Monday, January 24, 2022

Dan Berger: Aromatic Intrusions

 I renamed it the "unhappy hour," even though the thought was appreciated.

    The hotel put out two wines at 4 p.m. in its lobby, a white and a red. A sign invited guests to help themselves. Ignoring that the wine wasn't exciting, I nonetheless poured two glasses and we sat on a couch.

    Then I noticed what most other hotel guests never would have: the smells. 

    First there were vanilla-scented votive candles on every flat surface in the lobby, imparting such a strong scent I couldn't smell the wine at all.

    Then there was the wineglass -- it smelled like chlorine from the additive used to make them sanitary. The carpeting was new, so the lobby smelled like petroleum, and the entry door kept opening, allowing vehicles' diesel fumes to spew in.

    We were under nasal assault.

    For some people, reading this may conjure up the late comedian Pat Paulsen, who often said, "Picky, picky." But the aromatic intrusions were so annoying that we had only one choice. We went around the corner to a shop, bought a bottle of vinho verde from Portugal, and did our own happy hour in our room.

    Some people don't pay any attention to this stuff, but numerous aromatic interferences act as roadblocks to appreciating fine wines. And the more subtle the wine is, the easier it is to interrupt its delivery of a key element.

    One of the most obvious examples, and it's relatively unavoidable, comes in restaurants where kitchen smells are a huge part of the dining experience. And it gets even worse in places that do tableside preparation, such as that of Steak Diane, where brandy or cognac are added to the dish, which then is dramatically flamed in the middle of the dining room!

    That precise experience occurred to me years ago at an otherwise excellent restaurant -- just after we had opened a bottle of a great white Bordeaux. All we could smell was the Worcestershire sauce and the mustard, which Steak Diane calls for.

     It is for reasons such as this that I rarely order subtle white wines when I am out to dine. Chablis, chenin blanc and other similarly delicate whites usually cannot stand up to the assertive aromas that many foods impart. 

    I reserve such lighter wines for seafood and certain Asian foods, such as Thai and Japanese, which are usually better with white wines anyway.

    Best bets when dining out are fairly forceful reds, in particular when you can decant them to open up their aromatics and allow them to compete with ambient smells in the room.

    The best reds in the aromatic competition derby are syrah, petite sirah, zinfandel, malbec, and merlot. Older red wines have more aromatics to deliver, but they're typically more expensive.

    Similar aromatic challenges occur when sampling wines out-of-doors. Some people may not be able to smell grass, trees and other flora, but those scents do have a way of impeding our ability to sense wine's more elusive characteristics.

    If nothing else, the wine-sniffing experience outdoors differs from the same wine poured inside.    Another pitfall occurs when the vessel isn't glass. The wrong kind of plastic can give off such a foul smell that the wine is virtually ruined. 

    I once was a judge at a wine competition where the white plastic tablecloths smelled like a petroleum plant. All the tablecloths were removed and discarded outside.

    This subject makes more sense when you're considering quality wine, from which you're trying to experience all of its charms. If all you care about is how wet a wine is, ignore the foregoing.

    To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



Anonymous said...

If there is anything free hep-yo-self hotel lobby wine is known for, especially in hotels with diesel trucks idling near the sliding doors opening right into that lobby, it is the delicate bouquet and overall quality. Sheesh. Frankly, I suspect that anything that helped cover the stench would have been welcome but then again, I don't swill...swill.

Anonymous said...

It's 1:25 a.m. and I thoroughly enjoyed this. Chuckle.

Anonymous said...

I've experienced the off-putting odors of scented candles, stinky flower arrangements, carpet cleaners, people's perfume and aftershave lotions, and kitchen smells wafting through the dining and bar areas of establishments, too. Smells definitely alter one's palate when drinking wine. I'd like to read about how various foods such as cheeses, breads, meats and fruits can enhance wines, too. Food and wine parings can be made in heaven.

Anonymous said...

So farting is why the wife gets all pissy when she's enjoying another glass of box wine. Note to self : eat more beans.

Anonymous said...

Name a place, open to the public, where one can drink wine and experience zero competing aromas. Go.

Anonymous said...

If you think those smells are annoying, what until the smell of "medical" marijuana is added to the mix.

Anonymous said...

9:52 : Meh. Med Jane beats Papaws cheap cigar or Little Jimmy's vape anyday.

Anonymous said...

If you are an oenophile/connoisseur of truly fine wines, and the smells in the prospective place of purchase are such that you feel it would substantially interfere with your enjoyment of the contemplated wine, only an idiot would go ahead and order it.

"Excuse me, I realize this is Buttcut's Bodacious Barbecue but I'd like some Dover sole and a truly magnificent white...perhaps a Leroy Montrachet...a '94, if your cellar the sommelier handy?

Look, Hoss, we'uns serve beer roundcher...might I suggest you make a reservation at Le Bernardin if'in you want some high-falutin' shit like that...I can call Ripper and put in a word for you and the misses if ya wants me to..."

Anonymous said...

Wow dude, you are just better than everyone else then. Sure wish I could smell like you. My hero.

Ophelia said...

Oh, 12:19, you are “fair as a star, when only one/is shining in the sky.” Would that every other commenter (doesn’t that sound nicer than “yahoo,” which was what I originally typed?) offered such readable, risible gems! Started my morning off with a giggle.

As for the original essay, it made me feel rather thankful that I have the mixed blessing of anosmia, which is a poor-to-nonexistent sense of smell. While this means that I could never be a vintner or a sommelier, it also means that I can thoroughly enjoy a glass or two of plonk (those “naive domestic little Burgund[ies] without any breeding,”) happily unbothered by vanilla candles, new-carpet off-gases, and those other dreadful things that send Mr. Berger fleeing in anguish.

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