Taste is memory

For my film Taste of the soul we visited Christian Pol Roger. One of the last descendants of the founder of Pol Roger Champagne in Epernay, France.

On this visit Christian led us through his family’s more than 7km long cellars. Exceptionally deep and among the coldest in the area, so wines are able to ferment slowly in their millions of bottles. Christian told us what the taste of champagne was like to him. “The first time I tasted champagne was in 1944. I was four years old. The Americans just liberated Epernay and my parents were just so grateful. Corks flew around and I felt the effect of champagne engraved in my memory. To me, my family’s champagne still has this distinct taste of freedom.”

We know certain smells can bring back memories. Marcel Proust, in his À la recherche du temps perdu, wrote that a bite of a madeleine dipped in tea vividly recalled childhood memories. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. (-) And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted.

Research has shown that loss of olfactory function can be an indicator for Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease. Both disorders are known to cause memory problems. It’s an indication of how memory, smell and taste are somehow connected. A subject to be continued..

But back to our champagne cellars and back to Christian Pol Roger who just mentioned taste is memory. He continued: “Losing ones memory is losing ones taste. And it takes practice!”. In tasting champagne we have to be cautious, though. Alcohol is known to disrupt the coding and storage of memories. One could end up remembering bubbles only. Or to put it in Christians own words: “I remember a friend of mine who said: I don’t know where I was, I don’t know with whom I was but I remember it was Pol Roger 1945.”

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