When COVID stole their sense of smell, these experts lost much more

But for professionals like Ms. Barre, smell is not a lesser sense — especially in France, with its celebrated cuisine, wines and perfumes. For sommeliers, perfumers, oenologists and others, smell is a skill honed over many years of identifying things like subtle notes of citrus in a perfume, or parsing the bouquet of a mature Bordeaux.

When Covid-19 snatches that away, the fear of career-ending consequences can be particularly gripping, making anosmia a difficult, even taboo topic.

Ms. Barre, who can still do other work at the cooperative, said her employer and colleagues had been understanding. But even as grape harvest season starts, she still has not fully recovered her smelling ability and feels helpless relying on others to taste and approve wines.

“It’s very stressful to ask myself, ‘Tomorrow, if I never recover my sense of smell, what do I do?’” Ms. Barre said. “And I haven’t answered that question yet.”

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