Know-How: Perfumes for Wine Tasting

I’m lucky to live a car drive away from several great wine regions, which we enjoy visiting several times a year. Every time packing for the next trip I try to choose the right perfume(s) for the occasion.

Sonoma April 2014

So what perfume should you wear when going wine tasting? You shouldn’t.

That would have been one of the shortest posts I’ve ever published but I don’t plan stop there, I’ll elaborate.

If you are a normal regular person who can easily survive a day or two without wearing a perfume, you should definitely consider “going commando” (perfume-wise, of course) to wine tasting activities: wine aromas are very subtle and nuanced and can hardly compete with even the weakest perfume.

But if you’re a perfume addict like I am and staying off perfume completely feels like a cruel and unusual punishment, I’ll share with you a couple of ideas I came up with while thinking on that topic.

First of all, it’s important to choose the application spots strategically. I usually apply a couple of drops to the wrist of the non-dominant hand. This way I won’t inadvertently introduce the scent of my perfume to the wine I’m drinking but will be able to get a whiff of it any time I want. Based on the results for the question I posed in the post “Oh, TOES!! (for some people)” or Where to Apply Perfumes it will be a natural choice for at least 50% of my readers.

Rusty's Paw

Next – the choice of the perfume. While notes in perfumes are an abstract notion – they represent what a perfumer either actually put into it or wanted to recreate, wine notes are even more abstract. Since none of the ingredients are actually added to wines, all those “nuances of gooseberries”, “hint of apricots” and “touch of bell pepper aroma” are just a product of a complex interaction of soil minerals, grape varieties and barrel types.

The most common aromas I came across while reading wine descriptions were: grapefruit, cherry, apricot, cassis, raspberry, apple and blackberry. And it’s not even close to the extensive list of fruits, flowers and herbs that are used to describe wines! Also, as I learned from reading, oak barrels might add some vanilla, “baking spices” (very specific, right?) and coconut. Can I smell/taste them all? Maybe a hint of something. Sometimes. Maybe. Nevertheless, I tried to come up with perfumes that won’t clash with anything I might smell in wines.

Rusty and Flowering Tea

Tea notes – both black and green, including jasmine, should be fine: I don’t remember ever seeing any reference to tea when it came to wine. Aldehydes, amber, different types of woods (including agarwood), fig, saffron and leather should work as well. I’m not sure but I think some gourmands (those that are not vanilla heavy) would do. I’m not sure about flowers: I read about white flowers, violet, lavender and geranium as aromas associated with wines. A couple of months ago I would have said: “go with roses” but recently I came across wine from one of my favorite wineries SunceAleatico Dry that has a distinct rose note in it. Later I read that “Aleatico wines are characterized by the aroma of roses.

Wine Tasting at Sunce

Perfumes that I’ve successfully worn to wine tastings were L’Artisan Tea for Two, Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau, Jo Malone Earl Grey & Cucumber, Black Vetyver Café and Saffron, NVC Ashoka and Ormonde Jayne Woman.

Are you a wine drinker? What perfume(s) do you think go well with wines?


Images: my own


38 thoughts on “Know-How: Perfumes for Wine Tasting

  1. What a fun, fun idea for a post, and I love the systematic approach you applied to the topic, researching ‘phantom’ notes in wine to the nth degree, and choosing a non-conflicting perfume accordingly. Was also amused for some reason by the reference to the ‘non-dominant hand’. Makes perfect sense to wear scent on that wrist, but I would never think things through as carefully as you. Nor do I probably drink wine of the calibre that requires restrained perfume wearing, to be honest, so that is my answer to your question I guess. Really enjoyed this though!


    • Thank you, Vanessa! I enjoyed thinking about these questions since I had enough time during those trips: even though it’s close but still it takes a couple of hours (and beds, if we’re staying overnight… let’s say, they give me enough time to think about anything I want before I fall asleep).


