It is well known that context can affect our experience (and enjoyment) of wine. But how do you measure this?
In a paper published in open access scientific journal Flavour, Charles Spence, Ophelia Deroy and colleagues looked at potential crossmodal correspondences between classical music and fine wine. To put this more simply, does listening to music affect the wine drinking experience in measurable ways? [Is hearing affecting taste?]
To answer this question they took 26 wine drinkers, four rather good wines (Domaine Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fumé Silex 2010, Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche 2009, Château Margaux 2004 and Château Climens 2001) and five pieces of music (Mozart Flute Quartet in D major, K285 – Movement 1, Allegro; Tchaikovsky, String Quartet No 1 in D major – Movement 2, Andante cantabile; Ravel, String Quartet in F major – Movement 1, Allegro moderato, très doux; Debussy, Syrinx; Ravel, String Quartet in F major – Movement 2, Assez vi).
They asked participants to taste the wines and rate the particular matches. They also rated the wines with and without music. And in another experiment they matched odours to different pitches of the same note.
After lots of number crunching there were some significant effects. There were specific classical music-fine wine pairings that appeared to go particularly well (or badly) together. Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No 1 turned out to be a very good match for the Château Margaux 2004, while Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major was found to be a good match for the Pouilly Fumé. The participants perceived the wine as tasting sweeter and enjoyed the experience more while listening to the matching music than while tasting the wine in silence.
These effects weren’t large, but they were there. And there’s so much noise in experiments like this that it’s remarkable that significant effects were pulled out. After all, music is very personal. Our liking of music is strongly influenced by our exposure to it, and our relationship with a particular type of music changes dramatically on repeated listening. Music also has the ability to tap into the emotions, but one piece of music can move one person greatly and leave another cold.
It would be fun to repeat this sort of experiment with more contemporary music, and in a situation where the music is incidental (people aren’t aware that the experiment is looking at the effect of music; they are simply asked to rate wines while music is playing in the background. You could change the music and slip duplicate wines in later in the tasting, or in a tasting on a separate occasion).
The figure above is taken from the paper, and I think it’s one of the most interesting findings from this study, looking at the association of the pitch of a note with particular aromas. Some aromas are more bass; some are more treble.
Do you think this sort of study means that wine writers should be searching for musical metaphor in their tasting notes?