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How Your Powerful Scent Memories Contribute to the Wine Experience

From first dates to birthdays to weddings, wine often is that je ne sais quoi for so many of life’s moments. That’s why so many people collect the corks from the bottles they enjoy on those milestone occasions (the scent of the cork can take you right back to the moment). Have you ever considered enjoying a wine from the year you were born on your birthday? [Note to younger wine drinkers- if the idea of drinking a birth-year wine on your birthday sounds good to you, try to do it in your late-20s or early-30s. The availability and price get a little ridiculous when you’re searching for wines that are 40+ years old.] 

Love at first scent

Often, the experience of wine begins with your nose. The ritual of smelling the wine in the glass, swirling, and then smelling again [all before taking the first sip] isn’t just for show. Smelling a wine before you taste it has practical uses, like priming your senses for when the first sip hits your tongue. Approximately 80-90% of what we experience as taste actually comes from our sense of smell, making our noses the most important tool we have for enjoying wine.

There is a powerful connection between our sense of smell and our memories. The part of our brains that processes odors is in the same part of the brain that handles memories and emotions. This explains how some scents can bring up very strong memories. Maybe the smell of wisteria blooming transports you back to a childhood neighbor’s backyard, or dried oregano can always recall your grandmother’s kitchen around the holidays. [We learned more than a little bit about this from our friends at Hazeltine Scent Co.] The amazing thing about wine is it can contain all of those aromas, and trigger those same memories.

A personal scent reflection

There was a night years ago when, for me, an amazing bottle of wine elevated an already memorable evening. An old friend was in town, and he brought me to a mutual friend’s house for a long, delicious dinner. There were many bottles of wine consumed, but the 1996 Chateau d’Armailhac was the star of the show. Years later, I was able to enjoy another bottle of the same wine, same vintage, and memories of that first night came rushing back- the duck we grilled, the friends who were there, the stories we told. 

Beyond tying wines to specific memories, there are wines that you’ll drink that are memorable regardless of the occasion. I can still remember with vivid detail a bottle of Domaine de la Grand’Cour Fleurie ‘Le Clos’ Cuvee Vieilles Vignes. Its aromas of bright red fruit and dried purple flowers jumped out of the glass for me. To this date, it’s the single most expressive [in both smell and taste] wine I’ve ever had, and the experience was absolutely magical. I may be chasing that feeling for the rest of my life. However, there was no special occasion: it was an average weeknight after a long day at work. The only thing that made it memorable was how amazing the wine smelled and—more importantly—tasted.

Cherish the scents you’ll never forget

This is part of what makes trying new wines so exciting: the hope that another magical experience is in the next bottle. Unfortunately, like most of life’s moments, it’s impossible to force the stars to align. Great company, a great setting, and a favorite bottle of wine don’t always mean a memorable experience. 

Some people say understanding the science behind all of this kills the romance of it, but I disagree. Understanding why wine has this unique power only makes me appreciate it more.