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Food by VICE

This Restaurant Wants You to Pair Wine with Perfume

Marco Valentini, an Italian living in Mexico, pairs wine with peculiar things: textures, cars, neckties, and tourist destinations. And now he's matching wine with perfumes.

by Memo Bautista
Aug 18 2015, 8:00pm

I have heard of mixing wine with perfume, if only in passing. A college friend told me about it as we walked through the cobblestoned streets of Guanajato, Mexico, in search of any store that would sell us liquor. It was 10 PM, so no one was really willing to sell us anything—not even the rubbing alcohol at the nearest pharmacy.

My friend had a drunken uncle who was more of an alcoholic than a wine expert. He was known for never getting a hangover because he always carried a filled flask. On one occasion, his family hid all the rum and tequila in the house so he couldn't drink them. He went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, took out some lemons, and squeezed them over a jar. Then he went to the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, took a plastic bottled labeled as "96 percent rubbing alcohol," and poured it over the lemon juice. One evening, he went to the bathroom but the rubbing alcohol was nowhere to be found, so he went to the bedroom and took a small bottle of cologne from the dresser. As he sipped from "Sanborn's Eau de Toilette," he declared that it tasted just like a vodka tonic.

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So when I got a recent invitation to participate in a wine and perfume tasting, I couldn't say no. If there was something to learn from my friend's story, it's that you can get a buzz from perfume. The night I arrived at Cavallino, an Italian restaurant that offers simple, rustic food at high prices, I was ready to sniff what I was tasting.

Our host, Marco Valentini, an Italian man living in Mexico City, took our group out to a patio with a windowed roof that would allow us to see the stars, even though it's impossible to see the stars in Mexico City. As he walked by each table to explain what this sensory experience was all about, he claimed that it is possible to merge wines with textures, cars, ties, tourist destinations, and perfumes.

"Whenever we buy a perfume, we are 'tasting' without realizing it," he told us. The exercise of the dinner was to see if there is, in fact, some sort of similarity between perfume and wine scents. But when we buy perfumes in the department store, we don't give too much thought about it as we do with wine.

As the first wine arrived, the sommelier explained that we would be served a cup of Cordón Negro Brut made by Freixenet, a winemaker from Catalonia that produces sparkly wine they refer to as a Catalonian cava.

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"You are going to find many citric notes," the sommelier said as he held the black bottle with precision. "Lime, tangerine, green apple peel, and even some tropical flavors like pineapple. If you try it, you will notice that it's very fresh, and has a lot of acidic power, but in a very balanced way, which can make you hungry."

Sure, I got some fruity smells, but nothing specific. I guess you really need training for this. What was true was that after drinking it, I did get hungry, but any excuse to eat an appetizer is good enough for me.

The fellow diners at my table looked like real experts. They would hold a glass, smell it, swirl it a bit, and then take a sip. "It's fresh," a girl said while another guy took his time tasting it with an inquiring look on his face. After a while, he gave his verdict: "It tastes like apples to me."

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When the food arrived—tonato vitello (braised veal over toasted bread), San Daniele prosciutto, garlic pomodoro—I was ready to eat.

Then they brought us small cardboard strips soaked in Giorgio Armani's Acqua di Gio. I've tried this fragrance before and I really liked it. It's a bit citric and goes well with my skin's pH. I smelled the strip, ate the veal, and took a sip of wine. It all tasted like the perfume. I had lost my sense of taste.

I drank more wine, ate tomato bruschetta, smelled the perfume, and then waited for a bit, but it wasn't working. Perfume is great when it's doused on your body, but when it comes to food and wine, I'm not seeing the connection. It was too much.

I started thinking about my friend's uncle, who would surely make a cocktail with the wine and perfume just to get wasted.

I decided to give it another shot. This time I ate a bit of cheese wrapped in Serrano ham and took a sip of sparkly wine. It wasn't bad. I swallowed the appetizer, closed one of my nostrils, and smelled the cardboard strip soaked in perfume as if I was taking a line of coke. Finally, it seemed that I had figured it out. The citrus on the perfume and the wine found each other, while that creamy flavor floated about them.

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That same thing happened to me while I was eating mozzarella and caramelized fig bruchetta and drinking Freixenet's Carta Nevada Semi Dry and smelling Armani's – the dryness of the wine took away the excessive "old lady scent" of the perfume.

While I was trying to find a perfect combination of perfume and wine, some of the guests—that ranged from businessmen and consultants to managers and directors of some of Mexico's most important companies—were staring at me oddly. They were surprised by the way I smelled the little perfume strips, but that was the only way that I could truly enjoy the scents and the food.

To close out the evening, a chocolate dessert—a safe bet—paired with Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila and Armani's Code Perfume for men, which smells like wood and leather, the perfect fit for any 50-year-old businessman.

The next day, I went to the pharmacy to buy Siete Machos, a legendary cologne that brings good luck according to a Mexican tradition, but it actually just makes people smell really good. Then I got some mezcal and some dry grasshoppers cured with salt and lemon. I followed the same sensorial experience formula: a bunch of grasshoppers in my mouth, a sip of mescal, and the scent of Siete Machos.

I think I'm really close to locating the authentic scent of Mexico.

This article was originally published in Spanish on MUNCHIES ES.