Most of us will admit to conjuring up fond (and less fond) memories when we recognise a particular smell or a familiar site bolts us back to days gone by. Like the hearty stew that takes you right back to your grandmother’s kitchen, or seeing the ocean for the first time in ages as you drive to the coast?
Now, if you like, we can elaborate on how the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system (a.k.a the “emotional brain”), and we can go on about the amygdale and the hippocampus and conditioned responses, but we are not going to bore you with the scientific facts.
Indulge us for a minute and imagine you are in a noisy family restaurant, with kids gleefully screaming, old sauce stains on the menu and the smell of fried oil coming from the kitchen. Now, imagine you order a bottle of wine of fairly good quality, but to your dismay it just doesn’t satisfy the way it did when you previously enjoyed it.
That’s probably because the last time you enjoyed it, it was a sunny day, outside on a deck overlooking vineyards and mountain ranges, while the kids happily tumbled around on the lawn and the food you ordered complemented the vino to absolute perfection.
An ambience that is rather different to the one described above, isn’t it?
It’s all just a matter of taste
Few will argue that tasting or drinking wine is much more enjoyable as part of a holistic experience that has all the senses coming together in a delightful array of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Whether you prefer a wooded Chardonnay over a more floral Sauvignon Blanc remains subjective because of countless variables such as the genetic makeup of your taste buds, personal experience (memories), perception (cheap wine versus expensive wine), and so on.
There are plenty of examples in which even the most discerned palates of seasoned wine tasters have been fooled by blind tastings, describing the first bottle as a bouquet completely different to the second, when in fact it was the exact same wine of which the only difference was the temperature at which it was served.
Dr. Gary K. Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, which studies smell and taste and how they affect human health, sums it beautifully in an interesting article on the subject when he says: “Take your genetics plus your experience, and we are all living in our own sensory world.”
For that reason, he has one simple recommendation: “Enjoy what you enjoy, and don’t worry about what the other guy is saying”.