Does Music influence the Way we Taste Wine? Or How to Serve Jacob’s Creek…

So last night I was very kindly asked to do a wine and opera tasting with Garsington Opera which was held at the newly opened members club Library on St Martin’s Lane. Check it out when you get a chance – it epitomises geek chic.

This tasting got me thinking about how well wine and music in general, actually complement each other. Both are experimental, both are creative, both can be extremely technical but ultimately they are meant to be fun and enhance the world around us. But could music actually influence the way we taste?

Experiments have been conducted to show how music influences wine shopping behaviour by North, Hargreaves, & McKendrick 1997. Accordions were played over the speakers of one wine shopping aisle in a big supermarket which made a significant increase in French wine sales that day. The next day the same experiment was carried out with German oompah bands over the same aisle, and not surprisingly, there was a surge in Riesling!

As farcical as this might seem, a range of experiments have consistently shown that when people hear music this represents more than just the action of sound waves upon the ear drum. Rather, when this information reaches the cortex, the brain interprets these sounds. In particular, hearing a particular piece of music activates, or primes, related pieces of information.

But can we go even further with this idea? Specifically could music influence the taste of wine? An experiment by Heriot Watt University proved quite significantly that if the music playing in the background is powerful and heavy then people had an increased perception that the wine they were drinking was powerful and heavy. Similarly, if the music playing in the background is subtle and refined then people tended to perceive that the wine they were drinking is subtle and refined. The music shifted the perception of the wine in the direction of the mood expressed by the music by an average of 37.25%!!

And to take the power of music one extra step further… it is not unknown for wine makers to use certain types of music within their vineyard, cellars and wineries to help enhance yeast fermentations, wine maturation as well as their worker’s concentration!

“The secret lies in the vibrations, the waves,” says Hylton Appelbaum, owner of DeMorgenzon winery in South Africa. At his winery he plays Baroque and early classical music from the Age of Enlightenment on a 24/7 basis, with speakers placed in the vineyard, winery and cellar spaces.

“In our analysis, the music seems to give us phenolic ripeness with lower sugars. The consequence is ripe fruit and lower alcohol” says Appelbaum.

Being no scientist but a music lover myself, I prefer to conclude with the philosophical conclusion put forward by Greg La Follette, winemaker for La Follete Wines, California.

“Music is like anything, it can be used to great effect on all living things if used with intention and purpose.”

 Lesson learnt: if you are ever worried about serving Jacob’s Creek to friends, just turn on Wagner’s Ring Cycle…

For further music and wine musings please do check out my soon to be released blog based on my own musings of operas and their wine companions..