Listening to waves crashing on a beach has been proven to relax us while hearing Mozart’s K442 Piano Sonata can boost our IQ, so it’s no surprise that what we listen to can affect what we taste as well. “Certain sounds bring out certain tastes,” explains Barry Smith, founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses. Meaning that when it comes to vino, even the most incongruent soundtrack can tinker with the taste of a stellar vintage. We asked experts to pair wines with the perfect playlist. Waiter, I'd like a little Madonna with my Merlot...
“If you ask people to pair sounds with tastes like sweet, sour and bitter, a high tinkling piano sound will usually be associated with sweet; a low brass or woodwind instrument sound goes with bitter tastes; and sour tastes, such as citric acid, with high pitched brass instruments like trumpets,” says Smith. Studies show songs with slow rhythms like Bon Iver’s Holocene are the right match for a velvety merlot, “as they’ve been found to accentuate the vanilla notes of the wine.”
“Songs like this and Nouvelle Vague’s cover of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough have a bright, bouncy pace that goes with sauvignon blanc. They also feature high strings that accentuate the gooseberry and boxwood aromas and undertones of asparagus found in the wine,” says Smith. “Also, the fresh zingy acidity of the wine is brilliantly matched with the music’s persistent tempo and playful feeling.”
“Something like Lady Gaga, or Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It – with their rich, weighty sounds – are best with torrontes,” says Smith. “This powerful white wine from Argentina is high in alcohol and travels across the palette more slowly than something like a sauvignon blanc, for example. So the way they move in the mouth married with the pace of the music, gives us a satisfying feeling that our senses ‘match’ [a process called cross-modal matching].”
“Match a Trivento malbec with the magnificent Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma,” says Smith. “The slow and powerful notes emphasise the weighty soft plum, blueberry, leather and chocolate aromas in the wine, and the rising high notes underscore the bright juicy fruit acids. The brain easily connects high notes with sharp fruit, and low notes with something deeper in the wine. In this instance, the combination in the music complements the components in the wine.” With red wine you also want to avoid music containing a lot of lowpitched brass instrumentation as it could make the tannins more noticeable.
“Give people a lighter white wine like chardonnay and ask them to choose between Mike Oldfield’s soft and playful Tubular Bells and Wagner’s darkly dramatic Ride Of The Valkyries and they’ll go for Tubular Bells,” says Smith. “It’s got that high tinkling sound that’s very clean and aligned with the flavours in the wine.” Playing faster music will encourage your guests to drink quicker, too. So maybe avoid Rimsky-Korsakov’s frenetic Flight Of The Bumblebee, unless you’re up for an all-nighter. “New world chardonnays are a bit more ‘raunchy’ because of their rich melon and tropical notes so the punchier Spinning Around by Kylie is also a good option.”
A ‘serious’ wine like this needs a dramatic soundtrack. “The taste of wine will be influenced in a manner consistent with the mood evoked by the music,” says Dr Adrian North, director of psychology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. “If background music is powerful and heavy, the wine will be perceived as powerful and heavy, too, because our brain enjoys it when things match and therefore will make that neurological shortcut for us.” If you fancy something less mournful, the classic rock track All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix is also a good match.
“The pulsing, sharp musical ‘stabs’ in this piece of music underlie the nervosity [a fresh, edgy, lean character] of rioja, with its dark, blackcurrant fruit and mouth-filling tannins,” explains Smith. “The harmonies in complex wines match the drama of Orff’s driving score; you feel the weight and fruit in your mouth, but it takes its time to build to its full power and final resolution in the finish (the very last flavour or texture impressions that a wine leaves after swallowing).” Powerful classic music is the obvious choice here, but if you can’t quite face listening to music that has now become synonymous with The X Factor, try Absolution by Muse.