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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS' TOP BOOKS OF 2017
Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Fortune, Smithsonian, Bustle, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Booklist, and more
“Thrilling . . . [told] with gonzo élan . . . When the sommelier and blogger Madeline Puckette writes that this book is the Kitchen Confidential of the wine world, she’s not wrong, though Bill Buford’s Heat is probably a shade closer.” —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
Professional journalist and amateur drinker Bianca Bosker didn’t know much about wine—until she discovered an alternate universe where taste reigns supreme, a world of elite sommeliers who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of flavor. Astounded by their fervor and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, she set out to uncover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a “cork dork.”
With boundless curiosity, humor, and a healthy dose of skepticism, Bosker takes the reader inside underground tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, California mass-market wine factories, and even a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine as she attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what’s the big deal about wine? What she learns will change the way you drink wine—and, perhaps, the way you live—forever.
“Think: Eat, Pray, Love meets Somm.” —theSkimm
“As informative as it is, well, intoxicating.” —Fortune
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Blind Tasting
Perfume was the first to go, but I’d been expecting that. Scented detergent followed, then dryer sheets. I wasn’t sorry to give up raw onions or hot sauce. Not adding extra salt was rough at first, tolerable for a bit, then miserable. When I went out to eat, everything tasted like it had been doused in brine. Losing Listerine wasn’t so bad; replacing it with a rinse of citric-acid solution and watered-down whiskey was. I went through a dark phase when I cut out coffee. But by that point, I was used to being a little slow in the morning. Daytime sobriety was ancient history, along with all hot liquids, the enamel on my teeth, and my Advil supply.
All this was part of the deprivation routine I cobbled together at the advice of more than two dozen sommeliers, who, over the course of a year and a half, became my mentors, tormentors, drill sergeants, bosses, and friends.
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. They enter high-stakes wine competitions (sometimes while nine months pregnant), handle millions of dollars in liquid gold, and make it their mission to convince the world that beauty in flavor belongs on the same aesthetic plane as beauty in art or music. They study weather reports to see if rain will dull their noses, and lick rocks to improve their taste buds. Toothpaste is a liability. They complain about that “new glass” smell, and sacrifice marriages in the name of palate practice. One sommelier, whose wife divorced him over his compulsive studying, told me, “Certainly, if I had to choose between passing my exam and that relationship that I had, I would still choose passing my exam.” Their job depends on detecting, analyzing, describing, and accounting for variations of flavor in a liquid that’s compound-for-compound the most complicated drink on the planet. “There’s hundreds and hundreds of volatiles. There’s polysaccharides. There’s proteins. Amino acids. Biogenic amines. Organic acids. Vitamins. Carotenoids,” an enology professor explained to me. “After blood, wine is the most complex matrix there is.”
With that obsessive focus on minute differences in flavor comes—actually, I wasn’t sure what, exactly. At least, not when I started. I came to these sommeliers wanting to know what life was like for them, out at the extremes of taste, and how they’d gotten there. It turned into a question of whether I could get there too—if any of us could—and what would change if I did.
Some words of warning:
For you, a glass of wine might be your happy place. The thing you reach for at the end of a long day, when you switch off a part of your brain. If you want to keep it that way, then stay far, far away from the individuals in this book.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss is about wine, whether there’s really a discernible difference between a $20 and $200 bottle, or what would happen if you pushed your senses to their limits—well then, I have some people I’d like you to meet.
Spend enough time in the wine world, and you’ll find every connoisseur has a story about the bottle that launched their obsession with wine. Usually, their Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment arrives via, say, a 1961 Giacomo Conterno Barolo sipped in a little restaurant in Piedmont, Italy, overlooking the Langhe hills, the beech trees swaying as a gentle fog curls up from the valley floor. It’s something of a formula: Europe + natural splendor + rare wine = moment of enlightenment.
My wine epiphany came slightly differently: at a computer screen. And I wasn’t even drinking—I was watching others do it.
