Amazon)
The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia has wonderful illustrations, with more specific appellation data than most other resources. Stevenson offers a fantastic overview on oak in the early chapters, as well as a helpful visual overview of vine training and trellising methods. This book is a perfect complement to the Oxford Companion and the World Atlas of Wine.
- Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (buy on Amazon)
Italy is one of the most expansive wine regions in the world – its many grape varieties and wine styles can make it seem overwhelming to understand in great depth. Vino Italiano covers Italy’s most important wines and regions, bringing each one to life with introductions from the authors. Unfortunately, the maps are not as detailed as you’ll find in the World Atlas, but the strength of this book is its organized fast facts and tasting notes–all of which you can bolster with referencing facts on Italian Wine Central, authored by Geralyn and Jack Brostrom, co-founders of the Italian Wine Professional course.
- Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird MW and Nicolas Quille MW (buy on Amazon)
The WSET Diploma Unit 1 requires detailed knowledge of winemaking. David Bird’s book offers a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand summary of today’s most important winemaking concepts. From faults to fermentation tanks, spinning cones to acidification, Bird covers complex chemistry in a way that English majors (like me!) can actually understand and retain.
- Viticulture: An Introduction to Commercial Grape Growing for Wine Production by Stephen Skelton MW (buy on Amazon)
Skelton’s Viticulture book is essential for Unit 1, offering just the right amount of detail on topics like vine disease, vineyard considerations, irrigation, and vine nutrition, along with useful vineyard conversions. For students without practical vineyard experience, Skelton’s book provides a comprehensive overview of key concepts in viticulture.
- Sherry, Manzanilla, and Montilla by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin (buy on Amazon) – (Currently out of print, keep an eye out on used book sites)
The world of sherry is fascinating and complex. The wines vary greatly in style, and many students have never had the opportunity to travel to Jerez, Spain and its surrounding production areas. Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin bring sherry to life by covering producers, production methods, aging trends, and styles. Ultimately, this book demystifies the seemingly endless topic of sherry.
- Port and Douro by Richard Mayson (buy on Amazon)
Like Sherry, Port is a must-know for WSET Diploma candidates. Understanding the styles and production methods enhances both your theory and tasting abilities. Though intensive, Port and Douro offers information on legal regulations, styles, and winemaking techniques. Reading the book cover to cover isn’t necessary–the chapters break up easily for referencing specific information.
- “Modern Marvels: Distilleries” from The History Channel (buy on Amazon)
Most of the WSET Diploma focuses on wine, but candidates must also taste and understand the production methods for spirits of the world. The History Channel created a segment that visually explains the basis for spirits and covers the topic of distillation. It complements books on the subject and introduces a nice change of pace from reading page after page.
- Champagne for Dummies by Ed McCarthy (buy on Amazon)
Don’t let the title fool you–WSET Diploma students are not dummies! But, many are looking for concise references on Champagne. Champagne for Dummies gives an excellent overview of the region and its styles without drowning its readers in detail. You’ll have to use other sources for other sparkling wines of the world, but this works as an excellent Champagne primer.
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