  2. I do drink and like wine. The last time I went to a wine tasting I didn’t wear any perfume because I thought it might clash and I never thought about using scents that won’t occur in wine because anything, even leather and woody notes can pop up. Funny how similar the vocabulary we use for both can be…I think your tea note idea will work, but unfortunately I’m not a fan. I guess for a serious wine tasting I will still go commando, but I like the idea of pairing specific wines with perfumes.


    • Sometimes I wait until evening and put on perfume before going to dinner. But if it’s just a quick one day trip, I often don’t want to “waste” that day going scentless.


  3. Sadly I just like wine. Have no real interest in it and drink it only with dinners or champagne at a breakfast event. Honestly I am just as happy with water or coffee. I know, yes I think I am missing something. I do like to go with friends to wine country and always have a couple of cases of stuff that goes down well with food plus the bubbles that are always in the fridge in case of a celebration.
    Portia xx


  4. Thanks to you, I’m now a wine drinker (or becoming one, at least). And now I have something to think about the next time I’m at a wine tasting (it never occurred to me to think about this when I was with you).

    Raising my glass to you for your wonderful advice – and many other things! Cheers, Undina.

    Btw, I love how you caught Rusty looking like he was doing a tea sniffing, parsing out the notes with his very curious kitty nose.


    • Rusty was actually sniffing that tea pot. It was new (I just got it as a Christmas gift) and when I used it for the first time Rusty just had figure out what it was.

      Once you get your Chardonnay from Lynmar Estate, you have to remind me the exact name and year – I’m still under a huge impression from the experience.


  5. I am a wine drinker but I never thought about what perfume would suit. Possibly something dry and not too strong so as not to project too much…
    The application to opposite arm makes perfect sense though. :-)


  6. Sadly I don’t drink wine because I don’t like the taste and can’t tolerate it. I think I’m missing out though. You and your v.SO clearly get a lot out of this interest.

    I will now forever think of myself on perfume-free days as “going commando”. Love it.


  7. I have asked myself this very same question! For a long time in graduate school, I made extra money giving wine tasting classes on the side. It all started with a stint at a wine bar and then kind of took off when some guests asked for private tastings. I’ve never really liked going “commando” perfume-wise (what a great turn of phrase, Undina!), and found that the best thing to do is to choose a perfume that smells like absolutely nothing in nature. My go-to was Molecule 01, which had the added bonus of being pretty much undetectable to me unless I was standing directly under the heat lamp at the wine bar.

    Who knows what my clients thought of it! :-)


      • Great minds do think alike :-) I think the Escentric people should really embrace this marketing angle!

        As for a wine that pairs well with bacon? It’s by far not my favorite (in fact, I kind of hate it as a single varietal — too flabby, too fruity), but you can’t deny that a merlot that smells like beef jerky would be bacon’s best friend ;-)


        • Just recently I started tasting Merlot again and found at least a couple that were surprisingly good. Though I agree – far from the favorite for me as well.


  8. Good question, Undina. The last time I went wine testing (but only because it was part of the excursion) was at a winery in Santorini – the view was spectacular. For that trip, the only perfume I brought was Atelier Cologne Sous le toit de Paris. I never thought to worry about it affecting my taste buds and in hindsight, it’s such a light fragrance that it would not have clashed anyway. I will admit to not necessarily caring about teasing out the nuances in wine as long as it is sweet :-)


    • Wait, wait… What taste buds?! I’ve previously mentioned elsewhere: I do discourage friends from drinking perfumes ;-)
      There are so many interesting wines that are not sweet (though for the first decade of me drinking wines I were where you are), you just have to find the right ones that work for you (too bad I cannot send you a couple of decants of my favorites ; -) ).