At the time, I was a technology reporter covering the Googles and Snapchats of the world for an online-only news site, and I was doing most things via screens. I’d spent half a decade on the tech beat, writing virtual articles about virtual things in virtual universes that couldn’t be tasted, felt, touched, or smelled. To me, “immersive” meant websites with really big digital photos, and the words “it smells” could only ever refer to a problem—BO, a coworker’s lunch, spoiled milk in the office fridge. I once made someone do a story titled “How to Take a Vacation on Google Street View,” as if scrolling through blurry photos of Hawaii’s Waikoloa Village could be a reasonable substitute for lounging around with a Mai Tai in the late afternoon sun.
One Sunday evening, my then-boyfriend-now-husband dragged me to a restaurant on the lower rim of Central Park. It was the type of place that prides itself on applying to food what J. P. Morgan purportedly said about yachts: If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. I would usually have steered clear of this place for fear of bankruptcy—financial and possibly spiritual—but we were going to meet his client Dave. And Dave liked wine.
I liked wine the same way I liked Tibetan hand puppetry or theoretical particle physics, which is to say I had no idea what was going on but was content to smile and nod. It seemed like one of those things that took way more effort than it was worth to understand. Dave collected old wines from Bordeaux. I’d go so far as to say I generally preferred wines from a bottle, but I certainly wouldn’t have turned up my nose at something boxed.
We’d barely taken our seats when the sommelier came over. Naturally, he was an old friend of Dave’s. After offering a few platitudes about a “good year” and “elegant nose,” he disappeared to fetch us a bottle, then returned to pour Dave a taste. “It’s drinking really well right now,” murmured the sommelier, employing the sort of nonsense phrase that’s only credible to people who use “summer” as a verb. The wine, as far as I could tell, was not doing anything so much as “sitting” in the glass.
As the two men oohed and aahed over exquisite aromas of shaved graphite and tar, I began to tune them out. But then the sommelier mentioned he was preparing for the World’s Best Sommelier Competition.
At first, the idea seemed ridiculous. How could serving wine possibly be a competitive sport? Open, pour, and you’re done. Right?
The sommelier quickly ran through the contest’s main events. Most difficult and nerve-wracking of all was the blind tasting, which required him to identify the complete pedigree of some half dozen wines: the year each was made, from what species of grapes, in what small corner of the planet (think vineyard, not country), plus how long it could be aged, what to eat with it, and why.
Truth be told, it sounded like the least fun anyone’s ever had with alcohol. But I love a competition, the less athletic and more gluttonous the better, so when I got home that night, I did some digging to see what this sommelier face-off was all about.
I became obsessed. I lost entire afternoons glued to my laptop watching videos of competitors uncorking, decanting, sniffing, and spitting in their quest for the title of World’s Best Sommelier. It was like the Westminster Dog Show, with booze: In one event after another, well-groomed specimens with coiffured hair and buffed nails duked it out at a pursuit where success came down to inscrutable minutiae, a grim-faced panel of judges, and the grace with which candidates walked in a circle. (Sommeliers should turn clockwise, only, around a table.) The hopefuls chose their words as if being charged by the syllable and scrutinized their guests (not customers—“guests”) for precious hints about their moods, budgets, and tastes. Seeing a desperate bid for control in the faint quiver of a hand pouring at an awkward angle, I sensed their craft was governed by stringent rules that I couldn’t guess, let alone appreciate. But it was clear they were not to be broken: Véronique Rivest, the first woman ever to make it to the competition’s final round, beat her fists when she forgot to offer her guests coffee or cigars. “Merde, merde, MERDE!” she moaned. “Shit, shit, SHIT!” There was no trace of irony. It was riveting.
I found out later that one contestant had taken dancing lessons to perfect his elegant walk across the floor. Another hired a speech coach to help him modulate his voice into a velvety baritone, plus a memory expert to strengthen his recall of vineyard names. Others consulted sports psychologists to learn how to stay cool under pressure.
