How Music Can Affect the Way Wine Tastes

Can different music affect how much you enjoy a wine?  Well, over the last 6 or so years, a handful of studies have been conducted that suggest that yes, it certainly can.  Just how, though, and what types of music or songs pair best with which wines, is still somewhat of a mystery (and still being studied).



The first well-known study, in 2011 by Adrian North at Heriot-Watt University, found that participants were more likely to describe both a white wine and a red wine similarly to how they would describe the music that was played for them as they drank it.  If a song was described as “powerful and heavy” and that was the song played on a loop as the participants tasted their wines, they more often described the wines as being powerful and heavy, as well (as opposed to “zingy and refreshing”, “subtle and refined”, or “mellow and soft”), and so on.  What this suggests is that music, just as other influencers of the senses when tasting, such as strong perfume, can influence our perception of what we taste.

Another experiment by California wine consultant Clark Smith, in which he conducted several tasting panels trying to narrow down which types of music go best with different varietals, found that there definitely are differences.  For instance, he found that Cabernet Sauvignon goes better with heavy metal (specifically Metallica) than with classical, as some people might think.  He also concluded that Pinot Noir pairs well with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Rombauer Chardonnay goes well with Ella Fitzgerald’s “St. Louis Blues”, and even that Sutter Home White Zinfandel is fantastic with the polka-esque “Milorganite Blues”.  According to Smith, you should never listen to polka music with anything other than White Zinfandel, Cabernets like angry music, Pinot Noirs like sexy music, and reds in general go best with anything that is emotionally negative or is played in a minor key.   

California winemaker and musician Karl Wente has been putting this theory to work for years now.  In a tasting he held in 2013, he paired four Wente wines: a stainless steel aged Sauvignon Blanc, an unoaked, non-ML Chardonnay, an off-dry Riesling, and a balanced Merlot with music from local bands with different musical styles.  Of the Sauvignon Blanc pairing, he said, “like (the band) Brown Bird, this wine makes you want to move your head.  It has a percussion influence.  Crisp acidity, liveliness; music of the world.  Sauvignon Blanc is a staple in Bordeaux, South Africa, California, New Zealand, worldwide.”  The Chardonnay was paired with the band Wheeland Brothers, and Karl said, “It has some pep to it, but it isn’t this huge thing.  The other (Sauvignon Blanc) was more peppy, but this has more structure, is more grounded.  It has substance behind it but doesn’t go too far.”  The Riesling was paired with deep, sensuous music from The Kin, and said of the pairing, “There’s a tiny bit of residual sugar there, balanced with acidity.  It’s smooth and round with some floral intensity.”  Finally, he said this of his pairing of Merlot with music from The Lone Bellow, “harmonies just kicking through, the male/female voice, just bringing it all together.  I chose the Sandstone Merlot because of the structure behind it.  You don’t think about the drums and bass and rhythm necessarily, but they’re all there.”  This may have been an approach where the music was chosen first and the wines were paired to it, and not necessarily to find the pairing that enhances the experience of each particular wine the best, but it is another example of how you can try your own experiments with what you have at home.

Yet another approach and theory came from an experiment at the 2014 Streets of Spain Festival in London, where festival goers were invited to be exposed to different color lights and music as they tasted wine from a black glass.  They had no idea even if the wine was white or red, but most agreed that when their surroundings were bathed in red light and the music was “sweet”, the wine tasted instantly and markedly different than when the light was green and the music a “sour” sound.  The instantaneous difference in experience suggests that music (and possibly color) can have a pretty profound effect, most likely in the emotional response to the music.

Lastly, experiments have been done that show that even playing pre-recorded ambient sounds of specific places in the world, when served with wines native to those areas, greatly enhance the enjoyment of the wine.  To me, this says that when people have a strong sense of place, without confusing their senses by creating a hodge-podge of several different cultures and environments, all the senses rejoice.

What does all this mean to me?  Well, I know that music that is too loud and/or grating to me just makes everything I experience worse until I can escape it.  This is backed up by the theory that loud music can make a wine taste more astringent.  I have experimented, as have many people, a lot with pairing food and wine together, and have seen what the wrong aromas, flavors, or mouthfeel can do to a wine, and how the same wine can do a complete 180° turnaround when paired with the right foods.  I believe that we taste with all of our senses, and it has been shown that the olfactory region in our sinuses is directly connected to the ear canal, so this does not surprise me in the least.  I believe that it is as simple as the emotional connection that we have to music, and when it lines up with the aromas, flavors, acidity, astringency, and finish of a wine, it creates a harmonious experience.

To try your own experiment at home with Aristo wines, try these pairings out:

2015 Aristo Viognier with Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague

2015 Aristo Syrah with Nessun Dorma by Puccini

2016 Aristo Pinot Noir with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart

2016 Aristo Ruby Port with Vocalise by Rachmaninoff


Try these combinations as suggested, and then switch them up and try different combinations, and see for yourself if any of these theories ring true.  It could be fun to do with a group of friends to create your own study panel, as well.  Enjoy (with all your senses)!