Bianca Bosker, author of ‘Cork Dork’, joined us from NYC to discuss her New York Times bestselling book that's taking the US wine industry by storm. ‘Cork Dork’ is the story of her journey into the highly charged world of “obsessive sommeliers, big bottle hunters, and rogue scientists who taught me to live for taste”, as the title of the book describes.
Bianca’s foray into wine began only three years ago, when she heard about the World’s Best Sommelier Competition and was hooked. She left her job as a technology journalist for the Huffington Post to work her way up from cellar rat to Michelin-starred restaurant floors and sommelier competitions, with her path culminating with the Certified Sommelier exam.
Bianca shared with us some of her favourite passages of the book, which included her first experience tagging along to an elite blind-tasting group and another of how somms navigate the restaurant floor during a stint shadowing at Marea. “Most days,” she writes of her first forays into this world, “I was drunk by noon, hung over by 2 p.m., and, around 4 in the afternoon, deeply regretting the burger I’d devoured for lunch.” The obsession of top flight somms was a huge part of what drew her in, saying “obsession was makes people capable of superhuman feats” but observes that it is a “passionate and sometimes cruel world and part of that obsession comes from a demand for excellence”.
But Bianca says her main aim was to tell a story that didn’t “repeat the same inherited wisdom on wine”, and to write the wine book she (and us!) wish existed. “People want to learn about wine but we are still explaining it in the same traditional way...of telling people what to taste instead of how to taste”. As an outsider, she says, she didn’t have the same allegiances that are firmly routed in the wine world. The aim was to “examine the sacred cows” and to see the wine world as it is. This allowed her to look at “the soul, the science and the high the low” of wine. Bianca argued that the crux of the book is that “we need to get in touch with our neglected senses of taste and smell”. Regardless of whether you’re a top end somm or a wine drinker happily ignorant of a wine’s terroir, she believes that being in touch with our senses of smell and taste as a way to enjoy life is the key.
The conversation also covered wine snobbery. Following the book, she wrote a New York Times OpEd article which argued there is a place for mass market wines that are constructed with consumer taste preferences in mind, rather than our traditional notions of wine stemming from a winemaker’s singular vision. This brought on a response that was “swift and fierce and merciless” from parts of the trade and critics, but it was important debate to have. She also commented on her frustration with sexism and harassment within the restaurant industry – without HR departments, she mentioned it’s “up to [the individual] to move on out of it”, and regrettably the ability to change unacceptable practices arising from power imbalances are left to those who wield the power in the first place.
Her refreshingly candid insights, warmth, humour and fascinating answers to our Q&A made for a fantastic evening.