If service was an art, the blind tasting looked downright magical. In one video, Véronique glided onstage, camera shutters clicking in the background, and approached a table lined with four glasses, each filled with a few ounces of wine. She reached for a white, and stuck her nose deep into the glass. I held my breath and leaned into my screen. She had just 180 seconds to zero in on the precise aromas and flavors that defined the wine, then correctly deduce what she was drinking. There are more than fifty different countries that produce wine; nearly 200 years of drinkable wines; more than 340 distinct wine appellations in France alone; and more than 5,000 types of grapes that can be blended in a virtually infinite number of ways. So, if you do the math—multiply, add, carry the three—you get approximately a bazillion different combinations. She was undaunted, and rattled off the profile of a 2011 Chenin Blanc from Maharashtra, India, with the ease of someone giving directions to her house.
I was captivated by these people who had honed the kind of sensory acuity I’d thus far assumed belonged exclusively to bomb-sniffing German shepherds. I felt like these sommeliers and I existed at opposite extremes: While my life was one of sensory deprivation, theirs was one of sensory cultivation. They made me wonder what I might be missing. Sitting in front of my computer screen, watching videos of people sniffing wine on repeat, I resolved to find out what that was.
I am a journalist by training and a type-A neurotic by birth, so I started my research the only way I knew how: I read everything I could get my hands on, carpet-bombed sommeliers’ in-boxes, and showed up places uninvited, just to see who I’d meet.
My first night out with a herd of New York City sommeliers did not end well. I kicked things off by crashing a blind tasting competition at a distributor’s office, where I sipped a few glasses along with the judges, tasted a dozen or so wines in celebration of the winner, trailed everyone to a hotel bar for another round, then skipped dinner in favor of a bottle of Champagne that a thirsty sommelier insisted I split with him. Next, I stumbled home and immediately threw up.
Early the next morning, while I was Googling “hangover cure” with one eye open, I received a text message from the guy who’d ordered the bubbly the night before. It was a photo of six wines lined up in front of him. He was tasting. Again.
Lesson one: These people are relentless.
This all-hours fervor was a far cry from what I’d found when I went digging through books and magazines for clues about how I could follow in footsteps of someone like Véronique. The literature makes a life in wine seem utterly sybaritic: A lot of fancy men (because it’s traditionally been men) drinking fancy bottles in fancy places. A hard day’s work was choking down a bottle of Bordeaux less than a decade old. “Casting a backward glance at my first trip to the Loire, I see a younger man who supported discomforts that sound torturous today,” writes wine importer Kermit Lynch in his memoir, Adventures on the Wine Route. What were these torturous discomforts he endured? He “flew from San Francisco to New York, changed planes, landed in Paris, rented a car, and drove to the Loire.” Quelle horreur!
But as I spent more time with sommeliers—eventually drinking at late hours in their apartments and being schooled in the art of spitting—I grew fascinated by a subculture I didn’t see reflected in anything I’d read about wine. For a field that’s ostensibly all about pleasure, the current generation of sommeliers, or “somms,” puts themselves through an astonishing amount of pain. They work long hours on their feet late into the night, wake up early to cram facts from wine encyclopedias, rehearse decanting in the afternoons, devote days off to competitions, and dedicate the few remaining minutes to sleep—or, more likely, to mooning over a rare bottle of Riesling. It is, in the words of one sommelier, “like some blood sport with corkscrews.” Another called what they feel for wine a “sickness.” They were the most masochistic hedonists I’d ever met.
