As promised, I wanted to write a few words about a recent book that I read titled "Cork Dork" by the young author Bianca Bosker. Bosker is a NYC based journalist who decided to change careers and pursue her certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers to become a bona fide wine expert.
In the wine industry, this certification is notoriously difficult to achieve and is a real mark of accomplishment as it involves a battery of tests in which the candidate must identify wines in blind tastings and pass a comprehensive test on service etiquette as well as have fundamental knowledge of beer, spirits and mixed drinks.
Bosker began her journey as a true neophyte and in a relatively short time became a true wine expert through enthusiasm, determination and the tutelage of several industry experts in NYC who took her on as a personal project.
As someone who has been operating in the wine industry for five years and who has been a passionate hobby vintner, I enjoyed Bosker's lively and personal writing style that made her journey both fascinating and entertaining.
More importantly, I came away with a knowledge of some parts of the industry that I was not aware of, especially in how restaurants create and curate their wine lists and how important a sommelier can be to the bottom line of a restaurant in a competitive market like NYC.
Here are some highlights of what I learned from reading this book:
> NYC has a subculture for wine that is very tight knit but supportive in the quest to learn about wine and how it is made. Breaking into this circle involves getting a position in one of the restaurants that are known for having an extensive wine list. Many of these restaurants can be found near the financial district since these professionals have the money to spend after working hours on luxury products such as wine.
> The service element of the certification test is as important as having a working knowledge of the standard wines and where the wines are produced. For many candidates, the service portion of the test (done before a panel of master sommeliers) is the most stressful part of the test and where many often fail. Much like state bar exams for lawyers, it is not uncommon for candidates to take the test multiple times before they pass!
> Bosker takes a hard look at industrial practices that allow for the production of wines that can be sold at mass market outlets such as Trader Joe's for well under $10. These practices include the use of oak additives, color manipulation to add luster and marketability, and the influence of soft drinks to create wines that will appeal to large market segments at very cheap prices. While not the area of wine where she will make her career in wine, she does address it and makes some interesting observations of this dark underbelly of the industry. I wish she had addressed some of the labor issues related to the migrant work that makes these cheap wines possible.
> Bosker is equally hard on the other end of the spectrum - the so called experts who, (either self-appointed or designated by industry credentials), who use intimidation and snobbery to create an atmosphere that scares those new to wine and, by doing so, chases away consumers who want to learn about wine and who could eventually become intelligent and knowledgeable buyers of higher-end artisanal luxury wines.
> Along the same lines Bosker takes us into the world of luxury wines and wine collecting that only the upper 1% can afford. She writes about waiting on tables that spend $4,000 on the meal and $14,000 on the wine without blinking. Even she is taken aback with this sort of excess all the while wishing that she could be part of the dinner party!
All in all, this is a wonderful and entertaining read and would highly recommend the book for anyone that wants to glimpse into the world of luxury wine and follow the journey of a Joe Schmoe who becomes a Cork Dork!