At Pegasus Bay winery earlier this week, as part of the summer of Riesling event we experienced a wine and sound tasting session with wine writer Jo Burzynska. It proved to be interesting and also a little disturbing.
I wrote a bit on the topic of music and wine just before Christmas, reporting on a research study on the topic where some significant differences had been found. This time, it was the turn of those of us in the room to experience this for ourselves. I approached the session open-minded but sceptical. I was also aware that it was a pretty unscientific set-up. After all, people have been taken in by the purported effect of magnets on wine when they’ve been coached by a salesperson in a non-blind setting. With these caveats in mind, we sat and tasted.
A quick video of Jo introducing the tasting:
The first wine was Waipara Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013. We tasted in silence, and then with two pieces of music: Nouvelle Vague Just Can’t Get Enough, and Skeptics AFCO. To me, the Nouvelle Vague made the wine taste fresher; Skeptics made it taste richer with more weight. The wines certainly
did taste a bit different to me, and I was surprised.
The second wine was the fab Bel Canto Riesling 2011 from Pegasus Bay. Three different sound tracks were played: Vivaldi’s Summer, Scott Walker Such a Small Love and Iannis Xenakis La Legende d’Er (which was like intense feedback screetch, quite alternative ‘music’). The Scott Walker made the wine taste richer and more intense than the Vivaldi, while the Xenakis made it taste angular and unintegrated, with some bitterness.
Finally, we tasted a red: Black Estate’s Pinot Noir 2011. The musical tracks: Mussorgsky A Night on Bald Mountain; Brian Eno Discreet Music and Vashti Bunyan Just Another Diamond Day. The second made the wine taste a bit fresher and livelier, wwhile the third brough cherry and mineral notes to the fore.
‘The balance of the wine changes with the different musical conditions,’ said Jo. ‘Quite a lot happens with the aromatics.’ I wonder whether it might be that the music alters the way that we attend to different things in the wine (that is, we look for different things in the wine, and thus experience the wine differently), rather than there being a synesthetic jumbling of the senses. Either way, a lot is happening to the information from our senses before we are consciously aware of them, and this experiment seems to highlight that.
‘We have done enough trials now to show that this isn’t just the product of a wine-addled musos imagination,’ claims Jo, and from this rather unscientific trial (it was of course never claiming to be anything other), I tend to agree. Although we try our best, our perception of wine is influenced on many subtle levels by external cues, so we need to remain humble in the face of wine, particularly when our ratings are made on the basis of a brief encounter. The mood of a room, our own internal mood, the company we taste in, and even the weather are the sorts of factors that can influence how a wine shows, I suspect.