Nothing I watched or read captured all the idiosyncrasies of the trade. Many decades ago, sommeliers were often failed chefs. They were booted from kitchens, then conscripted to a job they performed with all the charm of the beasts of burden for which they’re named. (The word “sommelier” comes from sommier, Middle French for packhorse.) They had a reputation for stalking the floors of stuffy French restaurants wearing dark suits and scowls, like judgy undertakers. But the latest up-and-coming somms have left fancy schools to eagerly pursue what they consider a calling. They are, like me, in their late twenties, childless, worried about rent, and still trying to convince their parents they haven’t ruined their lives by not going to law school. Armed with master’s degrees in philosophy or Stanford engineering degrees, these self-proclaimed “white-collar refugees” espouse lofty theories about service and ambitious ideas about wine’s potential to move the soul. And they’ve brought both youth and XX chromosomes to an industry that’s long resembled a good-ol’-boys fraternity.
Initially, my interest was largely journalistic. All my life, I’ve been obsessed with other people’s obsessions. I’ve never stood in line for hours to scream my head off at a teenage heartthrob or decided to “date” a character in a video game, but I’ve spent years writing about—and trying to figure out—the sort of people who do. So naturally, the somms’ passion instantly sucked me in. I became fixated on understanding what drove them. Why were they consumed by wine? And how had this “sickness” upended their lives?
Yet as I dug deeper into their world, something unexpected happened: I started to feel uncomfortable. Not with the sommeliers—who, aside from a tendency to overserve me, were perfectly charming—but with my own attitude and assumptions. The truth is, the strongest emotion I’d ever felt for wine was something like shame-infused guilt. More than any other edible thing on this planet, wine is celebrated as part and parcel of a civilized life. Robert Louis Stevenson called wine “bottled poetry,” and Benjamin Franklin declared it “constant proof that God loves us”—things no one’s ever said about, say, lamb chops or lasagna, delicious as they might be. The somms spoke of bottles that sent their spirits soaring like a Rachmaninoff symphony. “They make you feel small,” one gushed. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, and frankly, it sounded farfetched. Were they full of shit, or was I somehow deficient in my ability to appreciate one of life’s ultimate pleasures? I wanted to know what these oenophiles meant, and why otherwise rational people devote mind-boggling amounts of money and time to chasing down a few ephemeral seconds of flavor. To put it more bluntly, I wanted to know: What’s the big deal about wine?
When I drank a glass of wine, it was as if my taste buds were firing off a message written in code. My brain could only decipher a few words. “Blahblahblahblah wine! You’re drinking wine!”
But to connoisseurs, that garbled message can be a story about the iconoclast in Tuscany who said Vaffanculo! to Italy’s wine rules and planted French Cabernet Sauvignon vines, or the madman vintner who dodged shell fire and tanks to make vintage after vintage all through Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war. That same mouthful can tell a tale about a nation’s evolving laws, or the lazy cellar dweller who botched his task of cleaning the winery’s barrels. These drinkers’ senses offer them access to a fuller world, where histories, aspirations, and ecosystems emerge from tastes and smells.
My obliviousness to such nuances started to drive me crazy. Now as I listened to my friends swear off Starbucks for $4 cold-brew coffee or rave about single-origin chocolate bars, I began to notice a paradox in our foodie culture. We obsess over finding or making food and drink that tastes better—planning travel itineraries, splurging on tasting menus, buying exotic ingredients, lusting after the freshest produce. Yet we do nothing to teach ourselves to be better tasters. “We are as a nation taste-blind,” wrote M. F. K. Fisher, a criticism that, from everything I’d observed, remains as true today as it was in 1937.
A more personal and profound concern quickly overshadowed my journalistic curiosity. I’d lately had flashes of frustration with my tech-centric existence, the textures of stories and life all flattened by the glossy sameness of screens. The more I learned, the more confined and incomplete my own tiny corner of experience appeared. Merely writing about the sommeliers suddenly seemed inadequate. What I wanted, instead, was to become like them.
I began to ask myself: What would it take for me to uncover the same things in wine that they did? Did these pros get where they are through practice alone? Or were they genetically blessed mutants born with an innate sensitivity to smell?
