Book Review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Something you may not know about me is, that in 2017, I completed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) Level 1 Foundation course. I semi-recently have discovered a love for wine via translation actually. While I was earning my Master’s in Translation, I met Maddy, who had done her undergraduate in wine and spirits. I was stunned this was even an option for her. Could you imagine being 18 and having that option? She told me stories about how she was sent to Spain and France to discuss wine contracts with vineyards and distributors. Speaking French, this seemed like a whole new avenue I should explore as a translator. I signed up for the class more interested in learning about wine for those personal monetary reasons, as opposed to a real, identified passion for it. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve explored the wine industry, I feel like I’m slowly discovering a new love interest. I find it keeps me connected with my French in a new, fun way, as well. But as I dive deeper into all things wine, one book keep getting mentioned constantly- Bianca Bosker’s Cork Dork:  A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste.

I had ordered this on Amazon a while back and admittedly, the book sat on my “soon-to read” pile for quite some time. But I picked it up on my trip to Orlando and continued on with it on my flight to California. I flew through the first 100 pages on my first flight over Thanksgiving. I was remembering why I had been so intrigued by wine after falling out of practice for so long.

As I continued reading, I decided I wanted to make an effort to get back into reading more. I used to be a voracious reader when I was younger but life tends to get in the way as you grow older. But as I was reading Cork Dork, I was remembering why I loved being able to fully escape into a whole new world and learn new things just via a book. I was remembering all the things I learned in my class, and even learning new tid-bits about wine I had never thought about before.

I thought the book did get a little dry and technical at points. If you slough through it, there is a payoff. Bosker makes an effort to reach out to scientists to learn more about the science of taste and smell and what goes on in our brains when we taste wine. A lot of that was fairly rough reading to me. As I mentioned, I flew through the first 100 hundred pages, and then debated quitting the book when I hit the big, technical middle portion. This may be why it took me so long to get through it – I just was uninterested for a bit. But the conclusions drawn after this portion are pretty interesting. Bosker talks about how many of us are actually “nose blind” and have difficulties distinguishing a wide range of scents. She also talks about the lack of science behind the senses of taste and smell and why that is. She talks about the differences between what happens in a sommolier’s brain and a normal person’s brain when they sip wine.

I thought her chapter on mass-produced wine was actually the most interesting. After dipping my toes into the wine scene, I felt like I could never be caught dead picking up a bottle of Yellow Tail or a box of Franzia. She takes a trip to Napa Valley to learn more about all the additives that can go into wine to help winemakers essentially manipulate every aspect of wine. She also goes to see some of the mass marketing research that goes into producing those wines. I thought she had some keen insights on these wines and actually made me change perspective in this regard. Towards the end of her book she likens these wines to “a fast-food journey” and that actually seems incredibly appropriate. She also talks about wine needing to be correct for the moment. A big $100 bottle of wine wouldn’t be suitable for a beach bonfire, really. Under the guise that there’s a time and a place for everything, sometimes a bottle of Yellow Tail is appropriate.

There are two key points I took away from Cork Dork– wine is a personal journey and it is important to be completely in the moment to appreciate that journey. Each wine will taste different to each individual person and the first sip won’t even taste like the last sip. Each wine tells a story and helps you connect to a new part of the world and learn new things about the culture. I remember experiencing this as I had Georgian wine in New York City- fermented in clay cisterns instead of the stereotypical oak barrels. However, to fully appreciate the taste you need to be present in the moment and appreciate all the smells and tastes coming together. A love for wine can be entirely personal – and I think that is the most beautiful part about it.