One fall, as I was barrel sampling some wines a particular scent eluded me. I knew I had encountered it before, but where? I finally found it in the pantry of my "memory garden"--it was the yellow-ish green lace that is found on whole nutmeg cloves: mace.
Based loosely on the concept of The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, I have created a memory garden in my mind that I visit when seeking the scents and flavors in a wine.
In my imaginary garden, there are two orchards--an apple orchard with dwarf apple trees of various kinds, all leaning in the same direction from brisk spring winds. And there is a widely spaced plum orchard, with purple damsons and green gage plums, which is also my memory meadow, filled with warm summer grasses, hay, wildflowers, and clover. Beyond my mental meadow is a memory brook, with scents and flavors of wet rocks, clay, fish, wild berry canes and pond poo.
There is a small, rough hewn barn filled with fresh sawdust and some calves, baby goats, a poultry pen, and a pony. A tack room has leather accoutrements and saddle soap. A little paddock has a patch of mushrooms and a pile of freshly turned compost. Pie cherry, pear, pawpaw, citrus, kiwi, almond, and bay are scattered around the grounds.
A tiny farmhouse holds a butter churn on its front stoop, and cupboards filled with pantry spices and condiments. One cupboard has old fashioned pots of cleaning solution and wood polish. A little sewing room has scraps of velvet, various weaves of silk, and soft cottons in every color, and the attic has scurrying mice and musty chests of old clothing and books.
Behind the house is a forest, with deep humus and needle-carpeted soil, violets and wild strawberries, and scents of pine, cedar, fresh cut wood, and moss.
When I'm in a hurry, I often begin at the memory market, where fruits, vegetables and herbs are laid out in rows of wooden boxes for my review. I can quickly pick out the key flavors and scents in a wine. But when a wine intrigues me, I like to wander through my garden and its buildings, finding a cigar box, perhaps, or an old sachet of dried lavender.
To create your own memory garden, begin with plants and rooms taken from your own life, and enter them into your own mental construct. It could be a simple garden like mine, or a sun-washed palace with extensive grounds. You could add a wine cellar with your favorite bottles, and even markers pointing to these remembered wines from various points in the garden. A memory garden is useful for quickly recalling the appearance and name of an elusive scent or flavor, but it is more than an exercise in memory--it's an exercise in enrichment.
You can taste the world in a glass of wine.