My first thought when I picked up Bianca Bosker’s Cork Dork tale was oh boy, I was going to learn some new tricks here. Three hundred pages later I not only learned a cellar full of tricks but also felt a whole lot better about being a wine geek myself. Bosker’s cork dorkiness went way past mine because in one year to my ten she had risen from novice to passing the Certified Exam given by the Court of Master Sommeliers, one of if not the most respected sommelier certification programs available in the world.
As my wine 101 columns have covered some of what Bosker writes I will limit what I share to what may be new to readers, especially those interested in being a cork dork/sommelier:
- Share time with a wine mentor, someone with greater knowledge than your own, to learn from.
- Wait for that epiphany moment, Bosker’s was in watching a blind tasting and being taken aback in all that can be determined such as a new vs. old world wine, the varietal, vintage year and grape(s).
- If you are interested in Court know that there is no class – you are given a reading list of 11 books to study. Three of the 11 are wine encyclopedias. There are 17 steps alone that are needed to successfully pour a glass of wine…and 95% of people fail their first try at the exam.
- Developing a “sense memory” is something I’ve already done, but Bosker explains new ways to develop your senses beyond sniffing your spice rack or garden.
- Assign words and make associations to aromas to help you recall them.
- You will learn that viscosity comes from sugar, acidity produces saliva on the tongue, alcohol leaves a burn…and so on.
- You may need to adjust your habits for wine tasting. Brushing your teeth and drinking your coffee several hours before tasting wine is logical, but rinsing your mouth with a white wine may be less obvious.
- There is a long list of “don’ts” imposed by the Court. Those can be adjusted, logically, depending on the type of establishment you will be working for. Restaurants have their own rules.
- If you are interested in all things olfactory and the importance of detecting aroma, Bosker covers this at length, including scientific study. Olfactory training is just as important, if not more so, than detecting flavors. We read about the Aroma Wheel invented by Ann Noble, wine tasting that is taught in primary French schools, paying $800 for an olfactory seminar and putting a sample, say a pineapple spear, directly into a glass of white wine – all for the sake of wine education.
- Of course a sommelier has to be aware of wine prices. Not only because they may have never afforded the same wine they may find themselves trying to sell – and have to know everything about it anyway – but also to gauge the comfort zone of diners. (There seems to be a lot of “wine profiling” going on behind our backs when we go out to dinner!)
- If you can attend free events as a budding somm, or a writer, do it. This is training at its best. If you can get into a wine “orgy” like the La Paulee Burgundy fest that Bosker scores, you may see so much decadence – drinking rare and/or high dollar wines to excess while taking “wino selfies” – that you will gladly return to the freebie tastings that truly let you sit back, relax and educate your palate.
In conclusion, after her year Bosker submits to a type of MRI where she tastes wine via a tube – no color and no odor can be detected. Her MRI results, showing high levels of brain activity – were common to other sommeliers while the test group – the novices – were not as active. Read the book to see what this proves. But suffice it to say, I’m going to keep studying wine to try to get where Bosker and her colleagues are.
From Press Release
Amateur drinker and professional reporter Bianca Bosker didn’t know much about wine until she infiltrated a group of New York sommeliers who could, after a single sip, identify the grape a bottle was made from, the year, and where it was produced, within acres. Impressed by their sensory powers, she set out to discover what drove their obsession and whether she too could become a “cork dork.”
Her hedonistic journey, recounted in CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste (Penguin Paperback Original; March 28), takes readers inside Michelin-starred dining rooms, blind tasting groups, a mass market wine factory where flavor scientists reign, wine “orgies,” and Bianca’s brain (via an fMRI machine), answering: What’s the big deal about wine? Are palates born or made? Can tasting better lead to living better?
Bianca Bosker is an award-winning journalist who has written about food, wine, architecture, and technology for The New Yorker online, The Atlantic, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The New Republic. The former executive tech editor of The Huffington Post, she is also the author of Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China (University of Hawaii Press, 2013).
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.