Living in an Unscented World

I’m a smeller. I smell everything. All the time.


I evaluate/buy everything based on how it smells. Shampoo, laundry detergent, deodorant, lotion, eye cream (who cares if it works if it doesn’t smell good). I won’t use the hand sanitizer at Wegmans because they source it from a distillery, and it smells exactly like grappa. And I hate grappa. I know which public restrooms have the best-smelling soap, too. Dulles International Airport. Smells like almonds and rain.

I adore perfume — I have an extensive collection. My idea of a perfect afternoon is going to Sephora and smelling all the perfumes. Hell, I’m the one who actually likes the perfume samples in magazines.

Smell is one of the things that first attracted me to wine. It’s arguably the most important attribute of wine. Smelling a wine sends a signal to your brain about what you’re going to taste. But, fun fact, your brain can only recognize scents you’ve got stored in memory. One person can stick their nose into a glass of wine and smell black currants and pencil lead. Another person can smell bacon and tobacco leaves. Some people can smell tennis balls and new books. It’s a glorious little subjective symphony.

But now, that symphony is silent for me.

I’m on Day 15 of Covid-19 (aka, the asshole virus). Overall, I’ve had a mild case, save for one thing — my nose has been stinging like I just jumped into a swimming pool and got water up my nose. But it doesn’t stop. Inhale, sting. Exhale, burn. Repeat. And my sense of smell and taste is completely gone. Not diminished, gone.

I’ve lost my sense of smell and taste with bad colds and congestion before, but this is different. Outside of basic hunger satisfaction, I have zero interest in food right now. Everything smells/tastes like the color beige. Blah.

Wine tastes like water. Vaguely alcoholic water.

Coffee tastes like warm creamy water.

Bourbon? Spicy water.

I can still discern sweet, salty, and spicy notes, but I cannot detect a single flavor. We ordered Chinese food for dinner the other night, and I chose the spiciest dish they had. Just so I could feel something. (I felt heartburn, so that still works.)

On one hand, I should take advantage of this and eat nothing but healthy (normally tasteless) foods. The other day, I ate a kale, raw beet, and chicory salad. I don’t even know what chicory is. But it’s gotta be healthy, right? It was as satisfying as it sounds. Or, I could eat foods I normally hate. I’m pretty sure you could blindfold me, feed me a cilantro blue cheese soufflé, and I’d tell you it was quiche.

Up to 80% of patients who test positive for Covid-19 lose their sense of smell and taste. I don’t pretend to understand the science behind this, but from what I can tell, the asshole virus attacks the cells that surround the sensory neurons in the nose. They get all inflamed and generally annoy the whole nose environment. I guess this is good news, because the sensory neurons themselves aren’t damaged, so hopefully the loss of smell isn’t permanent.

But after more than a solid week of this sheiße, one starts to worry.

From what I’ve read obsessively on the Google machine, 80% of Covid-19 patients regain their sense of smell and taste within a few weeks of recovering. What about the other 20%?? Always one to get ahead of myself, I’ve already found way too many stories of people who have not regained their sense of smell and taste for months — or yet at all.

This terrifies me.

I work in the wine industry, my job is to smell and taste. I keep imagining customer interaction going something like this:

Can you tell me about this Barolo? What does it taste like? Tannic water.

How about this Riesling? Acidic water.

And this Champagne? Bubbly water.

This will not do.

The sense of smell and taste are intimately tied to memory and experience. They also impact emotional well being. I never realized how comforting the smell of coffee in the morning was until it smelled like . . . nothing. Or how important my nightly ritual of a glass (or two) of wine is to my mental health. Now that wine smells like a void, it’s just a vehicle for alcohol delivery. Kind of like vodka.

I’m lucky. I know that. My Covid symptoms were mild, and I’m recovering. And for that, I’m grateful.

But goddammit, I’m living in an unscented world. And I’m a scented girl.


Spice up your next party with our FREE wine tasting guide! Learn what to look, smell, and taste for while appreciating your favorite bottle. We’ve also included a printable tasting notes template and a tasting wheel.

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