The taste of music


The taste of music: a piano keyboard by Denise Jans via Unsplash

We often talk about pairing wine and food – but what about music? Do you favour hip hop and Champagne or Bach’s cello suites with red Burgundy? After a revelatory tasting in our cellars, Barbara Drew MW explains why you should be thinking about the playlist for your next bottle

We all know that wine is a multi-sensory product and that context is everything. That chilled Provence rosé tastes far better with the saline scent of the sea and the deep azure ocean sparkling in the distance, than it does on a cold November evening from a plastic tumbler. But, until now, the effect of sound has never crossed my mind when tasting wine.

Last Thursday evening, however, we welcomed Professor Barry Smith of the Centre for Study of the Senses to the cellars at Berry Bros & Rudd for an evening exploring the effect of music on wine. The attendees, myself included, were left gobsmacked by the results.

The evening began with a couple of experiments demonstrating that the human ear is far more attuned to the sound of liquid than we may at first believe. We all confidently distinguished between the sound of Prosecco, Champagne and soda water being poured, and then between the sound of hot and cold water running into a glass.

This was followed with a tasting of six wines, across a range of styles, each paired with two pieces of music, providing contrasting sensations and flavours. A crisp glass of André Dezat’s 2017 Sancerre, paired with a high-pitched piece of discordant violin music resulted in the wine instantly seeming sharper and more tart. A deep, rumbling bass piece produced smoother sensations, and enhanced the peach and elderflower scents in the wine. Our own-label Provence Rosé, by Ch. la Mascaronne became fruitier, crisper and more pronounced with an upbeat clarinet piece, while seeming fuller-bodied and a touch more alcoholic with a piece in a minor key.

The pace of the music also had an effect, with short, staccato notes making a 2013 Ch. Larcis-Ducasse seem more forward in the mouth, but also resulting in an abrupt finish. Languid and flowing musical excerpts brought out deeper flavours of leather and chocolate, as well as enhancing the smoothness of the wine.

Of course, as with everything in wine tasting, personal preference was key – with some attendees preferring the enhanced cedar-y character of an ’06 Ch. Langoa Barton, brought into focus by a majestic Britten piece. Others enjoyed the wine more when its flavours were tempered slightly by softer music. Overall though, the change in sensations and flavours brought about by the pieces was staggering – and highlighted yet another piece in the endless puzzle of wine. As Professor Smith ended the evening, he pointed out the absurdity, given the results of the tasting, of having no control over the playlist at your favourite restaurant. As he summed up: “Next time you don’t like a wine, change the music”.

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