Book Review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Title: Cork Dork
Author: Bianca Bosker
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback: 352 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Like many of us, tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced down to the exact location, within acres. Where she tasted wine, these people detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a cork dork.

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California winery that manipulates the flavor of its bottles with ingredients like Mega Purple, and even a neuroscientist s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what s the big deal about wine? Funny, counterintuitive, and compulsively readable, Cork Dork illuminates not only the complex web of wine production and consumption, but how tasting better can change our brains and help us live better.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Andrew and I started learning more about wine when we first read The Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber. Once we started earning money from having jobs (rather than being rather poor full-time students), wine became a favorite drink of ours to start off and end our weekends. We were fascinated with the history of winemaking and the culture that surrounds it. We’ve lately taken our drinking a step further and joined a wine club where we very rarely drink the same bottle twice — we love trying new wines, seeing what they pair with, and comparing them to other wines we’ve had. So, when I saw Cork Dork available on Netgalley, it seemed like the perfect fit.

Bosker’s experience as a journalist shines through her ability to bring the reader exactly where she is and fully delve into the context of the situation. She not only covers the basics of what it means to be a sommelier, but explains at length the science behind tasting and smelling, ways to improve those senses, the aspects of serving wine in fine-dining restaurants, the sommelier exams, the tastings, etc. Everything is explained in detail and I both learned a lot and was thoroughly entertained. She goes through these experiences while also describing the people she meets along the way, their lifestyle and interests, and how they came to be a part of the community they’re involved in.

My favorite part of this book, however, is how much I learned about wine. Bosker offers great tips for ordering wine at restaurants (ASK THE SOMMELIER!), and also shares what she learns about improving your taste and smell capabilities. I admit, I’m also incredibly interested in the subject itself, so I’m a bit biased, but I totally bought in to a lot of the things she offered as advice. I told my husband that the book explains that we’re not often explicitly taught how to identify smells the way we can identify color and sights, so Bosker recommends smelling different things over and over again so that you develop a memory for it — and now we both are working on improving our sense of smell by smelling spices and foods and trying to imprint them on our memories. And you know what — being more conscious of smells and tastes truly does heighten the experience of drinking a beverage or eating a food. Who knew?

Despite the fact that this book holds A LOT of information about wine and dining, it’s still a fun, entertaining read. It’s part memoir, part informational book, interweaving it all together so that it flows as a cohesive story. Bosker makes it super easy to get into — she starts with the basics and builds her way up. It’s great that she started as a person who knew almost nothing about this subject before starting, because she’s able to reach out to people who know basically nothing themselves. I admit, I didn’t know much about wine before this besides the fact that it’s grown in different places and can be paired with meals and is sometimes fruity or earthy. Now, I feel like I have such a better handle on the idea of wine and food pairings, and how wine is made and served, etc. And I was able to laugh and enjoy a good story while learning more about it. It’s really the perfect book.

If you’re at all interested in wine or even just the history and community surrounding wine, I would highly recommend this book. It’s one of my favorite non-fictions I’ve read in a while, and I will most definitely buying copies of this to gift it to friends and family. So worth it!

ANDREW

As Alyssa mentions above, when she was reading this book she would constantly be telling me tidbits about what she was reading.  Every single time should tell me something I would find it fascinating and it finally got to a point where I decided I was done hearing the information secondhand and wanted to just read it for myself.  So I wished for the book on Netgalley and was ecstatic when they granted my wish!

If this gets repetitive, I apologize.  First of all it can not be stated enough just how much interesting information there is about wine and, probably more accurately, wine culture in this book.  As someone with an interest in wine, but not really with the budget to fully dive in, it was interesting learning about it and almost vicariously experiencing being a wine expert big wig.  However, maybe what I most appreciated about the book was Bosker’s ability to look at all sides of the culture.  She openly admits to loving some of the more opulent experiences she had and at times seeing how sommeliers see their job as a vocation, yet she also has moments of returning to what seems to be the initial starting point of this project that the culture is bullshit.  However, the reasons why she thinks this greatly evolve over time and give an interesting glimpse into the culture that I have not seen, since most portrayals either only sing its virtues from the rooftops or think the whole thing is a sham without adding any nuance.

I think maybe the most intriguing element of this book though is less about the wine and more about the people she meets along the way.  Almost every single person featured in this book is fascinating and wonderfully brought to life through Bosker’s writing.  In reading, you feel like you get to know these people and their incredibly multifaceted reasons for getting involved in various parts of the wine industry.  It’s what I think would make this book super compelling, even to someone who is not super into wine.

I would absolutely recommend this book.  I plan to buy it myself when it comes out to have a copy in the house to show to family and friends.  I love nonfiction and this is one of the best nonfiction books I have read in a while.  Do yourself a favor and read it!

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