Wine & Music Workshop


It seems that when the wine and the music have the same intrinsic mood, they complement each other. In particular, wines taste smoother, whereas when it's a mismatch, they can taste harsh and astringent. My reading of music cognition work indicates that the thalamus in the midbrain makes decisions as to the nature of a stimulus, and sends harmonies to the sympathetic nervous system (calming) and the frontal lobes (pleasure system) whereas noise is sent to the parasympathetic system (alert status) and the limbic system (fight or flight). Identifying something as harmonious, for example a major chord, makes us ignore the noisiness of the instruments. The same orchestra tuning up is an annoying cacophony, but then they start playing together and it's pleasurable. I think wines participate in this, like another instrument in the orchestra, and they need to be playing in good sync with the other instruments, or the result is unpleasant because we sense the harshness that the wine really has which we overlook when the elements are working in harmony.

What goes with what? You can make pretty good guesses about what will work by learning to be as sensitive to the mood of a wine as to the mood of a piece. Anybody can tell happy music from sad from angry from romantic from lustful. Wines are the same. Cabernets are angry, Pinots romantic, Rieslings cheerful. After that, it's trial and error. Pay particular attention to astringency: the smoothness or harshness a wine displays when tasted in a specific musical environment. You don't need more than a few seconds to sense the effect.

I'm not aware of scientific inquiry in this area. The trials we've been doing demonstrate the synergistic effects quite clearly and at this point pretty universally for thousands of people. But we're just playing around.

What's a little more scientific is the sensory work we've done with wine blending, particularly with alcohol levels. If we look at a continuum of alcohol, for example the same wine at 12.5%, 12.6%, etc., all the way up to 15.0%, we've shown very convincingly that a wine will have discreet, exact points of harmonious balance surrounded by very unbalanced wines that are just a tenth of a percent off. Large numbers of subjects show good agreement about where these "sweet spots" are. The best explanation we have for the strongly shared non-linear behavior is that it sounds a lot like the way musical tuning behaves. We are starting to talk about wine as literally "liquid music".

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