By: Bianca Bosker
Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker is an extremely informative, yet funny book about Bosker leaving her job as a journalist to become a Certified Sommelier. Bosker takes us with her on this journey while she learns wine theory and history, learns how to blind taste all different kinds of wine, and learns how to serve wine as a sommelier.
The Certified Sommelier exam consists of three parts: Wine Theory, Blind Tasting, and Service. In preparation for this exam, Bosker made over 1,000 notecards to help her memorize and learn facts for wine theory, joined at least three blind tasting groups, and shadowed at least three sommeliers on the floor of high-end restaurants in New York City. Bosker had a mentor along the way named Morgan Harris. He is an extremely intelligent twentysomething with a passion for wine and satisfying his customers. Harris studied theatre in college but turned to wine when he wasn’t having much luck in the New York City theatre scene.
Early on in the book, Harris introduces Bosker to his blind tasting group, even though it is usually reserved for Master Sommelier candidates (the highest honor for sommeliers; only 149 sommeliers have passed this prestigious exam in the United States since 1973). When she started out in the first group, Bosker was shocked about how difficult blind tasting is. A blind tasting consists of the taster going through a grid that identifies color, fruit, non-fruit, structure, conclusion, and a sales pitch. Tasters must go through this grid and provide the exact wine they think they’ve just tasted. Certified Sommelier candidates taste one white and one red wine and their blind tasting test is written. Master Sommelier candidates must blind taste three whites and three reds and verbally go through the grid without the grid in front of them. To make this portion even more challenging (if that’s even possible), the tasters are on a strict time limit. Fortunately for Bosker, she would have the grid in front of her while she wrote out the factors of the wines.
Service is also much more difficult than one might think. To prepare for this portion of the test, Bosker had to shadow sommeliers in their element. She watched them stand up straight enough to have a confident posture but not so straight that they looked arrogant. She watched them rotate around the table clockwise while serving the ladies first and the host last. She watched them pour the wine with their palms facing the guest instead of showing the guest the backs of their hands. There are so many rules and rituals involved in service, thus making it one of the most difficult portions of the Certified Sommelier exam to pass. The judges of this portion don’t take it easy on the contestants either. The judges ask seemingly impossible questions and make ridiculous requests while the sommelier must remember to have the correct posture, walk the correct direction, and so on.
Bosker teaches the reader so much about wine in a great way. I found the book very entertaining and enlightening. No matter how entertaining it was, though, it’s definitely not a fast read. Wines are difficult to pronounce and difficult to read. There is such a large amount of information that it’s tiring to read a large portion of this book in one sitting.
If you read Cork Dork and still want to learn more about wine or the Court of Master Sommeliers (organization that runs the Certified and Master Sommelier exams), I would highly recommend a documentary on Netflix called “Somm.” Somm follows four young sommeliers in their preparation for the Master Sommelier exam. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on Cork Dork or “Somm,” or just about wine in general!