When I was a young, broke teaching assistant in France, my ex-pat aunt gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten: The cheapest item on any Parisian menu is an omelet. You can buy beautiful cheeses on a budget, just not by the kilo. Take a wine class so you know what you’re drinking. I bought the cheese, but skipped the wine class.
This is because the world of wine can seem awfully forbidding if you’re someone who, like me, is mildly afraid of foodies. If you love both stinky cheeses and Doritos, if given the choice between moelleux au chocolat and an Entenmann’s donut variety pack, you love all of your children equally, the world of fancy food and wine can seem like an exclusive club for the affluent and unfettered. And it seems representatives of this world don’t often do much to correct this assumption. But sommelier and author Bianca Bosker gets it, and her lack of snobbery makes her new book about the wine world, Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste, a refreshingly accessible and pleasant look into the parallel universe of wine production, serving, and appreciation.
A former Huffington Post technology editor, Bosker first landed on my radar with her recent New York Times op-ed about how it’s fine—and even fascinating—to drink cheap, mass-produced, artificially flavored wine. This pleasantly earthbound take on wine consumption—from a trained sommelier, no less!—extends to Bosker’s Instagram account, where, under the hashtag #pairdevil, she shares wine pairings for foods like Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese, hot dogs, and Nissin Cup Noodles. Message received: Have the unsophisticated palate of a five-year-old? There’s probably a wine for that.
In Cork Dork, Bosker documents her sommelier training and career shift away from the cold surfaces of tech journalism to a place among the hedonistic nerds of the wine industry. Cork Dork goes deep into the brain science of taste and smell, traces the history of sommeliers to cupbearers in the Bible, explains how to get the best wine for the lowest cost (go for the “unfamiliar and vaguely intimidating,” not your good friend Chardonnay, which will probably be marked up), and even takes time to critique the gender imbalance among sommeliers. It’s delightful and informative to see a subject as potentially stodgy as wine appreciation refracted through the perspective of someone young, female, and very smart.
Though Bosker does occasionally favor the too-generic metaphor, and some of the book’s transitional moments seem a little too neat, reading Cork Dork is probably the closest I’ll ever get to taking that wine class, and I came away from it knowing much more about wine than I did going in. At one point, discussing humans’ olfactory function, Bosker explains that Aristotle’s disdain for the human sense of smell demoted our modern opinion of it. Reading Cork Dork, I had another ancient philosopher in mind—Horace, who said that literature should “instruct and delight.” Bosker’s book does both.
by Bianca Bosker