Pinot Noir: A Wine Grape and Christian Dior Poison

Liquor notes are not new in perfumery. There is the red wine in Une Rose (Frédéric Malle, 2003), the rum in Monsieur. (Frédéric Malle, 2016) and Idole (Lubin, EdT 2005/ EdP 2011), and the whisky-cognac in Korrigan (Lubin, 2012). But, no, there is no wine in Poison (Dior, 1985), let alone the wine-evoking, fruity, sulphurous wine lees essential oil. Still, this flamboyant bomb actually shares an odorant with the Pinot noir wine grapes.

pinot noir bbc news

Pinot noir is a vineyard favourite that is notoriously difficult to grow and work with. It has the potential to make for the finest wine. And, key to this is the right time to harvest: when the grapes are ripe enough that the build-up of sugar diminishes and the aroma compounds accumulate. But because variations in temperature, rainfall, and soil condition fluctuate the rate at which aroma compounds accumulate, it never is as easy as simply harvesting the grapes when they are full of sugar and ready.

Yet, researchers from Oregon State University, Michael Qian and Fang Yuan, might have recently pioneered a way to decide when to pluck these bunches of ambrosia – by evaluating the concentrations of aroma chemicals. From early- and late-maturity Pinot noir grapes, the researchers identified 49 aroma compounds. Most of these remained at low concentrations throughout the growing season, but β-damascenone, vanillin, 4-vinylguaiacol, and 4-vinylphenol were determined to be in higher concentrations in the late-maturity harvest. To the researchers, these might serve as indicators of the ripeness of Pinot noir grapes.

poison ad yesterday's perfume

As an enthusiastic student of perfumery, however, I immediately thought of the milestones: Poison (Dior, 1985) and Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). As far as this post concerns, I shall discuss only Poison for now. The reported β-damascenone is a naturally occurring compound found in rose oil, raspberries, cooked apples, roman chamomiles, coffee, wine and even beer. It has a fruity-floral odour recalling dried fruits, raisins, plums, prunes, blackcurrants, and roses. In combination with other compounds, it also imparts a honeyed facet to rose oil. In Poison, legend has it that Nathalie, the assistant of perfumer Edouard Fléchier, might have erroneously increased the concentrations by ten times so that such a milestone was born, containing 0.04% α-damascone, 0.09% β-damascone, and 0.09% β-damascenone. Although I admittedly struggle with the intrusion of Poison from wherever I leave the blotter, a perfume that elicits strong opinions — be it aversion or ardour — surely has a character, and that should be found in any good perfumes. In the case of the damascones, they lend themselves to the fruit facet in the floral-oriental body of Poison and have since been catapulted from perfumery niceties to olfactory protagonists.


  1. Yuan F, Qian MC. Aroma Potential in Early- and Late-Maturity Pinot noir Grapes Evaluated by Aroma Extract Dilution Analysis J. Agric. Food Chem., 2016, 64 (2), pp 443–450

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