LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Confession - I like wine, most wines, not very picky. I like white. And I like red - a lot. And that's about as far as my wine knowledge goes. Bianca Bosker was, once upon a time, kind of like me. She was a technology reporter and a casual wine drinker who, as she put it, generally preferred wines from a bottle but wouldn't have turned her nose up at something boxed. Then she decided to quit her job to drink wine full time.
She gave herself a year to become a certified sommelier. That's the person who approaches your table in a fancy restaurant with a white napkin draped over their arm and tells you which wine to order. Bianca Bosker's new book is called "Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among The Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, And Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me To Live For Taste." She joins us now from our studios in New York.
BIANCA BOSKER: Thank you. It's great to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So take us back. How did you go from drinking the occasional glass of wine to pursuing professional wine-drinking?
BOSKER: So most people have their wine epiphany as, well, drinking an incredible glass of wine. My wine epiphany happened while I was watching other people drink and in particular, because I got sucked into watch - binge-watching YouTube videos of the Best Sommelier in the World competition. And all my life, I have been obsessed with obsession. And so when I stumbled into this subculture, I was hooked. I was just fascinated by these stories.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so you go on this journey. And one of the things that I found really interesting is that training to be a sommelier is not quite like getting day drunk with your friends. You're not just, like...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Going to a bar and, like, drinking, although, that is part of it. It takes a toll. Can you describe a little bit how you trained for this?
BOSKER: It really requires rearranging your life around your senses. So in my case, not only did I give up coffee, adding extra salt, spicy foods, any liquids above a lukewarm temperature - so think very cold soup - but of course daytime sobriety, which - it used to be that at 9 a.m. in the morning, I'd be sitting down to the first editorial meeting. Now, 9 a.m. meant I was on my second glass of wine. I was desperately drunk by noon, hungover a couple hours later and then craving a nap while deeply regretting the hamburger I'd eaten sometime around 4 p.m.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So along the way, you met a lot of interesting characters. And I want to particularly talk about a sommelier named Morgan Harris. He plays a big role. He's kind of like your wine shepherd. Tell us a little bit about him.
BOSKER: Ah, my wine fairy godmother. I mean, he's just amazing. He was my - he was really my mentor. He had this magnetic passion for wine. I mean, the first time I met him, I basically sat through a 2.5-hour monologue that was an ode to everything from the great Rieslings of the early 20th century to the $1,200 bottle of champagne he thought would be a religious experience.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is a question - because he is this sort of wine evangelist if you will, he believes wines can recontextualize people's places in the universe. First of all, what does that mean?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And second of all - I mean, do you think that wine really has the power that he says it does?
BOSKER: I was hugely skeptical of this idea that wine was, as some people say, bottled poetry. And part of what made Morgan such an incredible guide for me is that he was so passionately convinced of wine's ability to make us feel small the way a painting can or a great piece of music.
And I think that we tend to be biased against this idea that wine can exist on the same plane as art, partially because of history. If you go back to Plato and Aristotle, they were really the first to dismiss the senses of taste and smell. They told us that these were the savage, animalistic senses, that they could never provide these sort of soulful insights into the world. And we've really dismissed them ever since.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk a little bit about the words that are used to describe wine. You know, normally we hear things like dry, oaky, buttery - I kind of understand what those mean. But sommeliers have a much more creative way of describing tasting notes that you might not hear in a restaurant.
BOSKER: Well, you get everything from the more straightforward fruits and vegetables. So it could be pomegranate, raspberry, blackberry, apple, pear, lemon. They can also range to the far more imaginative. There were times where I was sitting in a tasting group and I thought that I was hearing someone read from a Wiccan book of love spells.
BOSKER: Burnt hair, desiccated strawberry, armpit, you know (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very precise and unusual.
BOSKER: And there's also this new trajectory to incorporate the language of science. So instead of saying that something smells like green bell pepper, sommeliers are now describing it as smelling of pyrazines, which, by the way, is a chemical that is present in both sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon grapes and in green bell peppers. So don't always roll your eyes at the sommelier.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't roll my eyes at the sommelier. I've actually always been intimidated by interacting with the sommelier. I wanted to ask you if you would take a moment to sort of teach someone like me. Can you walk me through it?
BOSKER: A lot of us, when we're given the wine list, treat it as a multiple-choice test. We're handed this list of a hundred options. And we have until the sommelier circles back to us to figure out the right answer.
BOSKER: You don't have to do that. You are not alone in this process.
BOSKER: Really, when you're ordering a bottle of wine, you only need to give two pieces of information - one, your budget. And do not be ashamed. Do not be embarrassed. We all have a budget. Secondly, your taste. Now, that could be as specific as saying, I had an incredible Adelsheim Oregon pinot noir the other night - what do you have like that? Or it could be as broad as saying, I like things that smell like peach.
And from there, if you have a good sommelier, they're going to be able to guide you to the hidden gems on that menu. And I have to say, it's a pleasure to be able to have a conversation with someone about what they like and to take them on a journey through this glass of wine because a good glass of wine is that. I didn't believe it in the beginning, but I came around to really experience it as a way to travel through time and place without ever leaving your seat.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bianca Bosker - "Cork Dork" is her new book.
Thanks so much for being with us.
BOSKER: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROLFE KENT'S "WINE SAFARI")
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