When we’re not wining or dining (or chasing our three-year-old), chances are we’re reading – and often, the subject is food or wine. We both recently devoured Cork Dork, a newly-published account of author Bianca Bosker’s 18-month-long transformation from wine novice to certified sommelier candidate (no spoilers – read the book to see if she passes!). Bosker gives up her desk job as a tech editor to pursue her new obsession, a journey which leads her into varied corners of the wine world – from elite New York City sommelier tasting groups and restaurants to mass-market California wineries to neuroscience studies on the brain’s receptivity to taste – in an attempt to discern and articulate what makes a great wine.
Bosker’s balance between enthusiasm and skepticism is what anchors Cork Dork and makes it such an enjoyable yet informative read. Is all that wine-speak (you know, “this wine is redolent of pencil shavings, bruised red apples and garden hose”) just highfalutin nonsense? Bosker acknowledges that yes, some of it is. But sommeliers’ tasting notes are more than just pretentious party tricks – they’re grounded in both chemistry and psychology, which Bosker covers without getting too bogged down in the science. It turns out that smell, our most neglected sense, is key to wine tasting, and the master sommeliers she studies with train with the rigor of professional athletes to be able to blind taste a wine and identify its grape, region, vintage and even producer. (Some of them lick rocks and smell garbage to refine their sense of smell and refuse to brush their teeth before tastings to avoid messing up their palates – that’s dedication.)
Cork Dork also explores the economic side of wine, from the difference between a $50 bottle and a $500 bottle (often scarcity rather than quality) to the art of the upsell (or occasional downsell) by restaurant sommeliers. And lest we forget that at the end of the day, wine is meant to be enjoyed, Bosker vividly conveys the pure pleasure (or insanity) wine can bring. Why is it that the “amazing” bottle you drank on the beach at sunset will never taste as good anywhere or anytime else (the $2-per-bottle Mexican sparkling wine we LOVED on our first kid-free vacation comes to mind!)? And what’s it like to spend an evening at La Paulée, an absolutely insane-sounding bacchanal dedicated to drinking massive quantities of even-more-massively expensive Burgundies? Cork Dork will tell you.
“It just makes me happy, you know? You go somewhere, and you sit at the bar, and you eat good food, and you drink, and then you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m lucky to be alive and to be me.'”
– Darnelle, a waitress at a high-end NYC restaurant, summing up the magic of a good meal and glass of wine in Cork Dork
As its very long subtitle states, Cork Dork is “A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught [Bosker] to Live for Taste,” but its message resonates much more broadly: take the time to stop and smell the roses (literally), go all in when it matters, and, at the end of the day, trust your senses. We’ll drink to that.