Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wine and music: notes from the glass

It all started with Aurelio Montes playing monastic chants to his maturing wine casks in his Feng Shui-optimised barrel room. I got to thinking about wine and music, and whether there really is a correlation between the two. Can what we drink be made to taste better depending on the soundtrack we sip it to? Apparently so – a study carried out by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that music can affect perception in other senses and change the way wine tastes.

The research is based on the theory of cognitive priming, which holds that certain styles of music stimulate, or prime, certain parts of the brain. When wine is tasted, these areas are already active and have a corresponding effect on our perceptions of taste. Hence when a powerful piece of music such as O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is played, a wine like Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon is perceived as being richer and more robust than when no music is heard. Similarly, a Chardonnay seems bolder and fresher when accompanied by pop.

So which CD's do I whack on when I'm cracking open a bottle? A Tempranillo calls for something upbeat and fun – Chuck Berry or the Contours, while a Pinot demands something brooding, pensive and introspective, say Feist or Regina Spektor. Champagne goes best with effervescent and ebullient tracks from the likes of the Noisettes, Lady Gaga and La Roux, while Merlot is made for mellow music – Otis, Jack Johnson and José Gonzales. Nothing goes better with a crisp, dry Manzanilla than the passionate lyrics of Pasión Vega, or the hypnotic chords of Paco de Lucía. Syrah screams guitar – Hendrix, Guns N' Roses and Green Day would all work a treat, while I can think of nothing better to accompany a sweet, mouthfilling PX than treacle-voiced Ella Fitzgerald singing Cheek to Cheek.

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