Le Nez du Vin holds the key to understanding the universe. Designed by, who else, a Burgundian son of the vine, Jean Lenoir, Le Nez is a master kit of fifty-four high-quality aromas often found in wine. Its encyclopedic layout condenses an enormous of amount of information. Each scent (let’s take butter—the bottles are tiny and last forever) has its own color illustration (a gooey country slab on a white wrapper), a detailed story of its chemical make-up (micro-organisms called Lactobacilius diacetylis make large quantities of butane-di-one), a lovely description of its scent, and even a list of specific wines (down to the individual producer) where you will find butter’s special qualities, like Meursault, Montrachet, Ruinart, Kistler. Along the way you’ll get your head blown off with stuff like this:
“Upon arrival in the back of the nasal passage, an odoriferous molecule works like a chemical signal, dissolving in the mucus and combing with proteins in the receptors to generate a whole series of reactions. The chemical message is instantly transformed into an electrical message which is projected in the form of an image onto the olfactory bulb, which is then processed in the deepest recesses of the brain, logged in the memory bank, compared to others in the temporal lobe, and finally associated with a pleasurable element in the far lateral hypothalamus.”
In case of skepticism, Lenoir has kindly articulated within his Kit the exhausting and meticulous method for re-creating these scents and bottling them for practical eternity, about a few standard human lifetimes. There is no doubt of his aim: complete authenticity. Reaching it is perhaps another matter. Some scents (pine, redcurrant, saffron) are faint and distant while others (linden, chocolate, melon) singe the nostril hairs away. There does occur a weird schism in the brain where you will smell, say, pear and know there is no wine you have ever smelled which contains a note of pear like that. While it’s tempting to assigned fault to Le Nez, or at least accuse it of olfactory misrepresentation, it’s helpful to remember this simple fact: no scent in wine is ever smelled in isolation. Pine and redcurrant are usually faint and distant notes, rarely occurring with power. Chocolate and linden, meanwhile, often jump out of the glass. (Two other things to remember: you may not have tasted enough wine to recognize pear, or you may not be paying attention when you drink. More on the latter later.)
The more you use Le Nez, the more impressed you become with its craftsmanship and purpose. Though it is by no means a divine oracle that will touch your forehead with a perfect finger and impart perfect knowledge, it is a peerless education tool, a fun game, a sensorial inquiry, and a vault of humble wisdom. The extensive cross-references on vineyards, grape varieties, and aromas are almost worth the cost of purchase itself.
Let me repeat. Le Nez du Vin holds the key to understanding the universe. In addition to the Master Kit of Wine Aromas, Lenoir has branched out and developed other kits covering different olfactory themes: Wine Faults, New Oak, Le Nez du Café, Armagnac, Whiskey, and Roses (yes, the flower). That’s 186 scents over seven kits. Why, Jean? Besides the obvious answer of meeting the demands of the market and of scent being your lifelong passion, why? Lenoir had to self-publish the first edition of Le Nez in 1981, and though it was popular in some circles, it took nearly twenty-five years for his ideas to take hold in the larger mass consciousness and allow him to expand his product line. So…why?
As primer, read the two previous articles by this site’s administrator (it’s tempting to call her Superwoman*), Ms. Kent: Super-Tasters: Is This A Thing?, and The Sights, The Smells. Consider the former article and all its ramifications for culture-at-large. Consider the expansion of Le Nez’s product line. Consider the notion of smell itself and how in those sweet bygone times it was believed to be the source of the most piercing insights into a person’s true character. Weaving these disparate threads together, Le Nez and its growing popularity fits into a kind of perception that is finding a resurgence in contemporary life: we want to slow the world down. The cynic in you (beat them to death with a spiked bat) might say that Le Nez is just another manifestation of people with too much money to spend on too much ridiculous shit. (You’d be right and you’d be wrong. Paradox is the enduring state of our existence.) We can easily see how the culture of wine, in all its cons, can be quickly tied to associations of pointless leisure and indulgence, to show-offs and narcissists, to the know-it-alls and the men who would be kings, and kingmakers. There are those who want to speed the world up. Slowing it down is an unthinkable proposition.
In consequence, for many people on this planet, life moves at a speed that is nearly unbearable. This is, to go out on a vine, not healthy. We feel the truth of this on both a conscious and subconscious level and as remedy we seek experiences that slow the world down. Vacation, sex, literature, walks on the beach, meditation retreats in the mountains, intimate discussions with friends, fresh squeezed juice. There are many such experiences that give us this much-needed downturn in pace. Wine can be one of them.
Since we experience the world predominantly through sight and sound, smell is somewhat of a “dumb” sense to us because we do not often use it to its full potential. We do not cultivate smell. (Side note: among other things, Le Nez trains the nose like a muscle and allows for the development of a communal, and useful, vocabulary. Not to discount analogies and metaphors for describing wine—my favorite game—but Le Nez can convince you there really is an objective language for wine aromas.) So when we do use smell as our dominant faculty of investigation we must spend more mental energy to pay attention to what we are sensing. Quoth Lenoir, “Identification of aromas requires great concentration.” When we concentrate, we consciously limit the amount of information we are receiving from the world around us. This is called focus. This is how everything in the world gets done. The quality of its doing is dependent on the degree of focus. All of this—attention, concentration, focus—slows the world down, allows for a greater degree of understanding and appreciation of whatever task is at hand.
There is only one reason to smell wine: pleasure. We may be evaluating the 32nd Cabernet of the night at a marathon tasting or we may be popping the first bottle during a big family brunch. We may be amateurs or self-styled experts or certified connoisseurs, we may be discerning or clueless, but in that miraculous glass at the end of the rainbow, is pleasure. Setting aside individual preference for the moment: what is pleasure? Happiness and enjoyment. Heady satisfaction. A source of delight. We want this. We are looking for this every time we experience a wine. How do we experience it? Through the play of senses, all of them: the sight of the wine in the glass and its color as the light plays off its substance, the breadth and depth of its smell and taste, the sound of the winemaker describing their techniques, the touch of someone close to you as they lean over and ask you what you think. And later, after the experience, when we replay the memory, when we think about the wine, our pleasure has now shifted from the physical senses to the mental plane: our thoughts reinforce the pleasure of our emotions. Our body-computer has taken in data through our senses and filtered it through the matrix of our whole individual mental life and has created an experience of pleasure. And then what do we do? We seek to deepen that pleasure. We seek to prolong it. How do we do this? We gather knowledge and experience with the aim of improving our understanding and appreciation of that which gives us pleasure. We seek the true experience. The essence of the thing. (We still talking about wine here?) How do we find the essence of a thing? Though love, and pleasure is a great first step towards love.
Now: what if a New York City socialite has never smelled linden trees blooming along a country river? Does not knowing this keep her from having pleasure in a Savenneires? Of course not. Does knowing this and internalizing this increase the pleasure? Exponentially. Isn’t this what we want? Individual preferences aside, ask ten people and ten people will tell you they want to live a pleasurable life, want to have more pleasure in their life. Scents can lead us to more pleasure because it forces us to slow the world down, take it in, think hard about it, understand and appreciate it. And so, Le Nez du Vin holds the key to understanding the universe, as it prefers the reflective act of smelling to the instinctive act of drinking.
Administrator note: This description makes Kailyn feel quite bashful, and is quite undeserved.