“Whenever I smell baking bread, I think of my grandmother.” That’s what a
friend recently said to me. We had been talking about wine and aromas when the
conversation turned to the power of smells and the memories they evoke.
When aromas are inhaled, for example during the ‘sniffing’ portion of a wine
tasting, the esters, or airborne chemical compounds are filtered through the
olfactory epithelium. The epithelium is a cluster of nerve endings located in
the retro nasal passage. The nerves in the epithelium transmit the scent to the
brain. The brain then identifies the scents. The Olfactory bulb in the brain
which identifies the scent is part of the limbic system. The limbic system is
the part of the brain most closely associated with feeling and memory. This is
why smells so often trigger memories and bring up emotions more readily then our
“Last night while watching tv with Megan, I saw an Olive Garden commercial
with the price “$8.95” shown. The dork in me started mental calculations:
“Lessee, that’s 9, no $10 with tax, plus beverages…and tip…so basically the
four of us wouldn’t get out of there for less than $75-80….for bread, pasta
and lettuce…sure, its “endless” but the ingredients couldn’t be cheaper.”…
then a minute later I realized that I had been calculating a dinner tab for the
four of us, not 3.” This was a face book status post by an acquaintance who lost
his teenage son last year in a freak accident. His friends posted their
sympathy, but he corrected them, saying that the moment wasn’t sad but sweet to
him. I had to think about that.
So much of our daily lives are spent in an alert and focused state of mind.
But it’s in our habitual thinking, in our distracted thinking, and in our scent
memories, where we find moments when people we’ve lost, live on. With scents,
it’s almost like they are there with us physically, because we are experiencing
a physical sensation that we associate with them.
A wine with great, complex aromas is wonderful. But the best wines are those
enjoyed with great company. In those wines the memory of the wine’s aromas
become fused with the memory of the evening and the conversation. So that the
wine is no longer merely a physical manifestation of its own terroir. It becomes
a physical manifestation of our most cherished memories.