Book Review: The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert

Book Review: The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert
Lauren Mowery

Richard Betts, one of few Master Sommeliers in the world -- and one of even fewer to pass the rigorous exam on the first go-around -- has quite impressive credentials. So one might expect his literary efforts to produce something in the vein of a tome dedicated to the distinctions between Grand Cru Bordeaux, for example. Instead, however, his latest book represents a complete 180 in wine snobbery -- he's crafted a children's book for adults on how to smell your way to wine expertise.

Proving wine books by definition need not be boring, this coffee-table appropriate conversation starter utilizes clever scratch-and-sniff stickers adhered to the pages inside to guide your nose to a better understanding of what to expect from the stuff in your glass. The complementary prose provides an intelligent but easy-to-understand framework for navigating the seemingly subtle differences in grape variety, oak, and even cork taint. A helpful "map to your desires" features a wheel of likes and dislikes that purports to lead you to the promised vinous land of a better drinking experience.

Of course, you won't actually become a wine expert reading this book. To do that, you need proper coursework. But you wouldn't expect to extract a tooth without attending dental school first, either. For most people, becoming a wine professional isn't the goal; rather, a basic understanding of wine is. That's where this book succeeds: It breaks down concepts such as terroir, old world v. new world, or why wine smells funky or butter flavor shows up in Chardonnay, so that anybody can understand and ultimately have a more nuanced appreciation of the wines they taste and decide to drink. The book makes for an amusing, interactive gift, yet it also proselytizes Betts' more serious message: Wine isn't a luxury, it's a grocery, and it's only good if YOU like it. A vital message, indeed.

Lauren Mowery writes the Unscrewed column for Fork in the Road. Visit her blog, Chasing the Vine, for more on wine, drinks and travel.

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