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.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
Betty Kaufman, WineShop At Home
Gosh, what an adventure – from journalist to sommelier! Sounds like a great story!
Loved this book. Betty is a great resource for wine, wine knowledge and wine reading.
Thank you so much for introducing me to the book! Grapely appreciated 🙂
This sounds like a find, Betty! Some of the wine related books I have tend to be too technical, and the human being behind the words gets lost by page 5, or so. I do not enjoy reading endless lists of wine names and vintages, but I absolutely love people’s stories, like in “Somm” or “The Sour Grapes”. Thank you for sharing!
You will love this one!
Can’t wait to read this one & know I will love it. Also need to see “Somm”.
You will love it!
The book is a fun read and in many ways engaging, but some might be shocked by the language.
I also think it’s a bit tough on professional somms and judgemental..
But an enjoyable summer read..
Oh wow. I didn’t think it was tough on somms. I thought she was pretty sympathetic. I agree that it’s a great summer read.
A great synopsis of the book. This will have to go on my reading list.
The part about The Democratization Of Decent wine is something that I have discovered over the last few years and which was confirmed during a visit to a winery a couple of years ago. Our personal tour guide talked about the modern day making of wine and how the vintner could make up a decent wine out of just about any grape. And today’s wines are mostly designed to drink the day we bring it home. With this in mind I have to look just a little bit harder for wines that are age worthy.
I find Paul Grieco’s comment interesting in light of what the author stated earlier about Sommeliers living for taste above all else. I look to the Sommelier to help me decide on a good pairing and what matches my taste preferences. I cannot recall ever having a Somm with an attitude. And selling more wine? Not sure a Somm should be tasked with such.
Love the advice to starters. This is great info for even those of us who are no longer neofites. Focus on the basics …….gets my mouth to watering! Is it too early to get a glass right now?
Great comments, Jeff. You will love this book. I guarantee it.