I have great respect for Richard Betts’The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide To Becoming A Wine Expert. It’s a child’s board book about a grown up topic. It’s definitely educational. It’s also fun to read! In just 20 illustrated pages, Betts — who is one of fewer than 200 master sommeliers in the world — teaches us how to sniff our way through the wonderful world of wine.
Sniffing, not tasting, is the key to identifying a wine you’ll like. Why? Because we taste only four things (or five, if you count “savory”): sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. Other “flavors” are actually scents, as defined by the nose.
Betts breaks down wine odors into four basic categories: Fruit, wood, earth, and “other.” He describes each of these in concise, humorous detail.
Did you know there’s a difference between wine aged in French and American oak barrels? Oak from France contributes brown spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and toast. The brasher American oak adds hints of coconut and dill.
Red wines come in two fruit camps — red and black. The odor of cherry (a red fruit), is prominent in Pinot Noir, Grenache, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese wines. My own favorite reds, like Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah, are in the darker camp. They are redolent of blackberry. Can’t identify the scents of cherry and blackberry? The book’s scratch-n-sniff stickers will set you straight.
Also covered are the exotic airs of white wines. Some of these contain the lovely essence of cat pee. Cat pee might not sound appealing to you, but it does wonders for Saugvinon blanc!
Then there is the issue of “terroir”, meaning the kind of earth in which the grape vines are grown. Soil can contribute the scent of fallen leaves, minerals, and wild herbs. Sniff for these in your next glass of Gamay — you might be surprised at the things your nose detects.
Mr. Betts even covers the issue of tainted corks, which can give perfectly good wines the dastardly air of a “wet dog.” Dog owners (like me) will know this odor only too well. Now I know why certain wineries are using twist-off caps instead of traditional corks.
Don’t let the child-like simplicity of this book fool you. It contains a wealth of information, presented in the most enjoyable way possible.
I honestly believe that wine drinking is more fun when you know a little about the subject. It took me only 20 minutes to read Richard’s book, but already I feel confident enough to distinguish a Merlot from a Pinot Noir, and to recognize the butter in California Chardonays, the bacon in Syrahs, and the flowers in Gewurztraminer.
Wanna chance to win a copy of this brilliant work? Just leave a comment in the “comments” field below. Tell your wine-drinking friends to enter, too!
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