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

Review By Stella Fong

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert will, at first, appeal to the reader’s inner child. With thick cardboard pages, great illustrations, and scratch and sniff scent disks, the book offers elementary tools that provide good introductory wine information sans the verbiage that fill other basic compendiums. The author, Richard Betts gets right to the point, confessing to hating wine speak. Even as one of the fewer than 200 Master Sommeliers worldwide he sheds all wine snobbery, stating what he finds obvious, “Wine is a grocery, not a luxury.”

With humor and a direct approach, the author presents three easy steps to wine understanding. He immediately narrows the world of smelling and tasting wine to the main groups of fruit, wood, earth and other. Red wines present red or black fruit, white wines possess some element of lemon and lime, and other whites present orange and tangerine essences. With drawings that jump right to the point, Betts then delves into the world of wood and earth. In the latter arena, he clarifies terroir and funk as well as quickly delineating old versus new world. Finally when he touches on the “other” category, he playfully talks about notes of meatiness in red wines, butter and cat pee in whites, and explains how floral descriptors appear in both.

A separate one page chart, The “Map to Your Desires”, inserted in the back of the book can be easily carried to a wine store or restaurant, providing insight to varietal characteristics. The information, presented in a pie chart format, visually breaks up the world of wine by grape, organized into slices by their earth, wood, and fruit characteristics. Here, Betts cleverly conveys traditional wine speak in a fun manner. For example, under Chardonnay, he suggests “Think Chablis and all of Burgundy” with earth notes such as “Rich” and “Awe, Yeah,” wood descriptors like “Let’s Get It On,” and fruit characteristics beginning with “Subtle” and ending with final notes of “Citrus.”

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert makes a great gift for any person who has an interest in wine, as there is not another book on the current market like it. The book supplies more than enough information for the beginner while providing a great refresher and outlook on wine basics for the wine aficionado.


Richard Betts The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That, Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, $13.14 (Hardcover).

Stella Fong chaired the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Awards for two years and currently is a reader for the High Plains Book Awards. She writes and teaches about wine and food in Billings, Montana and has instructed at Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma and Macy’s Cellars. For the past 5 years she has taught the Wine Studies courses for the Montana State University Wine and Food Festival. Fong’s articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Big Sky Journal, Western Art and Architecture and Blue Water Sailing. She received her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America in 2008.