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The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert

on 31/12/13 at 11:12 am


51p122e2j-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Taking The Snobbery Out Of Studying Wine

Talking about wine can be a bit intimidating, rife with terms like tannin and terroir. Master Sommelier Richard Betts is on a mission to help people enjoy wine as a grocery, not a luxury. Betts talks with NPR’s Jennifer Ludden about his book, The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert.


It’s almost New Year’s Eve when the bubbly flows freely, as friends and family gather reflect on the year that was and raise a glass to the one to come. But it can be tricky to select the right bottle to present to your host or to accompany your own meal, especially if terms like tannin and terroir can make the whole endeavor feel intimidated.

Enter Richard Betts. He is a master sommelier – another of those intimidating terms. But he’s on a mission to take the snobbery out of the enology. His new book is “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert.” And he joins me from member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. Richard Betts, welcome.

RICHARD BETTS: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

LUDDEN: Your basic message is that wine is a grocery, not a luxury. What do you mean?

BETTS: I took some time away from school and moved to Italy. But I think the most impactful part of that year was shopping for your groceries on a daily basis and setting the table. And when you set the table there, the table is never set unless there is wine upon it. And it’s just a part of everyday life.

LUDDEN: So you came away with your trip to Italy with this idea that wine is something everyone can enjoy, not just this elite crop of master sommeliers, as you are. How does one who doesn’t have your education go about then picking a bottle that we’re going to like?

BETTS: I mean the first thing to do is to trust yourself. Only you know what you like. So basically, if you like it, that’s the right answer.

LUDDEN: So you make it easy. You divide the smells – the tastes, really, in four main groups. What are they?

BETTS: Fruits, wood, earth, and then this sort of catch all, other, with fruit, earth and wood being the predominant three categories. And if we look at, let’s just say red wines, for example. We can break red wine and red wine grapes into two groups when it comes to fruit. They’re either predominantly red-fruited or their predominantly black-fruited.