Bianca Bosker abandoned her job as a tech reporter to pursue the knowledge of the planet’s best-trained wine celebrants: sommeliers. Sommeliers, whom she refers to as “somms,” call each other cork dorks. Bosker’s passion to learn their secrets pours through as she evolves from novice to initiate, and transforms from wine naïf to schooled taster.
Over 18 intense months the author advances from cellar rat to pass the Certified Sommelier test and ultimately does a stint in New York City’s trendy Terroir Wine Bar. In between, she travels the world learning about the science of smell and taste and shares her findings: “Don’t be fooled by the name, tasting notes describe smell and flavors more than taste.”
On her quest to understand wine and its relationship to the senses, she consults with the University of Dresden “Smell & Taste” clinic, learns the mysteries of the Aroma Wheel and does numerous blind tastings. Bosker goes “from trying three or four (cheap) wines a week to trying dozens if not hundreds a week.” Often she began tasting at 10 in the morning, not taking her last sip until the wee hours.
Bosker also does a fine job with the history. Sommeliers came on the scene in Paris just before the French Revolution during a period when water was often foul and people drank wine all day. They defined wine appreciation and “elevated it to a cultural pursuit.”
To her credit Bosker recognizes the steep entry fee to this rarified and obsessive pursuit. Somms need to understand theory, demonstrate serving technique (sparkling wine has its own service), and, of course, have serious tasting skills. A certified sommelier is expected to understand the geography
of grape-growing regions and know a wine’s provenance, as well as be able to identify a slew of varietals.
What makes this book charming is her willingness to share her adventures and misadventures. What makes it indispensible is her ability to demystify the complexities of wine appreciation and demonstrate that anyone can improve his or her ability to discern aromas and flavors.
Bosker’s journey to understand why and how wine becomes a way of life entertains and teaches. Her witty style and ability to profile enliven this memoir. Somms are grand characters that inhabit a fanciful world. A fine storyteller and apt student, she is a good guide to the arcane milieu of the sommelier. This is a book to savor now and enjoy later.