Music and wine – you be the judge

Most people would acknowledge that there are a large number of physical influences that can affect our perception of wine. This can include simple things like the temperature of the wines, the style of the glass (I hate the word stemware), the weather, what you had to eat during the day, the perfume or cologne that people are wearing around you and many others.

However many would not readily acknowledge the effects of emotional influences on our sense of taste. In much the same way that foodies will often claim the importance of the mood of the chef when they made the food that they serve, so too can a wine drinker’s mood and emotional state have an influence on their tasting.

As human beings our emotions are influenced by the reactions of our bodies to our environment. The emotions that come about as a result of environmental stresses affect our moods and they in turn affect our perceptions. Aside from the pop of a cork or the crack of a screw cap, sound is a minor sensory player when it comes to our experience of wine. Or is it?

In doing a bit of reading about this I found a research paper by Dr. Adrian North. It was linked to Jamie Goode’s blog as well as being discussed in the Telegraph on the BBC website in 2008. The experiment outlined the effects that different styles of music had on wine tasters’ descriptions and perceptions of a wine. I am not going to reproduce it here, so go and give it a read if you like – it is not very long. Essentially the style of music that was played in the background, as focus groups tasted wines, clearly influenced their perceptions of the wine. The results were statistically significant when compared to a control group.

We all know the tactic of fast food restaurants playing fast music in an attempt to get the jaws moving quicker and the tables turning over. But I am not considering this idea from a restaurant or a social gathering perspective. How about considering two slightly more interesting angles, albeit a bit of a stretch?

Firstly let’s consider wine judges, going through hundreds of bottles for wine guides or competitions. Or wine writers and tasters assessing wine for blogs and publications. Could the playlist on their iPod or what they have on the radio be unknowingly influencing their perceptions of the wine in their glasses. A little while ago Tim Atkin was Tweeting regularly about what music he was listening to while judging wines for trophies at the International Wine Challenge. Would a bottle of Bordeaux taste better with Brahms or Beyoncé in the background? Based on my impressions of the better known winos I am pretty sure that they have a rather varied taste in music. May we end up in a situation where competition entry forms include musical requests for the judges?

The second angle that would like to consider is that of the ambient noise in cellar door tasting rooms. It is often argued that when a visitor is immersed in the atmosphere and environment of the farm, they get a better all around experience of the wine. Some tasting rooms have music playing, but this is not common. The more common soundtrack to cellar door tastings is the sound of the other visitors. The busier and more popular the tasting room, the higher the levels of noisy chatter. Personally I don’t find this a particularly soothing sound. So is that going to affect my perceptions and opinions of the wine in my glass?

Who knows? Time to turn up the stereo, open a bottle and find out!

2 Responses to “Music and wine – you be the judge”

  1. Dave says:

    The thought of kicking back on a couch listening to Haydn with a hefty glass of expensive Merlot is just as appealing as knocking back papsak at Rocking the Daisies for me. Its all about the context. Like they say in Invictus after losing the rugby “this beer tastes kak!”

  2. SupaDave says:

    I definately agree with this. I don’t think it’s limited to just the music or noise at the time of tasting, but definately the overall environment. A fine glass of red wine just wouldn’t taste the same in a noisey, busy club where music is banging, as it would on the couch at home whilst listening to the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson.