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 $US295 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 attend.
In her new book “Cork Dork,” author Bianca Bosker embeds with this secret society of wine drinkers, which is “rumoured 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 made.
The sommeliers’ wine-tasting abilities were on full display at the meeting:
“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 the exam.
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