In “CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste” writer Bianca Bosker, former executive tech editor of the Huffington Post, brings readers along on her year-long journey from amateur wine appreciator to a Certified Sommelier.
I heard buzz about this book from all over the internet. Before reading her book I started following Bosker on Instagram @bbosker. Based on her quirky #pairdevel posts which highlighted eccentric food and wine pairings (Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese paired with Australian Grenache anyone?), I was excited to dive into her book, and boy did it deliver! Bosker’s confident and comical prose had me devouring the tale of her wine journey all weekend on the beach.
Bosker’s evolution from wine amateur to Certified Somm in one year required the tutelage of a cast of characters which included the Somms from some of NYC’s top Michelin-starred restaurants, neuroscientists, perfumers, big bottle hunters, and even the mother of the original Wine Aroma Wheel, Ann C. Noble. Bosker gained advice and wisdom from these experts to understand and unlock her ability to smell.
Bosker in turn imparts this wisdom on her readers, citing scientists to explain that human’s sense of smell is not as innately weak as most of us suspect, and walking through how she honed this under-appreciated, overlooked sense. As a preview (and a warning), after reading this book you might find yourself sticking your nose in absolutely everything, assigning colors to smells (yes, colors), and maybe even visualizing these scent-assigned colors as inanimate, easy to remember objects.
The Crazy Somms
Most of the Somms Bosker blind-tasted with, who she shadowed in their Michelin-starred restaurants and generally be-friended, were of a caliber that necessitates a certain level of obsessiveness to reach. These were folks who spent most of their free time studying for their Master Somm exam, and Bosker’s description of her experience blind-tasting with these Somms was a highlight of the book for me.
These guys lived for fermented grape juice, whose consideration for employment was not the salary of a position but the exposure a position afforded to the greatest wines in the world (at the top restaurants they worked at, Somms were expected to taste the bottles of wines served to their guests to ensure they were not faulty). Some may see the description of these guys as reflective of neurotic obsessiveness with wine, but I saw it as reflective of a deep passion that in my experience most people simply either never possess or never pursue.
Bosker certainly caught the bug, transforming her mild appreciation for a buzz-inducing liquid into a full blown obsession which entailed forgoing all scented cosmetic products for fear of diluting her sense of smell, and avoiding any hot beverage like coffee or tea, spicy or pungent foods like raw onions, and even mouth wash and certain types of toothpaste to avoid damaging or stunting her palate.
Certified Somm Exam
Bosker’s journey culminates in her sitting for the Certified Somm Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. To give a little context for how exceptional her year-long journey was, most people sitting for this exam have three or more years experience in the industry—handling, serving, and talking about wine all day every day for years in preparation.
Bosker had to master the blind-tasting, theory and service portions of the exam in an extremely short period of time. The chapters detailing her preparation and execution of the service portion of the exam were at times both cringe-worthy and endearing, but altogether extremely informative for anyone considering heading down the path for themselves.
Read this book!
Through the course of this eleven chapter book, Bosker paints for the reader how to taste, smell, and appreciate wine, but perhaps more importantly explores why: What makes a great bottle of wine so great? What could possibly make a bottle of wine worth $1,000+? How can honing my sense of smell help me tell the difference between a great bottle and a mass-produced bottle filled with Mega Purple, and why should it all matter? (hint: maybe it doesn’t!)
If you are interested in learning more about wine, read this book. If you already love wine and want to become a Somm, read this book. If you are already in the obsessive, neurotic, wine lover category and want other people in your life to understand your obsession, read this book and make everyone you love read this book. You will laugh, learn, and 100% be driven to pick up a glass or two of the magical, more than just buzz-inducing liquid along the way.