A budding sommelier’s deep dive into the world of wine
A couple of years ago, Bianca Bosker, a writer who made her living covering the tech industry, decided that she wanted to be a sommelier. No, she wasn’t a big wine drinker before making this choice, nor did she come from wine people. Instead, she wanted to dive deep into a tangible world that she could experience directly, rather than one that only existed as code. And because putting words on a page is her day job, she wrote Cork Dork, a book about her obsessive trip down this rabbit hole.
Cork Dork has one glaring problem: The reader doesn’t get little tastes of the mouthfuls Bosker so evocatively describes. Like, say, the Château d’Yquem that was “incredible” and left her “aching for the ghost of flavors [she’ll] never have again.” If you can get through such pronouncements without feeling a little bit bitter you aren’t sampling this wine yourself, you will find nearly everything you could hope to know about the world of wine and wine fanatics in this book. You will also learn that this little bit of bitterness can make your experience that much more memorable.
Bosker leaves no grape unpicked. She talks to researchers about the science of taste and smell—and even puts herself in an fMRI machine to see what her brain does when she sniffs, swirls and swallows. She visits industrial wineries that develop mass-market tipples in a lab. She works in the wine cellars and dining rooms of a few of New York City’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Mostly, though, she drinks glass after glass of wine to train her palate to identify any bottle through its taste alone.
Cork Dork would read more like a dry test prep manual if Bosker weren’t such a personable guide. Her own preconceptions, flubs and failures, which include a decanting mishap that led to dousing a judge in very expensive red wine, are the book’s breaking heart. By the time the sommelier exam rolls around, we are deeply invested in her performance because she has taken us through how hard she has worked to get there as well as all of her internal debates about the worth of her quest.
Those debates will cause you to rethink your own attitudes about fermented grape juice and what you want from the experience of drinking it. Even cork dorks like Bosker have days where they just want a glass of wine, rather than a lifechanging experience. Just like wine amateurs, they also wonder if there is any difference between a $40 bottle and a $300 one—or if the whole wine world is one long con.
The magic of Bosker’s book is in all of those little details she reports on. That little bit of sadness you feel about not being at a booth in NYC’s Terroir talking to Bosker about which wine will deliver maximum yumminess right now is nothing compared to the joy this book brings.
Adrienne Martini writes about running, eating and local politics at martinimade.com.