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  • Cathy Henderson

Wine nostalgia: scents to ‘sensory memory albums’

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

The unique aromas of wines from particular places are capable of transporting one back to a sense of time and place where they were first tasted, making them a kind of sensory album of special moments, forged in the long term memory. Looking back...

Reminiscing on days of travel, I recall stepping off the plane for visits back to Southern Africa, to be hit by the unique aroma that is inherently ‘home’. It is something borne on the air from the bushveld in the heat, an earthy note found only in Africa – and no, I refuse to believe it’s simply the aroma of ‘ozone’. Overseas, it was a time when the Saffers I met would literally weep at the Castle Lager advert on TV with the soundtrack of “I bless the rains down in Africa”. It was almost impossible not to immediately rush out to the nearest SA shop and buy NikNaks, Mrs Ball’s Chutney, a bottle of Pinotage, boerewors and koeksisters. The low tones of Afrikaans at Wimbledon train station conjured up all the colour of enigmatic local idioms. Sometimes, we are in fact lost in translation. Even if you’re fluent in the language, you simply cannot convey to others the essence of deurmekaar, gatvol or indeed deur die blare, but… you can share boerewors and Pinotage!


Wine manages to cross these boundaries; enjoyment and appreciation being a truly global and well-understood international language. It is also connected to our emotions, one of the most frequent being nostalgia. Many old favourite wines from certain places are capable of transporting one back to a sense of time and place where they were first tasted, making them a kind of ‘sensory album’ of special moments, forged in the long term memory with an association to a unique aroma or scent. Sipping Vinho Verde takes me back to bobbing down a river in Portugal. Brioche and earthy notes of Champagne humble me again with a memory of the underground cellars in Reims; the dustiness of ‘les caves’ seven metres below ground, while watching the twiddling of the bottles in a pupitre. And a good Riesling is reminiscent of a climb up the hills of Schloss Johannisberg, Germany, to the notable 50-degree latitude mark (grapes mainly flourish between 30 and 50 degrees) with a bottle and glasses in hand.


Food and wine become iconic emblems that we taste and savour and call ‘our own’; a fundamental part of what makes up what we know in one word – culture. We still braai in winter, our beer has to be served cold, and multiple languages are a way of life. And it is still worth taking a step back to appreciate that Amarula is now loved around the globe, and to remember that we were the first nation to create Pinotage, a unique, quintessentially South African wine variety. When Professor Perold decided to cross haughty Pinot Noir with humble Hermitage he simply planted four seeds in the garden of the Welgevallen Experimental Farm in 1925 but now, Pinotage is a stake in the ground of our history. Having faced some challenging times, South Africa may not always feel like a land of milk and honey, but we can be proud indeed that it is the land of Pinotage and boerewors, Amarula and koeksisters!

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