Wine & Music: From Vine to Vinyl

If music be the wine of love, fill your i-pod with Pinot

A vague survey proved incontrovertibly that stuff happens to you when you taste wine with different music.

The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard. Melody Heard was not available for comment.

The researchers said Cabernet Sauvignon was most affected by “powerful and heavy” music, and Chardonnay by “zingy and refreshing” sounds. Whether these zingy sounds included a bootleg of the The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s cover of John Cage’s 3 minute 45 second epic “Zesting Lemons” we are not privy to.

Professor Adrian North said the study could lead retailers to put music recommendations on their wine bottles. Tesco’s Least Finest Pinot Grigio was said to be paired with Rapper 3.99 cent “Every Little Helps… To Destroy Communities”, a tuneful little ditty said to be akin to syringing your ears with lolly water.

The research involved 250 students at the university who were offered a free glass of wine in exchange for their views. It is thought that the said glass of wine didn’t quite go round 250 thirsty students.

Brain theory

Four types of music were played – Carmina Burana by Orff (“powerful and heavy”), Carmen Miranda (reminding listeners inexorably of pineapples), Carmen Electra (revealing bikinis), Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky (“subtle and refined”), Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague (“zingy and refreshing”) and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook (“mellow and soft”). The elevator whose muzak was borrowed for this experiment was said to be jumping up and down on several floors with irritation.

The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was played, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard. Or to look at it another way, too much of a good thing leads to a rapid breakdown.

The results were put down (as they should be) to “cognitive priming theory”, where the music sets up the brain to respond to the wine in a certain way. After the experiment the human guinea pigs were released back into the wild or a student bar as it is otherwise known.

Music Recommendations

Cabernet Sauvignon: All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix), Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones), Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who)

Chardonnay: Atomic (Blondie), Rock DJ (Robbie Williams), What’s Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner), Spinning Around (Kylie Minogue)

Syrah: Nessun Dorma (Puccini), Orinoco Flow (Enya), Chariots Of Fire (Vangelis), Canon (Johann Pachelbel)

Merlot: Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay (Otis Redding), Easy (Lionel Ritchie), Over The Rainbow (Eva Cassidy), Heartbeats (Jose Gonzalez)

Source: Montes Wines

According to those cool young dudes from now on it appears I must needs drink my Crozes-Hermitage from Dard et Ribo in slow motion along to the synthetic strains of Chariots of Fire. Que Syrah Syrah, every Doris will have its musical day. Yes, Syrah, is officially the naffest musical grape in this cockeyed line up. Cabernet, meanwhile, is all chainsaw riffs and 70s power chords. Yes, left bank claret is rock and roll, my friend. Old rock and roll that believes it is still a naughty teenager and wants to date girls forty years younger than it is. Cabernet…. Can give no – satisfaction. Chardonnay, meanwhile, is mainly superannuated chick anthems (and Robbie Williams), and Merlot comes over all warm and funky, when we all know that it is generally as funky as a battery chicken and as warm as a soggy September Saturday night in Skegness.

Some people have strict rules about their music consumption. According to Jonathan Ray you can’t drink white wine with Mahler, any more than you can with Led Zeppelin. “My favourite Led Zep track, Kashmir, needs something big and butch like the 2006 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel from California not a wishy-washy Sancerre. Evidently, he has never tasted Seb Riffault’s epic John-Bonhamesque-dustbin-lid-banging Skeveldra which makes the Ravenswood look like a callow youth in short breeches.

A quick straw poll among his friends results in such recommendations as: “a fresh Riesling Kabinett with Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending”; “champagne with Gershwin is a must” (La Dame ain’t necessarily any good); “has to be Merlot with Mahler”; “Franciacorta fizz with Vivaldi”; “California Chardonnay – Chateau Montelena for preference – with Jack Johnson”; “a complex Châteauneuf with Bach’s B Minor Mass and it’ll take about three bottles to get to the end satisfactorily”; and “Special Brew with The Clash”.

Of course this is going to make purchasing wine much more expensive knowing that one needs a perpetual cache of Special Brew with the Clash or three bottles of Beaucastel to sing along to the Bach Mass-ive Crew (surely, a bottle of Bulgarian Grenache with Bachman Turner Overdrive would be a worthy substitute?). Merlot, once more, proves that it is the grape for all music, or is it a good match with Mahler, simply because they sound a bit similar? Me, I would opt for Molinara for his elegiac, meditative later works.

