My journey towards WSET Diploma, part 5 – D4 (Previous Unit 5) – Sparkling wines

Before you start reading, take into account that I took my exam in June 2018 so some of the information about the sparkling wines exam can be outdated. It is always best to check the newest WSET Diploma Specification.

I think it’s high time I shared the next part of my WSET Diploma story. In this post, we’ll focus on the sparkling wines exam – currently D4 (previously Unit 5)


My preparation for this exam was split into 4 parts: methods of production, Champagne region, other European regions, and sparkling wines from the New World. In theory, this exam was supposed to be similar to the one about fortified wines. After all, both exams were focusing on a very specific style of wines. However, the fortified wines exam was focused on a handful of parts of the world, while sparkling wines are produced in almost every wine region so in this case, the extent of knowledge to learn was much bigger. At the same time, there was no question that the Champagne region was the main star of Unit 5 (D5), and most of the effort had to go into learning everything possible about this famous region.

The main wines included in this exam covered Champagnes, Cremants (Alsace, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Limoux, Die, Burgundy), Blanquette de Limoux, Clairette de Die, Saumur, Vouvray, Sekt, Cava, Franciacorta, Asti, Prosecco, Lambrusco, Australia (with the focus on Tasmania), New Zealand, South Africa, USA (with the focus on California), Chile, and Argentina.
I checked the current WSET Diploma specification, and there are a few minor changes. It is especially good to see that England and Wales are included now.

As always, for every covered region, one had to know all there was about the climate, soils, topography, grape varieties, viticulture, winemaking, and the market.

And what question did I have in my exam?

Blending in Champagne – this was a huge topic. It felt like having 10 minutes to write everything I knew was not enough. After all, blending is the key practice in Champagne production. We have NV wines, rosé, blends of different grapes varietals, blends from different vineyards, plus experiments like the perpetual blend from Jacques Selosse.

Premium Prosecco – Prosecco itself is another enormous topic, therefore, I was happy to see that the examiners asked as to focus on the premium side. I started with writing about the history, and the changes made in 2009 when two DOCS were introduced. And I mentioned the stars of Prosecco – Rive and Cartizze. Of course, I included all the relevant details about the climate, topography (including the vineyards located as high as 500 above the sea level), soils, and the producers.

Cap Classique – This was another well-defined topic. I knew a lot about this South African wine and was able to write for 10 minutes without any break.

And, in order to give you a better understanding of what to expect, here are some other topics from the previous exams:

  • Lees aging
  • CM (Cooperative-manipulant)
  • Montagne de Reims
  • Automated riddling
  • Louis Roederer
  • Prestige Cuvee Champagne
  • Champagne village classification
  • Dom Perignon [man & wine]
  • Transfer Method


This was the hardest tasting exam so far. Both fortified wines and spirits were hard but there were quite clear differences between the main styles. Sparkling wines were much more tricky. Sweetness likes to hide behind acidity, bubbles can be a distraction, the aromas from the secondary fermentation can be very subtle. And many good Franciacortas and even wines from the New World (yes, I am talking about you Tasmania) can be hard to distinguish from Champagnes.

What did I get to taste in the exam?

Cuvée Julien Cremant d’Alsace NV – This was the hardest wine of all three. The yeasty aromas were very faint and I was considering both Prosecco and Cremant. I left the wine to breathe for few moments, and that was a good decision. When I got back to it, I could smell the tiny bits of brioche.

Pierre Paillard Champagne Grand Cru Les Terres Roses NV – This one was pretty obvious. However, a bit of earthiness made me consider Cava for a bit.

Asti Martini NV – This was the easiest one, and I had no doubts that tis was an Asti wine – it was very floral, with tropical fruit, honey, and a significant amount of sweetness/sugar.


Ten weeks after the exam I got an email with the results:

I was very stoked with the results ??

And if you’d like to see a lot more of the previous topics and wines that were used in the previous exams, you may want to check out this summary. I found this summary of the website, however, I don’t think they are still available.

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