Last night at a wine tasting/dinner I might have left a few of the people in the room behind when I got to talking about aroma and bouquet. I believe that a huge part of wine appreciation is all about the olfactory. My sense of what smell is based not on something I can pinpoint, but more towards a highly non-verbal part of my way of operating in the world.
Tonight one of the wines literally shocked me when I smelled it. It wasn’t bad, but what I was smelling, truffles, was not one I had associated with this wine (Maculan Torcolato) in the 26 years I have enjoyed this wine. Here was a sweet wine yearning for a savory cheese, and a funky one at that. I was reminded of some of the significant smells in my life.
The rattlesnake and the first love were two of my most haunting scents.
The rattlesnake grew from hiking in the desert as a young boy scout. I even once was bitten by a baby sidewinder. After that I felt I would be protected from further attacks by the serpents. I was in their tribe now, had been initiated into their clan. And their gift to me was my ability to smell when they were near.
It is an eerie aroma. It has sage and a little petrol and a pungency reminding me of burnt wires. I know what that smell means, and when I detect it, my senses alert me to my fellow clansmen of the desert, an unlikely brotherhood. One that is meant to possibly assure we do each other no harm. So far it has worked out quite well.
Probably the most haunting aroma is the one I would smell on my girlfriend when we were both 14. I have never, ever smelled that aroma since then, many years ago. My recollection was of cherry blossoms, but there must have been a chemical reaction with her youthful skin to create a whole new smell. I can reach out and touch it in my mind’s nose. It was delicate and piercing, sweet and savory, seductive and forbidding. Maybe it was our hormones that factored into the equation, first love, high emotions, have you ever been there? I will take that delicate perfume to my grave; will I ever smell it again?
Tar and roses. Tonight one of the wines, a Barbaresco from Pio Cesare, had the classic Nebbiolo marker of tar and roses. Not much more than that, for the wine was far from ripe. It was wound pretty tight, which for a wine from a classic (2004) vintage, should make for good aging. Often a wine from that area will also take on a musty component, a truffle dimension. The La Ca Nova ‘Bric Mentina’ Barbaresco is a good example, from my experience, of that combination. Truffles can soften the hardness of a great vintage. The Produttori wines also do that for me. But I do love tar and roses. Love those tar babies.
Another favorite of mine, from early California days, is the Naked Lady, the Belladonna Lily. The flowers bloom in August and are sweet and deep, rivaling the best rose aromas. White wines, one tonight, a Muller Thurgau and Traminer blend from Basilicata, had a little of the Naked Lady in the glass. Such a wonderful aroma in the bouquet palate.
I know I lost a couple of the people in the room this night, but from the ones who came up to me afterward to talk further, I know I wasn’t the only one in the room that knew the power of scent. If it can save a life or recall a first love, why would one not want to embrace the influence it has over our little lives that are so important to each and every one of us?