More Olfactory Delights

Following my recent post touching ever so briefly on the sensory experience of perfume and wine, I wanted to share John Lancaster’s excellent article from the New Yorker’s March 10 Style Issue. Maybe it’s already made the rounds, but since the New Yorker is something I have a hard time keeping up with, and since I’m usually less than thrilled to see the Style Issue in my pile of mail (I don’t think fashion and style are the magazine’s strong points), this was an easy article to miss. Check it out!

Here’s a choice excerpt:

“The idea that your palate and your vocabulary expand simultaneously might sound felicitous, but there is a catch. The words and the references are really useful only to people who have had the same experiences and use the same vocabulary: those references are to a shared basis of sensory experience and a shared language. To people who haven’t had those shared experiences, this way of talking can seem like horse manure, and not in a good way.

Consider product A, in which

layers of cedar and raspberry strike a sharp upfront note, while clove and creamy notes add body while contributing an exotic, sumptuous character that conveys luxury in its essence. Might there also be a trace of rubber, though?

And then there’s B, with

its aroma of underripe bananas, and the way the fruitiness opens up on my tongue with a flick of bitterness that quickly fades to reveal lush, grassy tones.

Product C, on the other hand, is

fruity (with a high-profile role for the deliciously garbagey, overripe smell of guava) plus floral (powdery rosy) plus green (neroli and oakmoss).

These are descriptions of, respectively, a chocolate, an olive oil, and a perfume, but you couldn’t possibly guess that.”

*Taken from Scents and Sensibility: What the Nose Knows, by John Lancaster (New Yorker, March 10, 2008). Link here.