I’d always assumed that super sensers were born, not made, the way Novak Djokovic is genetically endowed with the wingspan to crush all comers. Turns out, that’s no excuse. As I began supplementing my YouTube binges with a healthy diet of scientific studies, I found that training our noses and tongues depends first and foremost on training our brains.
Only, most of us haven’t bothered to do so. Biased by thinkers like Plato who dismissed taste and smell as the “minor” faculties, most of us don’t know the basic truths about these two senses (which we actually have a tendency to confuse with each other). We mix up where we register different tastes (hint: not only in your mouth). We’re not even sure how many tastes there are (almost certainly more than the five you’ve heard of). And we’re convinced that humans evolved to be the animal kingdom’s worst smellers (even though recent research suggests that’s a myth). In essence, we all but ignore two of the five senses that we’ve been given to take in and interpret the world.
I was impatient to make a change and discover what I was neglecting, both in wine and in life. The somms I met described how their training had helped them do everything from find fresh pleasure in their everyday routines, to staying true to sensory perception, fending off interference from extraneous noise about price or brand. It seemed possible for any of us to relish richer experiences by tuning into the sensory information we overlook. And I was thirsty to give it a go.
This book traces the year I spent among flavor freaks, sensory scientists, big-bottle hunters, smell masterminds, tipsy hedonists, rule-breaking winemakers, and the world’s most ambitious sommeliers. It is not a wine buyer’s guide, or a credulous celebration of all wine-drinking traditions. In fact, it explores the ways in which the industry is—in the words of one Princeton University wine economist—“intrinsically bullshit-prone.” But clear aside the bullshit, and what remains are insights that have relevance far outside the realm of food and drink.
Less a journey from grape to glass (though there will be glimpses at how wine is made), this is an adventure from glass to gullet—into the wild world of wine obsession and appreciation in all its forms and with all its flaws. It’s an investigation of how we relate to a 7,000-year-old liquid that has charmed Egyptian monarchs, destitute farmers, Russian tsars, Wall Street moguls, suburban parents, and Chinese college kids. Prepare to go behind the scenes in Michelin-star dining rooms, into orgiastic bacchanals for the 0.1 percent, back in time to the first restaurants, and into fMRI machines and research labs. Along the way, you’ll meet the madman who hazed me, the cork dork who coached me, the Burgundy collector who tried to seduce me, and the scientist who studied me.
The relationship between taste and appreciating life runs through our language. We say variety is the “spice” of life. In Spanish, the verb gustar—to like or to please—comes from the Latin gustare, meaning “to taste,” the same root for our English word “gustatory”—concerned with tasting. So, in Spanish, when you say that you like something—clothes, democracy, artwork, can openers—you are, in an ancient sense, saying that it tastes good to you. In English, when we apply ourselves with passion and enthusiasm, we say we’ve done something with “gusto,” which stems from the same Latin root. A person who likes the right things is said to have good taste—no matter if those things, like music, cannot be tasted at all.
Taste is not just our default metaphor for savoring life. It is so firmly embedded in the structure of our thought that it has ceased to be a metaphor at all. For the sommeliers, sensory scholars, winemakers, connoisseurs, and collectors I met, to taste better is to live better, and to know ourselves more deeply. And I saw that tasting better had to begin with the most complex edible of all: wine.
Excerpted from "Cork Dork"
Copyright © 2017 Bianca Bosker.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Blind Tasting 9
Chapter 1 The Rat 29
Chapter 2 The Secret Society 75
Chapter 3 The Showdown 123
Chapter 4 The Brains 163
Chapter 5 The Magic Kingdom 213
Chapter 6 The Orgy 258
Chapter 7 The Quality Control 307
Chapter 8 The Ten Commandments 356
Chapter 9 The Performance 397
Chapter 10 The Trial 437
Chapter 11 The Floor 481
Epilogue: The Blindest Tasting 518
Selected Bibliography 545
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not only is this a fun read, but I learned more than a few things. I love wine. I could never be a Somme. Now I know exactly why...on both counts. Great read.
