Snippets from Europe Trip: Lessons in Smelling

Of Wine

We went on a wine-tasting tour in Bordeaux. To educate us in the art of appreciating wine, they had a game for us. They give us four vials which had four different smells (pretty strong, not subtle like in actual wine) and we had to figure out what each of them smelled like. There were four couples on the tour and each couple was a team. We were also given a huge list of all possible kinds of smells a wine could have. I gave up on the game almost instantly when the very first vial confused the heck out of me. But Abhaya was more sporting; so we stayed put.


This is the story of two vials and their smells. While handing us one of those, our host said something to the effect that it was difficult for the Indians to recognize that smell. We glanced through the list of and without even smelling the vial, wrote “Truffles” against it. So did everyone else, we realized later. That was one vial we were all right about.

The second one, Abhaya was very sure, was cinnamon. He tried to get me to confirm, but for the life of mine I couldn’t figure out the smell. “Yeah. It’s spicy,” I mumbled to get him off my back. When it came to checking the answer it turned out that the correct option was pepper. We smelled it again. Of course, it was pepper. How could we ever think it was anything else? How on earth could it ever have smelled like cinnamon?

Indians usually get spicy smells right, our host informed us. It is all about what kind of smells you are used to, he was trying to explain with badly-behaving examples. We blushed and shrugged and giggled dutifully in response.

And Of Smelly Feet

Rains were our constant companion on the trip. One fine day in Paris, I realized after leaving the Airbnb that my shoes had not properly dried. but I didn’t want to go back to change and decided to keep it on. That evening we visited a fromagerie (cheese shop) and bought some cheese. We had decided to savor the cheese in our room. I freshened up after reaching the Airbnb and settled down to lay the cheese out. When Abhaya walked into the room he declared, “Your feet smell. Did you wash them?” “Not with soap,” I conceded as I was also smelling sweaty shoes or the stink they leave on your feet. I had been wearing the wet shoes the entire day. So, it was totally possible to have smelly feet. I went to the bathroom, washed and made sure that my feet were as fresh as daisies (or fleur-de-lis). But the smell won’t go. It must be the shoes, we figured. Abhaya collected both our shoes and socks and left them out in the balcony. That should keep the smell away also help them dry. But the smell in the room was still there. So, now Abhaya decided to give a soap treatment to his feet. We were still not entirely free of smell, but we decided the smell must be inside our noses now and it will subside in a while. It did. Either because the smell was finally getting out of our noses or our noses were getting used to it. We focused on cheese.

After eating a bit, Abhaya started reading about them on Wikipedia. He read thoroughly – all about their history, how they were made, what their chemical composition was and then he reached to this particular piece of info:

Camembert cheese gets its characteristic odor from many compounds. These include diacetyl (buttery flavoring for popcorn), 3-methylbutanal, methional (degradation product of methionine), 1-octen-3-ol and 1-octen-3-one (degradation products of fats), phenethyl acetate, 2-undecanone, δ-decalactone, butyric acid, and isovaleric acid (odor of gym socks).


Yes. We were eating Camembert cheese. After this experience, we ate blue cheese in a restaurant.

Every bad smell in France can be explained by some good cheese. And with wine and cheese being the thing, I don’t know how they ever manage to smell wine.


2 thoughts on “Snippets from Europe Trip: Lessons in Smelling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s