  9. This is a great topic for a post! Me and my friends regularly do wine tastings and when we first started out I used to “go commando” perfume-wise. Now, I’m not as strict anymore. I might choose a perfume early in the morning that I know has low sillage, apply lightly and than be sure not to reapply until after the tasting. That should be safe for 99% of all tastings. Of course, if a random French millionaire would invite me to his mansion in Burgundy to break up his ancestors wine celler that was sealed during WWII to prevent the nazis get to their invaluable wines, I might consider not wearing any perfume. (Of course, that might have more to do with me planning to raid his mothers perfume cabinet later the same night…)


    • Sigrun, that was one of the best comments ever! You made me laugh – thank you!

      I try to be mindful of others and not to impede my own appreciation of wines but sometimes I just can’t stay completely off perfumes: a good vacation day has to go hand in hand with a good perfume, no matter what are the circumstances!


  10. I drink almost no alcohol and I doubt that in the nearest future I will be visiting a wine yard (we don’t have many of those in Poland) but I liked the aspect of your post and I’m sure people will find it educative. Especially the wine drinkers (I prefer white or rose wine over red one)


    • When you get a chance to go wine tasting outside of Poland (France or Italy, for example), I think you might enjoy it: do not concentrate on drinking part (wine tasting to wine drinking is probably the same as perfume testing in the store or at the exhibition to perfume wearing) – do sniffing and checking taste nuances.


  11. Great post Undina. Aaaand so glad to see Rusty! I love wine and my hubby makes own wine as well. At this moment, 5 different kinds of wine are bubbling away nicely. :)
    There are quite a few wineries around in the area where I live but, unfortunately, I don’t like our local wine… they are too sharp for my liking. When I go wine tasting, I tend to wear low sillage one and apply it behind my knees. I’m just too addicted to perfume to go “commando” perfume-wise. Oh, I love this phrase!


    • My grandmother used to make dessert wines, I loved them! But I’ve never tried making one myself. How long does the process go? Do you drink the result?

      I’ve heard once about behind the knees application: a woman was saying that that was the only way she could wear Fracas.


      • We all enjoy drinking the end result. :) Some take longer, like chocolate & orange wine which took about 3 to 4 months, and simple fruits wines, strawberries, pears, apples, blackberries, etc., take about 6-10 weeks. I had to stop my hubby making weird ones like parsnip wine or brussels sprouts wine…


  12. That is hard…wine has so many nuances. When I really want to taste something, I don’t wear anything. I avoid wearing scented hand cream and I want my face cream to be just lightly fragrant. I can’t decide which perfume I would wear…


  13. This is a great idea for a post! Especially because all the tips (or most of them) can probably be applied to “seriously” eating in a nice restaurant, too. :) I usually think that I would prefer not to be wearing perfume when wine tasting, but then when I do it, it’s fine. I’ve worn Angel EDT, Bronze Goddess, and Brulure de Rose with no problems. I do think your tip about not applying on the dominant wrist is a good one (I might avoid wrists altogether, actually).

    Now I want to go wine tasting. ;)


    • When are you coming over? ;)

      I don’t do much of “serious eating” but instinctively I do apply a perfume lighter if I’m going to a restaurant. The only time I do not hold myself back is a big(ger) party where I know will be enough space for anybody who doesn’t want to smell my perfume.


  14. Hi Undina
    Great topic! I have only been to one (rather glam) wine tasting, though I thoroughly adore wine. At this tasting they gave us a prompt card with around 100 aroma/taste connotations on it, some as perfume lingo friendly as ‘barnyard’ and ‘feral’. Is that not a wonderful idea? I think I was wearing Opium at the time which in itself is rather deep dark and red!
    Have you tried good quality Greek Retsina wine? It tastes of turpenic notes/forests. I adore it.


    • I don’t think I’ve ever tried Restina but, from what I’m reading, it should be very interesting, especially for those who are into perfumes. I will try it when I get a chance.

      At one of the wineries they recently had a book with different scents (citruses, berries, etc.) and I spent more time sniffing those than tasting the wine ;)


  15. Pingback: Perfumes, Wine and Ocean – Undina's Looking Glass

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