I love wine and trying new wines, but I would never want to prepare for the sommelier exam. The book was funny, enlightening and super enjoyable.
Bianca Bosker takes a year and a half sabbatical from journalism and embarks upon her personal quest and journey to become a sommelier. Ms. Bosker begins her story by sharing the first leg of her journey: a deprivation routine. Gone were her days of scented detergents and dryer sheets. While raw onions and hot sauce weren’t much of a sacrifice, there was a bit of a struggle with adding salt and her ‘dark phase’ when coffee was eliminated from her list of delectable common creature comforts. All this came at the behest of sourcing more than two dozen sommeliers and the inherent importance of cleansing the palate to virgin status. Ms. Bosker hangs up her journalism career to dive into the world of sommeliers with the notion most were nothing more than a ‘...bunch of pinstripe-wearing bottle pushers...’ Her feat had more than arms and legs and the challenge of perfecting the quintessential observation of the most coveted bottle of spirits was perhaps a higher mountain to climb than Ms. Bosker could have ever fathomed to have achieved. The book guides the reader through the evolution of what is necessary to become an accomplished sommelier. It begins logically with an overview of ‘The Blind Tasting’; transitions to ‘Secret Societies’ and ultimately completes its full circle. ‘The Blind Tasting’ is the end of the road of relentless palate training and brain demanding knowledge coupled with chiseled and fine-tuned olfactory perfection. I embarked upon this read because, as a writer, my personal draw to most books is the title and cover. Cork Dork is the perfect title for Ms. Bosker’s book because it is certainly a body of work that can appeal to the many ‘wine aficionados’ among us today. Ms. Bosker’s journalistic talents speak volumes throughout this book as she has methodically laid the story out in logical and progressive fashion. She blends personal experience through her education of the ‘how to become’ nicely with historical and clinical facts toward the different regions of wine and the history of how they became what they are today. She sprinkles anecdotal humor toward her naivete as much as she stands her ground when it comes to her opinion. However, there is a theme throughout her book that was somewhat tedious for me. There is a bit too much pontification in certain chapters that could have been shortened somewhat (and still could have delivered a solid point, i.e., the chapter titled “The Orgy” was a bit over the top). Overall, I found this book to be entertaining and a solid personal affirmation that I have much to learn about the art of tasting that transcends far beyond the cute label and the color of the liquid inside the bottle. Thank you for such an informative read, Ms. Bosker. Quill says: Cork Dork is an in-depth account of a former award-winning journalist’s adventure into the world of the art of adventuring down the road of becoming a sommelier.
About: Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste is a memoir written by Bianca Bosker. It was recently published on 3/28/17 by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, paperback, 352 pages. The genres are non-fiction, food, memoir, wine, and science. This book is intended for readers ages 18 and up, grades 13 and up. My Experience: I started reading Cork Dork on 3/31/17 and finished it on 4/18/17. Wine amazes me even more after reading this book. This book offers me more than I bargained for. There are abundant of info on wine and those wine experts known as Sommeliers and they must be geniuses in order to know it all. The blind tasting is beyond words! They must have some amazing taste buds! At a blind tasting, your expected answer goes something like “This is a Merlot-dominant blend from the right bank of Bordeaux from the village of Saint-Emilion in the 2010 vintage of Grand Cru Classe quality.” p.75 Who can do this if not geniuses? There are competitions too where the competitors will compete in this blind tasting on 6 different wines and it’s timed! In this book, readers will follow Bianca Bosker, a journalist taking a year and a half journey to learn and live the life of wine. She starts at the bottom of the ladder as a Cellar Rat to learn the basics on wine and to get free tastings on variety of wines producers makes or restaurants purchases. From there on, she went on to meet other wine enthusiasts to learn in-depth about wine, such as taking an exam to become a Master Sommelier and joining a competition as a judge instead of a competitor