Perfumes, Wine, and Olfactory Fatigue

Olfactory Fatigue, Perfume, and Fine Wines


I’ve noticed in my experiments that certain substances tire my nose more quickly than others. Usually, repeated smelling of one compound decreases the nose’s sensitivity to that compound only, but some ingredients shut down the nose almost entirely. 

This well-recognized phenomenon—known as olfactory fatigue—is usually a nuisance, but there are times when it can be put to our advantage. 

When we evaluate fine wines and perfumes, they should constantly pique our interest as new aromas unfold. A fine old wine may exhibit a hundred different smells in one glass. Beautiful perfume should enchant us as it constantly evolves.

All of this begs the question: Does the perfume or wine change as we sniff and snort or is it our ever-changing sense of smell? Perhaps when one layer dominates, our nose soon tires of that specific aroma and puts it in the background, rendering it less visible to the nose. As the layer disperses into the background, a new layer emerges and so on. 

Using such an approach, the original perfume is first “sketched” or “roughed in,” with the perfume’s most dominant aromas. This sketch is then sniffed just long enough to fatigue the nose and the original is sniffed immediately after. Those components in the original sketch will end up in the background (because the nose has tired of them) and as-yet-unidentified aromas will come to the foreground. This process is repeated by constantly adjusting the sketch and bringing it progressively closer to the original perfume.

I keep this in mind and keep all smelly things—used smelling strips, bottles of ingredients, test tubes,etc.—covered so I don’t prejudice my nose by smelling up the room. I started doing this when I became stuck in the development of Green Iris, and had my breakthrough with it only after my nose was allowed to rest.