Home Book, Film, App Review Monday Morning Cartoons (No school today): The Scratch + Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, a Book Review

Monday Morning Cartoons (No school today): The Scratch + Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, a Book Review


Scratching and Sniffing with Jr

It’s not everyday you can read wine books with your kid, not to mention reading wine books first thing in the morning instead of watching cartoons. So, I decided to test out Richard Betts’s new book, The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, by reading it side by side with Jr.

Richard Betts has created what he calls “a kid-style book about an adult topic” relying too on spirited illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, and the design talents of Crystal English Sacca. The book’s approach gives a fun board book layout, complete with faux mirror at the start (for intensive wine study self-examination), actual scratch and sniff circles along the way, and a pull out wine chart at the back.

Even with its playful style (that is, don’t let the playful approach fool you), the book really does offer actual insight into the form that scents and flavors take in wine, including hints at varietal character, terroir, flaws, oak, and winemaking effects. By the end of the text, a dedicated reader with actual wines in hand for practice, can use the Scratch & Sniff‘s format to investigate basic varietal distinctions in wine, as well as essential Old World/New World type casting. It’s a fun process for learning solid wine basics across a vast field of styles and types. In other words, it’s a format you could use to enter into studying wine, or a book you could enjoy for loving wine more.

What the book doesn’t get into is structural components like tannins and acids, but considering the olfactory thematic of the book, that makes sense. It’s hard to scratch and sniff mouthfeel. This is a great gift for your friends that like wine, and are curious but find learning about it intimidating.

In other words, back to Jr. A teenager is a classic “why would I want to do what geeky mom likes to do?” sort of example of how well a wine book plays off outside the wine geek realm.

She’s had to suffer through visiting (not that many but a few top notch) vineyards and wineries, tasting historic wines when I come upon them (including the reasons she should be recording that palate experience in her memory), and even doing (wine) acid tastings to learn the distinctions between tartaric and malic acids. (It ruined her experience with hard candies for a little while.) All that said, she also finds wine boring.

So, what did Jr have to say about The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert?

From a teenage point of view, she gives Scratch & Sniff the highest compliment. That is, she actually picked it up again for the several-ith time to do this review, and spent a whole lot of time looking through the book repeatedly as well.

Here’s our conversation.

Reading wine books in PJs

from left: Me, Jr, in our robes in the morning

Jr: Mom, of course books on wine aren’t going to be very interesting for someone who cannot enjoy wine, such as a teenager like myself…

Hawk: Wait, can you say more about why as a teenager you can’t enjoy it?

Jr: Because, like, I can’t enjoy it yet, because, um, (laughing) my mouth has not matured to the point where, like, I can fully appreciate it, you know?, although this book’s creative presentation and approach is fun to look at, play with, and see because it has fun comics and it’s interesting to scratch and sniff different things in the book… (turning pages) Like, bacon!

Hawk: But there’s no bacon in there!

Jr: Yeah, there is! Mom! It’s right there!

Hawk: Whoa.

Jr: Wait. I can’t smell it. I can’t smell the bacon.

Hawk: Let me smell. Oh! I can smell it. But it does smell almost like chocolate. I like chocolate. Huh. That’s one of the few pages that has more than one smelly thing on it.

Jr: Nah ahh! You just haven’t been looking closely enough. (smells another page)You gotta full-on feel the whole page to find it. Wait, why do you want me to just rub the smell circles, instead of scratch them?

Hawk: Because then they’ll last longer.

Jr: What? Oh. Does it make the smell go away less?

Hawk: Yeah, it wears off slower that way. I grew up on Scratch & Sniff books. Did you know there used to be a whole world of Scratch & Sniff books?

Jr: (Quietly) No. (Sighs, and cuddles up.)

Hawk: Does it make you sad?

Jr: Yeah.

Hawk: Do you want people to make more Scratch & Sniff books?

Jr: Yeah.

Hawk: Would it help you to smell the cherries again?

Jr: I didn’t see any cherries. What cherries? (looking back through the book again)

Hawk: Yeah! There’s a red AND a black cherry, and they smell different.

Jr: Oh! I like how the black cherry smells better than the red. Oh! There’s even vanilla! Yeah, I like that one, the vanilla.

Reading wine books in PJs

Jr reading about “other” (not earth, fruit, or wood) scents to me

Hawk: So, you know more than the average U.S. teenager on wine…

Jr: Well, duh, Mom! My mom is a wine writer! (flipping through the book) I wanna know what butter smells like. (scratches the book) Oh! The grass smells good! Wait, why doesn’t the wet dog, or the wet newspaper have one? That would be fun.

Hawk: Okay, but you know more than the average teenager about wine. So, can you tell me reading this book, what you still learn about wine that you didn’t know before?

Jr: No. No I can’t. (laughing)

Hawk: If you spend a little more time with the book I think you could.

Jr: No! I was joking, Mom! …So, just talk about stuff I didn’t know?

Hawk: Yeah.

Jr: I didn’t know there were so many white wines. I knew what the red wines were. But some of the white wines, I didn’t even know how to say, and they were weird to me. Also, I like how they were talking about how not all oaks are created equal, because I really like that picture, and I think it’s a good way to approach it and it helped me put my mind around that a little more.

Hawk: Around what?

Jr: How different oaks are. See? This is the French one right here (pointing to the illustration of an oak barrel in a beret, next to another oak barrel in a cowboy hat)

Hawk: Ah-hoh-hoh! (feigning ridiculous French accent and eyebrow raise)

Jr: Yes. Yes. Okay. The French one–cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, toast–but if you add dill and coconut to all that, then it’s American. See that? Yee haw! American! It’s about oak!

Reading wine books in PJs

She’s sniffing red, I’m sniffing black cherry

Hawk: Anything you wish was in the book?

Jr: Yeah! I wish it had a scent for wet dog and/or wet newspaper! I also wish it had a scent for burnt rubber. I think it would have been cool if on the last page there had been a whole page to just smell all the white wines and all the red wines and you would smell them and identify everything and see what you learned. Then on the next page it would say what most people identify in the wines, you know, like wine descriptions.

Hawk: But isn’t that a lot of wines? What if you just had actual wine next to you instead?

Jr: I don’t mean like every single wine. I just mean, like, how it talks about Syrah, cause I like bacon, then you have a scratchy for Syrah.

Hawk: But there are so many kinds of Syrah, depending on vintage, and climate, and soil, and winemaker, that would be difficult to put into a book.

Jr: Oh shucks. Well, read this book, then instead of that last page you should just buy wine and sniff that instead. Go ahead, go get real wine! Test what you learned like that.


My copy of this book was received at a book release party hosted by the creators of the book, and Cartograph Wines.

For NPR’s look: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/17/236160686/scratch-n-sniff-your-way-to-wine-expertise-or-at-least-more-fun

For Brain Picking’s review: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/15/scratch-and-sniff-guide-to-becoming-a-wine-expert/

For sample pages and more on where to purchase: http://myessentialwine.com/book/


The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine ExpertRichard Betts
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
22 pages


Thank you to Richard Betts, Wendy MacNaughton, Crystal English Sacca, and Chris Sacca.

Thank you to Alan Baker and Serena Lourie.

Thank you to Carla Rzeszewski.

Thank you to Jr.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


  1. this. is. awesome.

    i want to sniff! i used to LOVE scratch and sniff books, as well as smelly markers. how does this book do on smells? i can clearly recall the scent of scratch-and-sniff-cherry, and smelly-marker-cherry, both of which were distinct from real cherry. is this book on the mark for smells?

Leave a Reply