There’s a secret language spoken in the often self-serious world of wine tasting: Words like awkward, clone, note, legs, bouquet, and thief suddenly don’t mean what they normally mean. For amateur imbibers, sommelier jargon and that weird front-of-teeth slurping and spitting thing can seem like a joke we’re not in on. But the snobbery that often surrounds the wine illuminati is completely absent in The Essential Scratch-and-Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, a new book written by Richard Betts, one of fewer than 200 master sommeliers in the world. As the wine-world equivalent of a Knight or a Jedi, Betts believes that “wine is a grocery, not a luxury.”
It’s a 22-page board book, beautifully illustrated by San Francisco-based Wendy MacNaughton and designed by Crystal English Sacca. Why should the wonders of scratching-and-sniffing be reserved only for children? Scents of bacon, flowers, butter, grass, and even cat pee are translated onto paper to help readers identify the aromatic components of their beverages. “Once you realize there are cat pee scents in white wine, you’ll never be able to drink a lot of white wine again,” MacNaughton tells Co.Design. “All you’ll smell is cat pee.” Worry not: there’s no actual cat pee in wine, or so they claim. It’s just a compound called p-mentha-8-thiol-3-1 that happens to smell exactly like feline urine–and Sauvingnon blanc afficionados consider it a positive trait.
MacNaughton credited a huge print run right off the bat to the fact that there’s no eBook form of this scratch-and-sniff guide, given that we’ve yet to figure out how to scent our screens. (Sadly, GoogleNose turned out to be an April Fools’ gag.) “You have to actually hold it in your hands,” MacNaughton says. “It only works as an object.”
Sacca tells Co.Design that after Betts contacted her about the book project, she knew her old friend MacNaughton’s “visceral, fun, and approachable illustration style would be an ideal match for a book that on the surface doesn’t take itself too seriously.” Their goal was to make a children’s book for adults (but not one so childish that it winds up in elementary school classrooms). “MacNaughton came up to my place in the mountains of Tahoe, and we got our hands dirty,” says Sacca. “We picked up sticks in my backyard to model for the wood spread, and built words for her to paint out of fruit from our local co-op market.” To get the wine colors as accurate as possible, MacNaughton actually mixed wine into her paints, using it as a substitute for water.
Best of all is a fold-out poster tucked into the back cover titled “The Whole Wine World,” which breaks down reds and whites into an epic hand-drawn infographic. Says Sacca, “When Betts tastes, his brain and his nose play what he laughingly characterizes as Pachinko bouncing through a maze of this or that questions. During one of our meetings, he tore open a paper shopping bag, and all over the inside feverishly scratched out a complex flowchart teeming with aromatic classifications.” His frantic scribblings evolved into a gorgeous guide to figuring out what you like to drink.
This olfactory journey through the world of wine will delight both the sophisticated schnoz and the novice nose. The Essential Scratch-and-Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert “harkens back to childhood and triggers olfactory memories that we can all describe,” says Sacca. “With those familiar benchmarks as a foundation, Richard believes that each of us can be fluent in the language of scent.”