The more that I learn about wine, the more I enjoy it. Whether it is from tasting something new at a winery, exploring a food pairing suggested by a wine club, or reading articles about the wine industry, I am constantly amazed at how wine education really does enhance your enjoyment. That's not to say that it is all about becoming a wine snob. In fact, Richard Betts proves just that in his new book “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That.”
Betts takes a fun approach to wine, fashioning the book almost like a children's picture book. There are illustrations on every page and big font. But the highlight is when you get to scratch and sniff. Each spot is designated by a little hand pointing to where you should smell. These show up on almost every page.
The tagline of the book is “Wine is a grocery, not a luxury” and Betts explains that his goal is just to help people better enjoy their wine—whether they “pour it out of a pitcher, pull it out of a box, drink it out of a tumbler.” That's my kind of wine drinking! I also love that he emphasizes that only you can decide what is a “good wine” for you.
The education part of the book starts with some basic background about how smell affects your taste. Then he starts to break down different groups such as fruit, wood, and earth. As you smell your way through the book, you can compare different scents to figure out which you like best. At the end there is a big foldout chart where you can match up the scents you liked to figure out which wines you would enjoy best. (Then you can check out our Top Red Wine Clubs and Top White Wine Clubs and see which is best for you!)
As someone who collected scratch and sniff stickers as a kid, I really got a kick out of the book. It was just the right amount of education and fun. I can actually see myself pulling it out as I drink different wine at home and trying to figure out what I smell. That has always been one of the things about wine tasting that I am not as good at.
Did you know that wines can smell like everything from sausage to butter to cat pee? (Eric actually said this about a wine he reviewed one time and the seller didn't like it. Turns out it might have been a perfectly nice Sauvignon Blanc with that smell!) The book lets you smell bacon, butter, and grass just to compare. It also explains in what types of wines you would detect those scents. I always hear people talking about “buttery” Charnonnays and the book told me just why they taste so “buttery.” You'll have to buy the book if you want to find out for yourself.
I also think that this would make a great gift for someone you know who likes wine but doesn't take it too seriously. It is new enough (just published last month) that most people will not yet have it before Christmas. At about $16 it would be nice as a white elephant gift or as a real gift paired with a bottle of wine.
There are enough pretentious wine tasting books out there to fill my shelves, but I have never seen one like this. The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming A Wine Expert is sure to be getting a lot of attention by wine drinkers very soon.