Intoxicating Reads, Listens, and Views: Begin with Bianca Bosker’s “Cork Dork” | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, wine leads me down a winding path.

Begin:

Bosker, Bianca. Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me To Live for Taste. Penguin. Mar. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780143128090. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780698195905. COOKING
Mixing memoir and culinary investigation, Bosker (coauthor, Original Copies) takes readers on her 18-month-long journey learning about wine. Beginning as a “cellar rat” in a New York City restaurant, a job that demands mastery of a complicated filing system and the navigation of a dangerous storage process, she then dives into free wine rounds; as she puts it, getting drunk by noon and hungover by two, always looking for the next bottle to refine her palate and teach her about taste. And taste is everything in the world of wine—where expert sommeliers learn to describe wines so precisely that they can name a product’s year, grape, and region with their eyes closed. Bosker’s journalistic background serves her well as she details this rich and exclusive lifestyle and her quest toward completing the Certified Sommelier Exam. From behind the scenes at restaurants and competitions to the intense training needed to make it to the top, she blends science, food, and memoir to deliver a lush, full-bodied read.

Read-Alikes:

Almond, Steve. Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2005. 288p. ISBN 9780156032933. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781565127135. COOKING
Readers who want another deep dive into a specialized culinary topic might enjoy Almond’s delightful tour of candy. Almond, a former journalist and self-proclaimed “candy freak,” is obsessed with the sweet stuff, particularly the small, regional bars and bites that continue to disappear from the candy aisle, shoved aside and elbowed out by the big three manufacturers—Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Mars. Determined to find what remains of the local treats, he travels from factory to factory across the country and in the process meets others as invested as he is in preserving old-fashioned, specialized sweets. Like Bosker, Almond combines the personal with the historical and waxes lyrically (and engagingly and humorously) on his area of expertise. The result is a nostalgic, funny, and delicious book that would-be sommeliers are likely to put down the bottle for.

Buford, Bill. Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Vintage. 2007. 336p. ISBN 9781400034475. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781400043750. COOKING
Similar to Bosker, Buford is a reporter who applies his observational and research skills to the world of food. He offers an intense look at his apprenticeship at Mario Batali’s upscale NYC kitchen, Babbo, and traverses the globe in pursuit of a foodie education. He follows Batali into the heated realm of the restaurateur and deals with the stress and strain of the chef’s life. He takes on pasta making, butchery, and more and along the way reveals the amplified nature of the profession, laying bare its many obsessions. Like Cork Dork, this book pulls readers into a fascinating and largely unknown world, explaining the way it works with fervor and providing plenty of learning high notes.

Johnson, Marilyn. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Harper. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780062127198. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062127228. SCI
Another book that follows in Bosker’s footsteps is Johnson’s guide to the past. In linked essays that span dozens of countries and go back through time, Johnson guides readers in an examination of the work of archaeologists. An amiable companion, with a sharp eye, ready wit, and palpable appreciation for her subject, she is as detailed and enthralling as Bosker, and while she doesn’t constantly whet readers’ palates with appetizing descriptions of wine, her work is certainly as revelatory. In one chapter, Johnson gamely searches the woods for where a dead body might have been buried. In another, she travels to a Grecian island to tell a story related to the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. She discusses it all, from books and films to ancient beers and shipwrecks, demonstrating throughout a striking combination of immersion journalism, scientific reporting, and armchair travel. This is an ideal next read for Bosker fans willing to switch courses.

Read-Arounds:

Puckette, Madeline & Justin Hammack. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Avery. 2015. 240p. illus. maps. ISBN 9781592408993. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780399575969. BEVERAGES
Readers who want to investigate wine further might enjoy this highly illustrated work that takes the fussiness out of the learning equation and replaces it with straightforward guidance. Included are instructions on reading labels (which Bosker can attest is a difficult undertaking) and a section on the color and look of wines as they affect taste. Modeling Cork Dork, authors Puckette and Hammack, creators of winefolly.com, delve into blind tastings and how to write useful tasting notes. The bulk of the volume, however, is devoted to the many different wine styles, accompanied by a pronunciation guide, a flavor profile, tips on the right glass to use and ideal temperature, a pricing guide, and comprehensive information about the grapes from which the varieties are made. A review of wine regions, along with a classification guide and list of top products and a map of each locale, is also featured. While this guide won’t help readers pass a sommelier test, it will make browsing a wine list much easier and less intimidating.

