The first thing you learn in wine education is how much you don’t know about wine. The second thing you learn is the value of scent and the ability to smell.
In his book, Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent, famous Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena says, “Perfume is a story in odors, sometimes a poetry of memory.” The term “odor” is similar in the world of wine. Every wine has a distinct odor, but the scent imbeds itself in our memory.
Personal fragrance is a no-no in the world of judging wine, as it interferes with others’ ability to evaluate aromas. As a lover of fragrance as much as wine, this has been the hardest part of my journey.
I’m a fragrance junkie. I’ve amassed a collection that rivals a small boutique. I have books written by the best “noses” in the fragrance business. Yet, I’m not allowed to wear their creations any time wine is involved.
Every tasting I attend is a dilemma. It only took one time where someone asked if I was wearing fragrance for me to realize the error of my ways.
Fragrance is part of my daily uniform. If I don’t wear it, I feel something is missing.
My first scent memory is my mother’s perfume. I associate Estee Lauder’s Private Collection with her. The scent gives me comfort. It calms me every time I smell it.
I remember playing with my grandmother’s Chanel No. 5 as a child, notes of jasmine heady in my nose and in her space. I wear these scents to be connected with these women. Fragrance is part of my daily uniform. If I don’t wear it, I feel something is missing.
I’ve studied fragrance—its chemistry, flowers, essences, components and notes—for more than a decade, which has helped in wine tasting. In wine, we not only understand where the grapes were grown, but how they were picked, pressed, aged and stored. In fragrances, my nose can tell the difference between natural and synthetics scents, and it’s been useful in understanding wine faults.
However, owing to my love of wine, I’ve discovered that there’s a method to wear fragrance incognito. First, avoid anything too floral. All honeysuckle, tuberose, and oud scents are too powerful. Vanilla can be too sweet. A powdery jasmine and iris can be worn, but only if they’re not applied to pulse points, and just one spritz.
Wine is similar to personal fragrance. It all starts with the nose.
Currently, only Lubin’s Nuit de Longchamp has passed the wine-tasting fragrance contest.
My fragrances represent a personal journey. There’s Fragonard’s Belle Chérie that I picked up when I led beauty tours to Paris. There’s Christian Dior’s Oud Ispahan scent that took me down an oud journey. My beloved Roja Dove Amber Oud can still bring tears to my eyes, as it reminded me of getting engaged in Egypt.
Wine is similar to personal fragrance. It all starts with the nose. In wine, the nose guides our initial thoughts on whether to take the first sip, and then several more. Fragrance is the same. At first whiff, we determine whether we like it, or if it’s too floral, musky, heavy or soft. In the first application, we determine if it’s a keeper. It’s a visceral and emotional connection.