to observe how it all unfold. Through her adventures, she unravels and demands entrance to secret meetings that obsessive sommeliers, big bottle hunters, and rogue scientists meet to obsess over wine. Studying for the exam is ridiculously difficult, 2200 flash cards and 116 crib sheet, but yours may be more. This book has it all. Bianca taught me how to perform blind tasting and the right way to enjoying a glass of wine. She taught me on the history of wine, the steps to become a Master Sommeliers, locations of vineyards, and much more. This book deserves multiple readings because it’s rich with information and experiences that reading once just becomes too overwhelming. The Don’ts on serving wine is enough to make me dizzy, let alone the history on the sense of smells. I like knowing the secrets on ordering by the glass at the restaurant to how amazing the Sommeliers are. They don’t just serve wine, they have the expertise, charm, calm, and overall knowledge of not just wine but what go with wine. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is interested to learn more about wine. It doesn’t hurt to gain extra knowledge. Pro: history of wines and sense of smells, steps to become a sommelier, types of wines, blind tasting, secret meetings, informative, humor, cover, step-by-step instructions, very well written, Con: not easy to read through the history bits I rate it 5 stars! ***Disclaimer: Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review. Please assured that my opinions are honest. xoxo, Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com
This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book. By Bill Marsano. Until recently, Bianca Bosker was a reasonably sane person. Then, all of a sudden she became obsessed with wine—not just drinking wine but knowing practically everything there is to know about it: how it’s made, where and by whom, how to serve it at a top-dollar restaurant, and yada-yada-yada. In fact, she decides to become a Certified Sommelier, which involves a series of terrifying exams administered by the pretentiously named Court of Master Sommeliers. These tests are so difficult that a) most candidates flunk them at least once and b) ALL candidates must pass qualifying exams to sit for the main exams. Bosker plunges in bravely and wittily; luckily, she has some contacts and is good at both making friends and talking very convincing B.S. Wow! Becoming a Certified Sommelier! Wearing the little lapel pin! Are you sure, as they say these days, “that you want to go there?” In Bosker’s telling it’s a pretty awful trip. She and her pals begins tasting wine at 10 in the morning and continue for most of the day, then go on to low-pay, long-hours jobs at restaurants—even the pals who already ARE sommeliers at some level. Then there are the costs: of the training, the tasting clubs, the study books, the exams (which often require travel to distant cities). Many a relationship has crumbled under the strain. (Bosker’s did not, even though she went so far off the deep end that she would review her flash cards while biking to work. Like the selfie-taker who fell off a bridge, she’s lucky she’s alive.) Bosker pulls no punches and keeps no secrets. You think wine is made from grapes and yeast? Wait till you see Bosker’s list of factory additives used to turn guck into acceptable plonk, or better. Think the sommelier is there to help? Well, maybe, but his real job is to “upsell” you to bottles that cost twice or thrice your budget. Think the bottom of the wine list is Bargain Central? Actually, those wines are marked up even more than top-dollar selections. Think wine-by-the-glass is a good deal? Only if you don’t mind that your 6-ounce serving costs at least as much as the full bottle at retail. A veteran writer-reporter on other subjects and a good one, Bosker is fair and even-handed. She makes a defense for sommeliers’ archaic rituals, but also wonder whether they’re not hopelessly out of step with the 21st Century. She explains how deeply the fanatical devotion to wine can change lives for the better but also makes clear that a Cork Dork becomes the kind of person only another Cork Dork would want to have dinner with, because very often wine that the Dorks call bad is wine that tastes good to an awful lot of non-Dorks. You might be reminded of the director Jim Jarmusch, who once worried that if his new film was a hit, it meant he’d done something wrong. Or novelist Jonathan Franzen, who snubbed Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I wonder why. –Bill Marsano is a James Beard award-winning writer on wine, spirits, food and travel.