Does this actually count as a book? I know there’s no minimum page requirement, but 20 pages is not a lot of pages. Well, I have read it, and now I shall review it!
Hang on, I’m just going to pour a glass* first.
OK I’m back.
A few weeks ago, NPR aired a segment about this book. I was immediately charmed by the interview, and resolved to track down the book and buy it immediately.
You see, I enjoy a glass of wine, but that’s about as much as I could say about wine. I defaulted to white (red wine teeth = not a great party look) and usually favored pinot grigio because it’s what my grandmother drank. My mom will maybe have one glass of champagne at brunch on Mother’s day, and my father has never taken a drink in his life. So they weren’t much help. My palate was only able to differentiate between “wine” and “not wine.” I wanted to explore, but I was afraid of the investment required to just start buying bottles on spec and drinking them until I found things that I loved.
Enter The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide, which breaks down wine into four main flavor elements: fruit, wood, earth, and a catch-all “other” category. Step by step, scratching and sniffing along the way, you can use this book to isolate what flavors you do and don’t want in your wine. The fruits page, for example, breaks down red wine into “red fruits” and “black fruits” and gives you an example of which kinds of wine generally fit into the Red or Black fruit camp.
So, a caveat: the information is nowhere near exhaustive, and the “expert” part of the title is probably not accurate. Just reading this book won’t make you an expert, and it certainly won’t give you detailed information on the particular flavors native to the terroir of each of the million vineyards in the world, say. It simplifies everything as much as possible. One page per element, generally. But the goal of this book isn’t trivia; the goal is to quickly identify what you love to drink. The most important information has to come from your nose and your tastebuds.
As a twenty-page board book, it’s got more than a touch of novelty-gift about it, which just adds to the charm. Picture a cross between a baby book and a coffee table book. The descriptions are written in a breezy, colloquial style, with witty asides and lovely watercolor illustrations. I bet this would be a great book to build a small party around: everyone brings their favorite bottle – pour, scratch, sniff, and drink. It’d make a fantastic hostess gift, too.
The scratch & sniff stickers are hit and miss – most of mine work, at least for the moment. There are generally one or two per page, and I really would’ve loved a wider range of scents to explore. But I guess I’ll just have to do some independent research. So if you see me picking up handfuls of dirt and holding them to my nose, well, move along. Nothing to see here.
The real coup of this book is the pull-out wine map, which breaks down the world of wine into red and white hemispheres, and further subdivides them based on whether the wines have woody and/or earthy flavors. Not only does the map help you pick out what you’d like to drink, it also provides a range of similar wines once you’ve identified what you love. So now I have quite a lengthy list of wines to try.
If you’re a person who is heavily invested in the arcana of wine and proving that you know more about it than the hoi polloi, you do not need this book. (You should also keep this book away from your friends because it will blow up your spot.) If you’re a person who isn’t sure what you love, and/or wants to expand your wine palate with a light-hearted guide, give it a try. And if you’re a scratch & sniff obsessive – that’s a thing, right? – then this is probably already on your shelf.
*Espiral vinho verde. I know that’s a summery wine but after making it through the polar vortex, anything above freezing feels positively sweltering. Also, it is tasty and it costs $5.