Cork Dork – book review

Cork Dork – a wine-fuelled journey into the art of sommeliers and the science of taste, by Bianca Bosker. I bought my copy recently online for around £6.50 including postage.

A friend once told me that the best accounts of life in a foreign country were by those who had either recently moved there, or who had lived there a long time. Cork Dork has the advantage of being written after only a year or so of the author throwing herself into the foreign deep-end of wine-geekery. The experience is still very fresh, and its portrayal insightful, clear, vivid and lively.

I found this book enjoyable at two levels. It works well as a personal story of Bianca’s entanglement in the world of high-flying New York sommeliers – a story in which she starts by observing only, but eventually goes native, takes her Certified Sommelier exam, and ultimately works as a sommelier. On this journey she also gains access to La Paulée de New York, and interviews academics and scientists.

But I also liked the other level – where Bianca takes a reflective and sceptical look at wine expertise with its associated rituals and characters. The reflections are perceptive and accurate, and the scepticism is never heavy-handed and often understated. Indeed sometimes is not stated at all, but the mere recounting of a personal experience occasionally seems to function as a questioning comment on her new world of wine. I share all of her scepticism, and have written about it here many times, but this never descends into calling bullshit on wine expertise – neither my scepticism I hope, nor Bianca’s. I think we both agree that what we are looking at are human responses to a subject that is both intriguing and complex – and this is perhaps the main reason I think wine is such a fascinating subject.

Finally, an observation that the wine world entered by Bianca lies at the geekiest extreme of the spectrum. I know a lot of wine people, but very few of them are at all like her New York sommelier friends and colleagues. We did in the book get a small insight into an out-of-town sommelier desperate to pass her Certified Sommelier exam so she could better support her family, but she was I think the sole example of a more normal wine professional. Also, there are many amateur wine enthusiasts I know who do not indulge, or would even want to,  indulge, in exclusive Paulée debauchery. Neither do we aspire to be PXs (customers worthy of buttering-up and up-selling) at Michelin-starred restaurants. We are not all like that – honest. To that extent, there remain many alternative, more attainable, wine worlds worthy of exploration by anyone wanting to stick their toe in the wine water.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

2 thoughts on “Cork Dork – book review”

  1. That is interesting as it has become a bit of a Marmite book, I purchased it last year on the strength of the reviews but have admit by halfway the continual repetion of what sommeliers go through and the intense over the top studying and tasting lost me and in the end I didn’t care
    Yes it is interesting to a degree, yet I felt I read it all by halfway, as with wine itself subjective.

  2. Thanks for the comment, John. As you say, we will all have different reactions to a book. I felt the film “Somm” got tedious in the way you describe, but found “Cork Dork” a lot more interesting and nuanced. So I would definitely recommend you avoid Somm 🙂

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