The use of scented oils to improve health has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians famously used scented oils, as did the Persians and Greeks. Flowers and herbs were cultivated for use in all aspects of life, from hygiene to cooking to spiritual and physical wellbeing. For every milestone in life, there was a specific oil to mark the occasion.
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Scent Therapy Oils
Oils were viewed as a legitimate healing tool well into the 20th century. Particularly in France, lavender was used by doctors on the battlefield to treat wounds. During World War II, a French biochemist, Marguerite Maury, developed a unique method of applying these oils to the skin with massage. Today this healing modality, known as aromatherapy, is used all over the world.
Of course, the French are also esteemed for their noses: not only is France the home of the world’s perfume capital, Grasse, but their wines also take pride of place on the global market. It could be said that the French revere scent more than any culture in the world.
Science and Smell Retraining Therapy
Is it any wonder, then, that the best research scientists for scent therapy are in France?
Their expertise proved critical when many of those suffering from COVID-19 also lost their ability to smell. This condition, known as anosmia, threatened the livelihood of anyone who relied on their ability to taste and smell to do their job.
Bordeaux: Not Just for Wine
Smell scientists in Bordeaux, the home of one of France’s most heralded wine regions, began studying the problem. At the Institute of Vine and Wine, Dr. Sophie Tempèr developed a training protocol built on two components. The first was to imagine “lost” smells critical to daily life, such as rotten eggs. The second component involved sniffing aroma-concentrated essential oils several times a day. The essential oils came from four smell groups: fruit, flower, spice, and herb.
“These exercises are not a guarantee—it’s not a miracle—but the more you stimulate smell, the more chance you have of recuperating well,” said Dr. Tempère, who likens the training to an injured athlete who needs to tone muscle after injury.
Interestingly, many wines exhibit aromas from those same smell groups. Keith Wallace, an oenologist and founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, believes that recovering sommeliers and winemakers may benefit from smelling wines exhibiting the four smell groups named in Dr. Tempère’s study.
“If you work in the wine industry you’re already familiar with the fruit and earth aromas in fine wine. It’s plausible that using certain wines in a training protocol could speed the rate of recovery for both winemakers and sommeliers,” said Mr. Wallace.
The Best Wine for Scent Therapy
One of the best ways to begin smell therapy at home is with a wine tasting! This works especially well for smell therapy for COVID-19, including sommeliers.
For Fruit Scents
Fruit is a key component in all types of wine, whether it is dry, sweet, sparkling, or even fortified. The common categories of fruit aromas in white wines are citrus, orchard, tropical, and stone fruit. In red wines, the aromas range from red fruits (strawberry, cranberry, cherry, etc.) to dark fruits (plum, fig, blackberry, etc.)
To test your ability to smell fruitiness in white wines, our top suggestions are Gewurztraminer and chardonnay. Gewurztraminer is known for a panoply of fruit notes that include exotic aromas like lychee, mango, and pineapple. A classic California chardonnay should smell like ripe apples or pears.
For red wines, both zinfandel and malbec are known for their jammy red and dark fruit aromas. Crushed black cherries, strawberries and raspberries are common fruit notes in zinfandel. Malbec is known for ripe plum and blackberry aromas.
For Floral Scents
Floral notes in wine are oftentimes more subtle than fruity aromas, but two wines known for their distinct floral character are Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Look for a dry Riesling to exhibit notes of honeysuckle and white flowers. Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon is a good bet for detecting its signature floral note, rose petals.
For Spice Scents
Spicy components in wine can include specific notes like pepper, anise, mint, ginger, cardamom, and many more. These do not come from oak aging; rather, they are inherent in the grape itself.
A spicy white wine is verdejo, from Spain. A common aroma in Verdejo is fennel. This note can be more expressive the longer the wine is aged.
A classic spicy red wine is syrah. The white pepper notes of an Old World syrah are so pungent they can make your nose start to tingle.
For Herbal Scents
Herbal notes are more subtle than spices in wine, but make these wines perfect for pairing with food.
A classic herbaceous white wine is Sauvignon Blanc. Especially in cooler climates like New Zealand, grass and green pepper notes jump from the glass. In a classic Sancerre from the Loire Valley, you will find subtle aromas of chive and thyme.
A signature aroma of the red grape grenache is garrigue, a scent derived from the bushy, fragrant plants that line the Mediterranean coast. Dried lavender is a dominant note, with juniper, thyme and rosemary completing the bouquet.
Thank you for reading our article on the best wine for scent therapy.