Frustrated by Fragrance
Michael and I attended two wine trade shows in one day last week….our first of the season. Tasting season presents the opportunity for importers and distributors to get ‘em all in the same room at once— shop owners, wine directors, somms, wine educators, columnists, bloggers and the press, creating a buzz around their portfolios, and giving attendees a reason to acquire/feature the latest vintages of their wines out of all the hundreds-of-thousands of wine options in the NY distribution market. Sound like fun? It can be. But, it’s also a place of business, and requires focus, concentration and a sensitive, unhindered palate. This is a delicate paradigm, which can be shattered in an instant by a rookie mistake. And ironically, I’m not referring to alcoholic intoxication.
On this particular day, the hundred-or-so wines we sampled were “showing” particularly well. In practical terms, this means that the wines, rather than being stubborn or muted in the glass, were instead smelling and tasting fresh, expressive and “correct”— a condition which those who acknowledge the principles of biodynamic farming like to attribute to the specific calendar day on which the wines are uncorked. I’m not going to get geeky here by signing off in agreement with Bio-D philosophies in one fell swoop (that can be saved for another discussion), but these wines certainly did have the gods on their side…..until (Arrgggh!): Human Intervention, or more specifically, the smell of designer fragrance invading the tasting space.
Michael has blogged before about both the science and the etiquette behind this olfactoral assault, and in the nearly 2 years that have passed, the situation seems to have worsened, as fragrance has grown more popular, and the ”please notice me” culture has gained traction. At tradeshows, there is at least the opportunity to escape someone’s cologne cloud by re-stationing in a different part of the venue.
The real perils arise in the restaurant setting, where relocation is not as practical. A favorite example takes me back to a romantic celebratory dinner with Michael at a top NYC dining spot, during which the staff graciously allowed us to switch tables not just once, but twice, to flee the presence of 2 different couples’ fragrance frenzies (give me one good reason why an expensive glass of mature Riesling should be muted due to Justin Bieber brand Hair Mist).
A different account unfolded while I was a server at another NYC foodie haven. Four women dressed to the nines arrived on a Saturday night reeking of perfume more expensive than Left Bank Bordeaux. The dining room was tiny, and packed full of foodies who were there to drop big bucks on a world-class culinary experience. With these flamboyant females seated smack in the middle of the action, chaos ensued, as everyone else requested to be relocated (but with no options open to them). It was on this night that my first million-dollar idea was born: The fragrance-free dining section!
The idea of restaurants and wine tastings turning people away wearing too much fragrance is something that Michael would triumph, but it’s not exactly in the best interest of the establishment. To my brothers and sisters in the wine and restaurant trades: There is unfortunately nothing we can do to deter or shame these people away from bathing in synthetic scent. We’ll just have to wait for the fad to pass. But you can actively start the ball rolling by PLEASE putting scent-neutral soap in the restrooms! Turns out the stimulating fragrance of coconut, melon spice and exotic flowers wafting from our fingertips doesn’t marry so well with truffles and Barolo. A little food for thought.