Music, Wine & Heston Blumenthal


May 2023

When we taste wine we use our eyes to see, our nose to smell and our mouth to both taste and feel. But what about our ears to hear? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that what we are listening to when we enjoy a glass of wine impacts how that wine tastes. 
I’ve been reflecting on some wine reviews by one of our favourite Angels, David Jones. What’s so special about DJ’s reviews is that he always suggests a music pairing for the wine he’s reviewing. Most of which are utterly charming. 

On a recent review of the Dolan & Dunn Grenache Rosé, David, Nigel and I all suggested songs we thought paired well with the wine. David’s choice was the super-smooth Grace Jones with La Vie en Rose, Nigel’s was a classic Rolling Stones track, She’s A Rainbow, and mine, as a child of the 80’s, was the Psychedelic Furs, Pretty in Pink.

All great songs and all work well with the wine, depending on your mood and taste in music. And it’s got me thinking about the effect of music on wine.

Can I interest you in some Barry White with your Shiraz?

As winemakers we are keenly aware that our perceptions may be skewed by any number of both internal and external stimuli – our emotions, the temperature of the room, the time of day, the general mood, the lighting, the power of suggestion and expectations. Noses are not machines. They are attached to humans and as a result, are affected by the whole gamut of human senses. But we often don’t consider the impact of music on the taste of wine. 

Some years ago I was fortunate to see a live stage performance by Heston Blumenthal, who as well as being a wizard in the kitchen, also has a great love of wine. To him, wine is just one more amazing and complex set of flavours to creatively coordinate into the experience of a meal. But he revealed that night, that there was more to wine than simply the sense of smell and taste. 

At one point Heston grabbed some folks from the audience and gave them two wines to try – a red and a white. He asked them to jot down a few simple descriptors for each of the wines. They tasted the red wine first and as they tasted, Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from Carmina Burana played in the background – powerful, heavy music. They were then asked to taste the white to the tune of Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite – a much more subtle, bright and refined piece of music. The descriptors they wrote down for the red included words like ‘rich’, ‘heavy’, ‘big’ and ‘full’. For the white, ‘light’, ‘crisp’, ‘fresh’ and ‘tart’. Heston then unveiled the two wines. They were the same wine. The red simply had food colouring added. Interesting.

Studies have shown that music can influence how we perceive a wine’s sweetness, acidity, astringency and fruitiness, among other things, and that lively music can make a wine taste more lively, while mellow music can make a wine taste more mellow.

Dr Adrian North, a Professor of Psychology has experimented with the affect of music on the taste of wine. He found that as the brain interprets the sounds we hear, it then activates related pieces of information, filling in gaps in our perception. In other words, because the music sounds powerful and heavy, so too does the wine taste powerful and heavy. Fascinating stuff.

In another study, playing either French or German music in a supermarket changed the buying habits of the shoppers, causing them to buy more French or German wine depending upon the music played; while classical music played in the background will encourage shoppers to spend more money on wine than Top 40 hits, as it lends itself to a feeling of affluence and sophistication.

In reverse, it also stands to reason that the more a wine style is suited to a style of music, the more harmonious the pairing, not unlike pairing wines with complementary foods.


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by Caroline Dunn

SA Liquor Licence No 57615327
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