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Harmonizing the Senses: How Music Can Transform the Taste of Wine

Imagine this: you’re savoring a glass of Pinot Grigio, but something feels amiss. The flavors don’t quite dance on your palate the way you expected. Before reaching for another bottle, consider this unconventional yet increasingly validated idea: change the playlist.

wine and music

The notion that playing classical compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach or Johannes Brahms can enhance the contents of a wine barrel might seem whimsical. Yet, burgeoning evidence suggests that consistent exposure to sound vibrations aids in the gentle maturation and development of wine. Moreover, studies are showing that the right musical accompaniment can alter, even enhance, our perception of the wine we drink. So next time your Zinfandel tastes overly sweet, or your Pinot Grigio lacks zest, perhaps it’s time to switch up the soundtrack.

In Puglia, the sun-drenched heel of Italy's boot, winemaker Pasquale Petrera has embraced what he dubs "music therapy" for his cellar. Petrera aims to "emphasize the elegance, freshness, and authenticity of Primitivo" by optimizing the natural oxygenation process with sound waves. These waves, which include bird song, running water, rustling leaves, wind, rain, thunder, and ocean waves, gently move wine particles within the barrel in a noninvasive, beneficial manner. The result? Petrera’s winery, Fatalone, is celebrated for producing some of the finest Primitivo in Italy.

To the north, on the scenic shores of Lake Garda, the Olivini family has been serenading their wine with classical music since a cellar renovation in 2018. Winemaker Juri Botti believes that these subtle vibrations contribute to the complexity and elegance of their sparkling wines, which can spend up to 60 months on the lees. “When sound waves move through air, water, or earth, the vibrations affect how those molecules behave,” Botti explains. “We believe that having the yeast particles stimulated has a positive effect.”

Although conclusive scientific studies are scant, there is a logical underpinning to this practice. In Chile’s Colchagua Valley, the esteemed Montes winery has been immersing its wines in the rhythmic tones of Gregorian chants for two decades. Acknowledging the power of acoustics, Aurelio Montes designed his cellar in a semi-circle to enhance the harmonics of these monastic sounds, which reverberate year-round. Critics often laud Montes’ flagship reds as among the best in the country, hinting at the effectiveness of this auditory method.

In Tuscany, Carlo Cignozzi takes this concept even further at his Paradiso di Frassina estate in Montalcino. With over 35 speakers installed among his vines, Cignozzi plays only Mozart, owing to the composer’s preference for lower frequencies, believed to travel farther and possess healing properties. Cignozzi observes healthier vines and grapes with higher levels of anthocyanin, a pigment contributing to color. He also notes that pests and pathogens seem to be deterred by the music. “Not only does the music create a beneficial resonance for the plant, but it also bothers pests and they leave,” he quips. Mozart's melodies, it seems, serve as both a tonic for the vines and a repellent for unwelcome guests.

If music can influence wine at the molecular level, what impact can it have on our sensory experience? Background noise can undoubtedly affect our concentration, but can it also sway our taste perceptions? Dr. Adrian C. North of Heriot Watt University explored this in his study, “Wine & Song: The Effect of Background Music on the Taste of Wine.” His findings indicated that music could indeed prime our thoughts and influence our taste. For instance, heavy music played while tasting a white wine resulted in 32% more descriptors related to heaviness compared to tasting the same wine in silence.

Commercial experiments in the UK have demonstrated the impact of music on wine sales. In one supermarket, French music led to increased sales of French wines, while classical music prompted higher average bottle prices compared to contemporary pop hits. Master of Wine Susan R. Lin, who researched how classical music affects the perception of Brut non-vintage Champagne, supports the idea that music can positively influence the drinker's experience. According to Lin, different musical elements such as pitch, tempo, articulation, and timbre can affect sensory perception.

“Depending on what sensory characteristics you wish to highlight in a wine, you might choose music with faster tempo, higher pitch, dynamic articulation, and bright timbre,” Lin explains. “These elements are associated with characteristics like brightness and freshness.”

For those curious about experimenting, Lin advises that playing your favorite music is often enough. The key lies in the mood it sets. If Metallica energizes you, it might enhance your enjoyment as much as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. “Try different combinations of musical genres with wines, even those you might not usually listen to or drink. You might be pleasantly surprised,” she suggests. “The magic happens when you let your senses intuitively engage with the music and the wine.”

The wine world thrives on complexity and nuance. Embracing the role of music in both winemaking and tasting deepens that complexity, offering a fascinating intersection of art and science. So, the next time you pour a glass, don’t just think about the terroir or the vintage—consider the soundtrack, too. It might just be the key to unlocking a whole new level of appreciation.

Article Information Referenced By: Food&Wine


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