Neroli (Attar Bazaar)

The species Citrus x aurantium is a veritable one-stop shop when it comes to flavor and fragrance. Itself a hybrid of pomelo (Citrus maxima) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), it encompasses a host of subspecies and varieties in turn.

The peel of the otherwise inedible laraha (var. currassuviencis) is used for one purpose only: to produce Curaçao. The fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange (var. myrtifolia) flavors the popular Italian soft drink chinotto. Pectin-rich Seville oranges (var. bigaradia) are preferred for making marmalade, while their peel oil (known as bigarade) acts as a bittering agent in both mixed drinks and fragrance. The dried zest of the Asian sour orange (var. daidai) is eaten as a digestive tonic, while its flowers are used to sweeten black tea. Also used as a tea flavorant is bergamot (Citrus bergamia), a hybrid of bitter orange and sweet lime trees.

But the real main event is true bitter orange (subsp. amara), whose contribution to the olfactory and gustatory arts remains unmatched. Alembicate its leaves and twigs, and you end up with petitgrain oil, zesty and terpenous. Cold-express the peel of its fruit, and you end up with a singularly intense bigarade-- or better yet, steep the peel in cognac, and you're sipping Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Subject bitter orange blossoms to solvent extraction or enfleurage, and you have orange blossom absolute, airy and uplifting. Steam-distill them, and you end up with two products: orange flower water (the heart-and-soul of baklava syrup!) and an essential oil known as neroli (after the 17th century Princess of Nerola, Anne-Marie de la Tremouille de Noirmontier-- an early adopter of this heavenly scent element).

Attar Bazaar lets customers choose the four free samples that come with every order. In response to my request, they sent me about a quarter-milliliter of natural neroli oil. I realize now that I should have just heaved caution out the window and sprung for a full dram. After all, it only costs $8.95-- a pittance for so intense a pleasure.

I've encountered neroli in so many fragrances by now, we ought to be beyond the 'hail-well-met' and handshake stage. But I've never smelled it neat before, and now that it's on my wrists, I can't stop bending my head down for another stealthy sniff. Whereas the effect of buoyant orange blossom is mostly a matter of altitude, neroli adds heft and spin to the aerial dynamic. Fruitier, waxier, darker, and more honeyed than its counterpart, it's a complicated scent that lends purpose and staying power to a scent that would otherwise merrily disperse in all directions.

If another Attar Bazaar order is in order, I'll go for that full dram (as well as one of India Musk Connoisseur, to be reviewed here once I regain consciousness). Let summer rev its engines. With Neroli, I'll be road-ready.

Scent Elements: Nothing but what it says on the label.