The meeting place is referred to simply as EMP.
That’s short for Eleven Madison Park, New York’s famous dining
establishment, which was recently declared the
world’s best restaurant.
But the elite group of people who meet at EMP every Tuesday at 10
a.m. isn’t there for the restaurant’s $295 tasting menu. In fact,
they generally don’t consume any food at all during their
meetings. They’re there for the wine.
The group is made up of a dozen professional
wine drinkers, or sommeliers, who are aspiring to join
the highest rank in their profession. Earning the Master
Sommelier distinction — which requires passing a series of tests
that involve tasting, theory, and service — is nearly
impossible. Most who try fail. Only 236 people in the
world have ever earned the title.
Needless to say, the training is arduous. The meetings at
EMP are a sort of boot camp for Master Sommelier candidates, but
only the top wine drinkers in the city are invited to
In her new book “Cork
author Bianca Bosker embeds
with this secret society of wine drinkers, which is “rumored to
be the Holy Grail of New York blind tasting groups, the
highest-level in the city,” she writes.
To get “tapped” for the group, it’s all about who you know
and what you know.
“There weren’t auditions, applications, or interviews to
get in. Instead, like country clubs or Skull and Bones, your best
bet was to befriend the right people, work at the right places,
and look for occasions, such as competitions, to show you knew
your Meursault (a Chardonnay grown in Burgundy’s Meursault
village) from your Marsannay (a Chardonnay grown about twenty
miles over in Burgundy’s Marsannay village).”
In one particular meeting Bosker attended, the group tasted
eight wines and took turns describing the look, smell, and
taste of each one. Ultimately the taster guessed what
grape the wine was made from, as well as where and when it was
The sommeliers’ wine-tasting abilities were on full display at
“Dana paused and took a deep breath, crescendoing to his
final conclusion: ‘I’m going to call this 2010 — no, 2011
Viognier. France. Rhône Valley, Northern Rhône, Condrieu.’
Morgan pulled out the bottle and read off the label. It was
indeed a Viognier, a floral, richly perfumed grape. It was from
France, from the Northern Rhône. Within the Northern Rhône, it
was from Condrieu, an appellation five hundred acres in size that
is about half as big as Central Park. And it was a 2012.”
The members of the group are so intense, they
have special routines intended to ensure their tongues and
noses are perfectly primed for meetings. Some give up coffee or
all hot beverages entirely. Others avoid eating hours before and
skip brushing their teeth.
Quirky routines aside, they all follow a fairly similar script
when it comes to deciphering which wine they are drinking, which
Bosker describes in detail in her book.
The first step is to look at the wine, followed by smelling it.
Then comes sipping, which involves tasting for acidity, alcohol
content, tannins, and sweetness, Bosker writes. All of these
qualities offer clues about the wine’s identity.
According to Bosker, those training to become Master Sommeliers
will taste more than 20,000 wines over the course of studying for