Sometime loving the finest things in life are in conflict or at least in perception but not in reality. I am a huge lover of fragrance and wine. I have never worn fragrance at a technical tasting or a consumer or trade/media tasting. I want to make sure I am not the cause of someone not perceiving the wine they are tasting fully. But when I am not at a tasting I love fragrance and love to wear it.
Here is a relationship that has been bound to me in terms of looking and observing the world through the senses experience of smell. Smell or scent can be a fully loaded word. The word “smell” denotes a negative image immediately in some people.
The relationship is that with wine the perception and enjoyment is through scent. The physiology of perceiving wine is delivered via the sense of smell hence the overload with wearing a fragrance at a technical tasting can affect some people.
The gift of loving scent is a good and a challenging thing. Scent is an imprint on many people’s perception of things past but also evocation of the future and of emotion. It is a simple pleasure and it is a complex one. Based on smell and even texture issues I am not an egg eater. The smell of a frying egg turns my stomach–I cannot get past the smell let alone eat one. I know few people who don’t eat eggs–when I say that I don’t like eggs… I get the quizzical “really!?!” Yes, really I have not changed that in the decades of my life. I don’t feel like I have missed anything except sharing in the morning ritual of many breakfasts. In childhood, there were things I couldn’t or didn’t want to eat but I grew to love them–seafood being one of them. Only the past few years I have started to enjoy some cheeses not all. Being a wine writer it is assumed that I have always loved cheese… I still cannot eat the very pungent kind.
Dental work has been a challenge for me and that is because of the smell… of that periodic experience of the drill…. whenever that happens I plead with my dentists to evacuate often. The smell of decayed organic matter is something I cannot tolerate. It also reminds me when I was young and when I had dental work–I remember that smell then and of course remember now. Luckily my dentists have been amazing at avoiding that smell which has made me no longer dreading a visit. I can handle the inorganic smells at the dental chair–they are momentary and truly do not bother me in the least–I don’t love it but I don’t hate it either.
My love for things wine and those things that are fragrances stem from goodness. I know that sounds too idealistic but it stems from my boyhood imagination. One of my aunts has a plum orchard on her property. One autumn I was in the orchard (I was 8 years old) helping pick plums and there was a smell of already fallen plums that have rejoined the earth and created a simple and haunting scent. The Scent I can still smell today …. I wish I could create this in a fragrance… it is rustic tones of moist earth, fallen leaves, stone fruit drying, leather, suede, cardamom, and mild hint of cinnamon…. And all of this is just a shorthand for a compound that is probably vastly more complex and yet beautiful. I told my aunt of this gift of her orchard and how meaningful it is to me today. I think many of us fall back to something memorable or evocative to think of a past experience or something with a positive attribute.
A positive scent for me brings confidence or longing. It reminds me of lovely people and gestures, amazing journeys and good times. And good things in the past and goodness to come. Think of the Three Kings in the Gospel of Matthew–they bring three objects to the baby Jesus–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There is scholarly debate on what the three gifts mean–and yet it is something most people can recite. Two of three gifts were of a scent nature. Positive scent have had both a kingly attribute as well as a medicinal one–one of healing and one of assurance in love.
I think of Dior’s Diorissimo that my mother loves and I hold dear. I remember when it was difficult to find in the US I found some in Germany and brought back this back for my mother. Because she is fond of it I am too. I remember working in a department store in college and I placed of the fragrances at that time on to my cognitive map. There were fragrances that I detested – Magi Noire to me has left an imprint of and the only word I can think of is as an oppressive smell–yes, I know it is a dramatic word. It was a long and annoying fragrance that had not top, heart or base notes–it was loud, sweaty-powdery and utterly unpleasant and annoyingly lingering. YSL’s Paris–smelled rich–over the top red rose petal characteristics.
I have been fortunate to get as gift some amazing fragrances. A bottle of Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet is something I treasure today and it gives me a specific of all things English–it is after all made in England and is a Royal Warrant fragrance. It smells gorgeously of citrus tones, gin and tonic, and subtle spice notation. Their warm note fragrance Endymion is an evocation of wood, oud, cedar, cardamom, sandalwood and leather tones. One of my all time favourites–beyond memorable–it is exhilarating.
I love the notes that I speak of in my favourable wine reviews – here are some words I use in fragrance and wine notations. This is just a small portion of what I utilize in my descriptors.
- Stone fruit ochard
- Plum orchard during autumn
- Bay leafs
- Dark red rose petal
- Myer Lemon
- Blood orange
- Dried fruit
- Passion fruit
- Green apple
It is absolute fun to look at the many descriptors that I love and more importantly are accurate in my opinion to getting to what the accuracy of smell and taste as it relates to wine. I attribute freshly opened tennis ball can to Ian Cauble as he talks about Germany Riesling. Boot polish as a reference to Shiraz by James Halliday. My view of wine, beer, spirits and coffee is richer because of my love of positive scents and fragrances. I feel I have been better in honing on characterization of wine, beer, spirits and coffee. I love the allure and all at once simplicity and complexity of fragrance and wine..
In my neighbourhood, I just recently discovered Tigerlilly Perfumery–It is so close I do not know how I have never stopped in or noticed?!? I blame it on being in my gilded cage–I love my house but I am always working. I was running a quick errand and I saw some fragrances… and I stopped and saw a great ensemble of independent fragrance producers. I started talking with the shops professionals and met Antonia–the stores owner and she is a master of fragrances. I loved talking with her about her experience and her love of fragrance. I was guided from one amazing fragrance to another. I was so glad this thoughtful shop exists. My current obsession is saffron– to trying a whole host of independent fragrance artists and trying a dizzyingly large number and thought I knew what was out there in the independent scent artists world–it turns out I feel woefully not aware of many of these artists.
Today’s scent trends are headed to unisex fragrances–okayness for men to wear softer, sweeter fragrances. And I am dazzled by the beauty of what is being created today. I love the simple and complex world of creative forces. I wonder and I do look forward to meeting these artists–what propels them –why do they make what they make?
This subject matter of fragrance gets very little coverage and yet I felt I should talk about because I love the fine art of fragrance and evocative scents.
I’d like to know your thoughts on fragrance—your fragrances, your thoughts in general and your thoughts on wine and scent.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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