Monday, July 16, 2018

Cork dork – book overview

This book, the Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, came via GoodReads recommendation. There is a positive review from Decanter - wine industry magazine; overview from the NYTimes; and a less glowing report, here - which surmises the book encourages wine noobs to ignore the snobs, just drink cheap wine! 

I tracked the book down at the local library and read it over a wet weekend. One of the sub-projects from the recently completed e-assessment project, was to help cookery students learn how to taste. As tasting was deemed to be something ‘everyone is able to do’, the cookery teaching team did not place much emphasis on overtly teaching students how to taste. Learning how to taste like a chef, was therefore chiefly learnt through modelling from the chef tutors.

The chef tutors only realised that students were unable to articulate the sensory evaluation of dishes when students were required to reflect on the cooking process of dishes as part of the evidence gathering towards collating eportfolios. The researcher for this sub-project, is a food and beverage tutor, who had come from the tradition of being taught how to taste wine. Part of the project, was therefore to try to make overt and structured, the ways food tasting could be described. Mindmapping and notetaking apps were introduced to assist with learning the ‘language of tasting’. These apps were to facilitate the sharing of dish descriptions and evaluations to assist students to widen their sensory evaluation vocabulary.

Back to the book, which has 11 chapters, tracing the journey of the author, from novice / layperson to practicing sommelier. The author was able to make a head start using her contacts as a tech journalist and with the rationale of the book as a lever into the rarified world of professional wine tasters. Being a sommelier entailed not only being able to taste wine, but also to sell it, provide good service in fine dining restaurants and gain a foothold into a challenging but well-paid occupation (when compared to other hospitality work).

To begin, the author managed to gain an entry level job as a ‘cellar rat’, assisting with the storage and re-stocking of a wine cellar in a prestigious restaurant. She was able to make friends with several well-known sommeliers and join them for their tasting sessions. This led her to prepare for the first level of accreditation to become a sommelier through eligibility to take the Certification exams.
By the end of a hear, the author was working as a sommelier in a wine bar, had passed the first of a series of professional exams, and also established, through a fMRI scan, that her brain reaction to wine, was similar to experts. So the year of hard graft, tasting many wines and learning the esoteric knowledge components of wine making, had triggered a change in her brain structure.

The perceived method towards training the brain therefore, begins with training to smell. ‘Stocking the sense memory’ was essential to being able to connect the descriptive wine terminology, with tasting and identification of wine. The patterns of taste has to be organised, so the patterns connect with wine types, grape varieties, regions etc. Apart from learning how to taste wine, service of wine required skill training through repeated practice and an understanding of the psychology of people’s social relationships.  In short, sommeliers really have to work for their pay.

Overall, the book provides a good insight into how a novice, learns a complex set of skills, connects the sensory sensations to a large bank of knowledge, and utilises these in a demanding occupation. A sommelier, is the sum of all of these and each, brings into the job, their own personality and characteristics as well.

All in, a good read and a relaxed way to learn much about the world of wine.

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