Music and Wine Redux

If the music and wine matching site Drinkify is a gimmick, here is a more substantive connection between music and wine.

A research team led by Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University claims to show that musici nfluences perception of a wine’s qualities.

North tested the taste perceptions of 250 university students as they drank two ordinary wines–a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay–accompanied by music independently identified as powerful and heavy (Carmina Burana by Orff), subtle and refined, (an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker), zingy and refreshing (Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague), or mellow and soft. (Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook.) A control group sipped while not listening.

After they’d savoured their wine for five minutes, the participants were asked to rate how much they felt the wine was powerful and heavy; subtle and refined; mellow and soft; and zingy and refreshing. The results showed that the music had a consistent effect on the participants’ perception of the wine. They tended to think their wine had the qualities of the music they were listening to. So, for example, both the red and white wines were given the highest ratings for being powerful and heavy by those participants who drank them to the tune of Carmina Burana.

So what should we conclude from this study? I’m sure some will take this to be more evidence that wine drinkers can be systematically fooled about the quality of what they’re drinking. But I doubt that 250 randomly selected college students have the ability to accurately describe wine qualities—describing wine is difficult even for experts. It isn’t surprising that the untutored tasting and descriptive capacities of students are disrupted by environmental factors.

Social scientists have shown that our judgments about all sorts of things are influenced by environmental factors. (Here, here, here for representative examples). Wine tasting is apparently no worse off than other judgments.

Furthermore, it is not out of the question that one sensory modality might be influenced by another. It may be that heavy metal music causes us to focus on a different dimension of a chardonnay or sharpens our perception of its’ body by increasing the amplitude of the signal thus causing tasters to describe it as powerful and heavy.

So perhaps tasting rooms should take note. If you want to convince customers that the cold-weather juice you’re pouring has the power of better vintages put on some ACDC and kick up the volume.

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