Some restaurateurs invest more seriously in this baloney. Joe Batsianich (Babbo restaurant in New York) paired a six course Italian menu with various wines and different Led Zep tracks.  Apparently Black Dog calls for an Argentinean Malbec. That could work. I might try an Alsatian Pinot Noir. Bastianich encouraged attendees “to taste with their ears and listen with their mouths” which sounds like the perfect recipe for getting truly stoned.

Aaron Sherman, a professional sommelier from Chicago, brings an exquisitely detailed aesthetic slant to music and wine pairing. Ravel’s La Valse is paired harmoniously with Gosset 2000 Grand Millesime Brut Champagne, for in his words:

Watching the bubbles in a glass of Champagne is like watching a crowd of dancers waltz: a whirling, swirling froth of skirts swimming around one another in endless progression. It is a light and flowing affair.

Ravel has taken the classic dance and colored it with the broad palate of the French Impressionists. His collection of waltzes infuses the typical frivolity with a darkness, a richness, a sense of the macabre. This is not the light and zesty waltz of Johann Strauss, but a densely layered one. Ravel plays rhythmic patterns across bar lines, keeping the listener floating along in a dizzying, tipsy flow.

Just as Ravel incorporates more dense harmonies, percussion and rhythmic variations as the waltz progresses, the Champagne pulls out more and more layers of creamy nuttiness with each sip, until the initial lightness is folded around decadent flavors of truffles, almond cake and honey. The Champagne is densely orchestrated with fresh flavors of brioche and ripe, luscious tree fruit: deeper, richer, darker layers.

S**t – it’s corked!!

As for Foradori 2004 “Granato” Teroldego, Trentino, it marries perfectly with Respighi’s The Pines of Rome. I’ll take his word for it, but he does make the point very eloquently:

The final movement of Respighi’s symphonic poem depicts the march of the Roman army as it makes its way past the towering pines of the Appian Way. The blazing morning sun is depicted in the strings and trumpets, fiery and full as it shines down upon the line of soldiers through the tree branches. The pines’ roots dig deep, grounded in solidity, holding firm to rock and soil and dark, rich earth. The earth below is portrayed in the organ’s pedal b-flat, in the low brass, in the driving percussive rhythm, rumbling beneath the soldiers’ incessant lock step.

Elisabetta Foradori’s “Granato” Teroldego has a similar duality. Pouring this wine into a glass releases an overwhelming aroma of crushed berries, ripe cherries and dark chocolate. It grows, though, becoming ever more intense in its aromatics, like the long line of Roman soldiers making its way from beneath the trees. Underneath, there is a sanguine quality of blood, muscle and freshly turned earth.

This pairing is about that balance between grace and intensity. Both the music and the wine are powerful and intense, building and building to final climax. And yet they both wield that intensity with a refined hand, crafting, not bludgeoning. Each is like a fine roast: profound in its simplicity, timeless and unparalleled.

Simply profound or profoundly simple? You be judge, jury and executioner.

Certain pronouncements are so wide-ranging that they invite scepticism.

“Moreover, it’s not possible to record a generic ‘music to drink wine by’ CD because a song that might make Pinot Noir taste great can make Cabernet Sauvignon taste awful.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Never play polkas with anything” – Clark Smith

Not even when you are wearing a Picpoul-dotted bikini? Ah, but a nicely-chilled Kekfrankos would be musical villány (that’s too obscure on a number of levels – Ed).

“Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don’t like happy music. With expensive reds, don’t play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It’s very hard to find a piece of music that’s good for both Pinot and Cabernet.” – Clark Smith (again)

Unless you like angry sex.

The Heriot Watt study says much more about music than wine. As one commentator said: “If you gave me a pair of leather gloves and put me in a room with Metallica and asked me to rate the gloves, I would probably rate “powerful and heavy” higher than “zingy and refreshing”.” I love the idea of zingy and refreshing gloves. Gloves are all you need. To go on to suggest that there are certain “perfect” pairings, or that this music can ruin that varietal is a big stretch. Listening to music one likes will always improve any experience, just as drinking wine with really good friends adds a dimension to the experience. (Try tasting with someone hypercritical and see how the pleasure of wine can be killed stone dead).

The survey does answer the most subtle question of whether a chimera bombinating in a vacuum can devour second intentions and what music it should be listening while it does so. 

 What’s Playing On The Natural Wine I-Pod 

The Dynamic Album – Stonewall Jackson

Supernatural – Santana

Organic – Joe Cocker

Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Horse Power – (No) Chemical Brothers

Zero Toxic – Force Majeure (From The Saints of Sulphur album)

Slave to the Yeast – The People’s Tongue

Biserka – Zoyres, Eastern European Wild Ferment

Evolution Orange – Earth, Wind & Fire



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