I just finished the book Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. I loved it and am excited to devote today’s article to it. If you’ve seen the movie “Somm,” you know how difficult it is become a Master Sommelier and how stressful it is to hear about the experience. Cork Dork takes the movie “Somm” to a whole new level, as you spend 300 pages vicariously experiencing the author’s path towards the initial sommelier certification and her friends’ paths towards the more advanced certifications. Bosker’s background as a journalist makes the book a fantastic read.
Cork Dork at a High Level
The subtitle of the book says it all: “A wine-fueled adventure among the obsessive sommeliers, big bottle hunters, and rogue scientists who taught me to live for taste.”
This subtitle really captures Bosker’s (and others’) experience of studying for a certification. Bosker was a serious journalist who decided she wanted to become a WINE EXPERT. I put the words “wine expert” in capital letters, because Bosker was seriously committed to going all the way. She worked with very serious wine experts and got as involved as she possibly could in the industry. She got her first certification in about a year, which is amazing.
I love the way Bosker questions the start in her wine pursuit. “You might be wondering why I’d spend eighteen months getting coached by a bunch of pinstripe-wearing bottle pushers. After all, aren’t sommeliers just glorified waiters with a fancy name (somm-el-yay) who intimidate diners into splurging on wine? That was pretty much how I saw them, too, until I handed myself over to an elite clan of sommeliers for whom serving wine is less a job than a way of life, one of living for taste above all else.”
As the great journalist that she is, Bosker covers all kinds of interesting topics, including:
- How common it is to mix up taste and smell
- Why wine judges are so inconsistent
- What wine quality really means
- The many additives that can legally go into wine, aka “scientific fiddling” and “Mega Purple”
- “The Democratization of Decent Wine”
- Why we are so stumped by wine reviews – where do you turn for “a whiff of minerality?”
- The importance of service and hospitality in restaurants and wine bars
The Democratization of Decent Wine
I found this section so interesting that I’m going to put almost an entire page of content here. “Controlled winemaking has thrown a wrench in the quality conversation. Before, bad wines were easy to spot… The pumps and powders have all but eradicated these flaws… So in a sense, we’ve perhaps forgotten what really bad wine tastes like… ‘It is one of the ironies of the wine market today,’ writes [Jancis] Robinson, ‘that just as the price differential between cheapest and most expensive bottles is greater than ever before, the difference in quality between these two extremes is probably narrower than it has ever been.’ The industrial revolution in the winery has effectively democratized decent wine.”
Bosker introduces us to a wine place in NY that I can’t wait to visit. The owner, Paul Grieco, is as unpretentious a wine expert as you will ever meet. Bosker quotes Paul as saying, “It’s f’ing grape juice with alcohol! It’s a beverage of pleasure! And ultimately, no more, no less! I think you should rip apart the entire sommelier wine industry and tell us all that we’re full of sh… For all of our talk, for all of our focus, for all of our studies, for all of this highfalutin posturing that we go about, we have not gotten people to drink! More! Wine!” If you have a chance to visit Terroir Tribeca, please share your experience with us.
Bosker’s Advice to Starters
Here is just the start of her recommendations. “Start by stocking your sense memory. Smell everything and attach words to it… Master the basics of structure – gauge acid by how you drool, alcohol by its heat, tannin by its dryness, finish by its length, sweetness by its thick softness, body by its weight – and apply it to the wines you try.”
I hope I’ve encouraged you to pick up Cork Dork. If you’ve read it, please share your thoughts about it.