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music and wine pairingAs far as I know, this is the second article on the Wine Spectator site about the synergy between wine and music. (The first is here) In a blog post last week, long-time editor Harvey Steiman writes:

Sipping a wine that complements the music can do the same as a happy wine-and-food match. It can improve both sides of the equation.

Influenced many years ago by Burgundy vigneron Vincent Leflaive who compared two vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet by insisting “ Pucelles is Mozart and Bâtard-Montrachet is Beethoven”, Steiman goes on to explain that it is usually an instrument or singing voice that inspires the pairing:

The sound of a soprano, or high instruments such as violins and flutes, reminds me of dry, crisp white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis. If it’s a dramatic soprano, it might be trumpets. Mezzo-sopranos and instruments with medium-high range and richer texture, such as violas or reeds, evoke richer dry whites—think a typical New World Chardonnay or oak-aged white Bordeaux.

Cellos and lyric tenors? Pinot Noir or Grenache. String basses and baritones or bassos? Syrah, Cabernet or Barolo.

I know this just sounds bogus to some people but there is some empirical data supporting it and I’ve seen it demonstrated countless times. (I summarize this data here.)

Getting the right pairing requires some work. As Steiman points out:

But music is more than a sound or a timbre. It involves density vs. transparency, complexity vs. simplicity, gentleness vs. power, consonance vs. dissonance, sweetness vs. astringency, rhythmic vs. flowing.

There are a lot of relations to sort out. But what makes it more complex is the fact that even though you might think any ripe, tannic Syrah would pair with string basses and booming baritones, many pairings that I think should work don’t. The relationship is more singular than generalities such as “big wines go with bass heavy music” can capture.

I’ve now been using music in my wine reviews for several years. It is usually the most time consuming part of writing the review. It’s not sufficient that a wine vaguely reminds you of a song—the music must enhance the wine and that takes a precise match. And the wrong pairing can diminish your experience of the wine.

I’m not sure exactly why this works nor have I settled on an explanation of how it works. (I cover some of the explanatory options in this article)

But I’m increasingly persuaded that this relationship between wine and music is mediated by emotion metaphors and subtle feeling states evoked by both the music and the wine.

Regardless of the explanation it is clear that the relationship between wine and music is real. Given that it can enhance our experience of wine it’s a bit puzzling that it hasn’t become more popular. People snap up the wine with a slightly higher score on the shelf-talker at the wine shop but when it comes to improving the experience of the wine you have, they shrug their shoulders.

Nevertheless I remain hopeful that this relationship between wine and music will receive wider recognition as influencers such as Harvey Steiman continue to report on it.

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