Zraly, Kevin. Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 30th Anniversary Edition. Sterling Epicure. 2014. 368p. illus. ISBN 9781454913641. $27.95. BEVERAGES
This exhaustive reference has been used by professionals and amateurs alike for more than 30 years and is considered a key title in the field. Accessible yet meticulously thorough, it is designed for those serious about what they drink and how they make their selections. James Beard Award winner Zraly offers three classes on white wine and four on red. A section on tasting and smelling spans 23 pages and is followed by a quiz. Beyond red and white, Zraly touches on champagne and dedicates entire segments to specific locations, sharing his favorite wine producers in various regions. Providing plenty of follow-up resources, this book concludes with Zraly’s list of “bests,” from wine writers to suggested styles, including great selections under $30. Paging through this illustrated and expert tome gives readers a sense of the knowledge possessed by Bosker and the sommeliers she met on her adventures. Also suggest Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay’s James Beard Award–winning Secrets of the Sommeliers: How To Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals.

Listen-Arounds:

Danler, Stephanie. Sweetbitter: A Novel. 10 CDs. 12:24 hrs. Books on Tape. 2016. ISBN 9780399566301. $45. F
The premise of Cork Dork could make a fine novel—a neophyte trying to break into the big city restaurant world, learn the ropes, and find a mentor. With a few twists and a shift in focus, debut novelist Danler has already written such a book in this sharply conceived coming-of-age story about a young woman named Tess making her way in New York. Tess, hired by one of the city’s iconic eateries, soon finds herself in a swirl of personalities who overwhelm, unsettle, and teach hard-won lessons. Along the way wine plays a plentiful role, which will please Bosker’s readers and provide them with a wine-y tour of the restaurant scene. Bright and a bit steely, this work pulls no punches as it traces the Machiavellian complexities of restaurant staffing and interpersonal relations. Narrator Alex McKenna does an excellent job of creating the voice of Tess as well as emphasizing food and wine in ways that make listeners feel they are a part of the feast.

Harkness, Deborah. A Discovery of Witches. 20 CDs. 24:02 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2011. ISBN 9781449823863. $123.75. FANTASY
Readers who enjoyed the over-the-top descriptions of sommeliers in Bosker’s work will appreciate the frequent interludes about wine in this romantic time-travel fantasy, which abundantly compares the drink to rocks, berries, and other assorted flavors. Multiple scenes center on the beverage, including a memorable visit to an Aladdin’s cave–wine cellar, where an ancient warrior-vampire, who has been collecting bottles over a very long life, has fallen in love with a scholar-witch with a defined palate. A history professor and a writer of fiction, Harkness has created an award-winning wine blog and here takes every chance to fill her story with its pleasures. Narrator Jennifer Ikeda delivers a superior tonal reading, rendering an atmospheric romance and keying into the novel’s deep secrets while developing the characters’ varied accents.

Watch-Arounds:

Somm. color. 94 mins. Jason Wise, dist. by First Run Features, www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2013. DVD UPC 720229915663. $21.99. COOKING
This documentary follows four sommeliers as they prepare for the Master Sommelier Exam, the highest level of accomplishment a somm can reach. Most who take the test don’t pass; in the wine world, success is akin to becoming a Navy SEAL. Candidates study intensely for months seeking to score high in three sections—theory, service, and a blind tasting. The theory part involves learning about all aspects of wine, while service tests how well sommeliers can deal with demanding guests, make recommendations and pairings, and manage the physical aspects of the job. The final section zeroes in on the blind tasting, in which candidates identify type, year, and region without seeing the product. The sequel/spin-off, Somm: Into the Bottle, came out in 2016.

A Year in Burgundy: A Film About Wine. color. David Kennard, dist. by Kino Lorber films, www.kinolorber.com. 2013. DVD UPC 738329121723. $19.99. COOKING
Following a number of winemakers in Burgundy, France, this vivid and intimate documentary demonstrates the process of producing wine—from the care and planting of vines to the stress and calculations of the harvest to the actual turning of grape juice into tasty variations that will sell for thousands. Viewers get a sense of the cavernous cellars holding a family’s treasured collection amassed over generations, the scientific yet instinctual system of harvesting, and the grand meals enjoyed after such backbreaking work. Family gatherings and plenty of tastings describing vintages and the character of the wines combine with gorgeous scenery and music. Presenting multiple perspectives, this film takes wine lovers on an immersive, moody, and intriguing tour. For readers seeking fictional wine-y films, suggest Sideways and A Good Year.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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