Tangled Up In Tunes (Music’s Effect On Our Perception Of Wine)

Vinted on November 29, 2011 binned in wine news

I’ve been playing around with on-line music-and-cocktails-matching entertainment app Drinkify, and have concluded via completely non-scientific means that it is almost a total failure (at least, when it comes to one pairing in particular).

It’s fun, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that it offers me the booze-pairing “beer” (I use that term loosely) suggestion of Bud Light (!) when I tell it that I’m listening to RUSH – and that, my friends, is a FAILure so epic in size that its scope can only be measured in light years.

While Drinkify might be fun, the pairing of music with imbibing, at least when it comes to wine, isn’t simply a laughing matter: according to a story published on wired.com earlier this month, a recent study (led by Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University), showed some rather scientific evidence that our perception of a wine’s qualities is measurably influenced by whatever music happens to be playing in the background when we drink it.

And I, for one, think that odd bit of news is actually pretty… awesome

First, the background; to the tape (emphasis is mine)!:

“In a new study, Adrian North has shown that when people drink wine to the accompaniment of music, they perceive the wine to have taste characteristics that reflect the nature of that concurrent music… After they’d savored 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.”

Personally, this tidbit, while fascinating, isn’t a big deal to me, even as someone who is a part-time musician and also critiques wines; primarily because I am the father of a toddler, and so I find myself more often than not trying to apply a professional level of focus to reviewing a glass of wine while the soundtrack to Disney’s Tangled is being played, for the eleventh consecutive time that day, not-so-quietly in the background. I’m not sure what qualities *that* music imparts to the perception of a wine, but if anyone from the Department of Homeland Security is reading this, I can offer you some tips on a new potential interrogation technique (assuming – and it is not a sure bet – that it passes the test of lying outside the definition of torture).

The music+wine connection is not a big deal to critics because once one is conscious of some external stimulus (in this case, music) is messing with your wine-perception brain, the mere knowledge of that fact morph it into just another potential distraction to be tuned out while working. Just as I’m trying to tune out my daughter’s climbing on the side of my office chair at this very moment as I type this, waving an electronic Disney Ariel princess magic star wand (complete with light and sound!) around my head – the purpose of which (discovered upon interlocution with the wand-waver) was to impart to me “all kinds of glittery and pretty and decoration stuff” in order to make my hair “shiny and nice and gluey.”

Hopefully I can be forgiven for considering music’s potential impact on my wine work as relatively small beer in comparison (but not as small a beer as Bud Light, Drinkify!).

Anyway… North’s study lends some credence to the notion that some Credence might make you find a wine more jaunty than if you were listening to Marilyn Manson while you were sipping it, tough I doubt that either will make bayou juice feel more like a grand cru.

And it probably should be required reading for winery tasting room managers everywhere, since the tune selection on the tasting room PA system might just help them to emphasize the qualities that they most want visiting consumers to remember when it comes to their wine brands. Music as wine brand value retention? Hey, stranger shiz has happened – I mean, if you dye a white wine red, it can fool even experienced tasters, so the music connection shouldn’t seem too far-fetched in comparison.

Note to tasting room staff: I’d recommend against using the Tangled soundtrack unless you want visitors to assume that your wine can make them youthful and probably slay dragons; I’d also avoid Bob Dylan’s Tangled (Up in Blue), unless you want customers to assume your wine is best paired with periods of intense remorseful sobbing.

So the next time that someone gives you grief over the notion of wine and music pairing being hackneyed, send them a link to this post (and tell them to take a bottle of Priorat with some late Beethoven and call you in morning). And the next time you want to know what it’s like to be me for a few minutes, try writing a wine review with your non-writing hand tied to your opposite foot behind your back, while setting this track on repeat (for infinity) – no offense to Mandy Moore, but if familiarity breeds contempt, then me and that song are never really gonna make up…






  • Thomas Pellechia

    Yeah, well, the problem with this information is when certain people in California build a business model around telling consumers that music doesn't just change your perception of the wine–music changes the wine itself!

    Read my archived blog entry on that subject: http://vinofictions.blogspot.com/2007/12/in-livin

    • 1WineDude

      Thomas – so you are saying that the hippies were right about music all along, then? ;-)

  • Colorado Wine Press

    Joe – In my recently started "Meet the Winemaker" interview series on my blog, I ask Colorado's winemakers to compare their wines with music. It is interesting to see what kind of music winemakers consider (or maybe hope) their wines to be like. There has been a wide range of responses, and interesting new music suggestion to check out!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, CWP – interesting idea. When someone matches their wines with RUSH’s Moving Pictures, please call me! :)

  • Bill Leigon

    Thank you for this article. Music absolutely has an effect on the taste perception of wine. My colleague Asher Raboy, former maestro of the Napa Valley Symphony and I have conducted WineMusic seminars for the past decade. We formed our company WineMusic in about 2001. Since then we have conducted seminars across the United States with very consistent results.
    This phenomenon is actually much more complex than people and critics realize. What we have discovered and demonstrated over and over again is that music effects the perception of wine in very specific, consistent ways. One piece might raise the perception of tannin and another might lower the perception of acidity, etc.
    This idea that Blues goes with hamburgers or Mozart with certain dishes or whatever is too simple and ultimately incorrect.
    The quality of the music, genre, or emotional attachment is ultimately irrelevant. It is the the specific music phrases regardless of the genre of music that effect one's taste perception. For example, Metallica with the SF Symphony actually greatly enhanced the quality perception of a dessert wine we sampled in one seminar. However, it's tough on the ears and I wouldn't recommend listening to the music. Unfortunately, I am constantly subjected to it by my son, who is a very fine drummer.
    Anyway, thanks again. We have our own theories, but they have yet to be proven. Perhaps one day you could join in one of our seminar/events? In the meantime, keep up the good work!
    Bill Leigon
    Hahn Family Wines

    • Thomas Pellechia


      Yes, music has an effect on the perception of the taste of wine–but so does ambient lighting, ambient noise that is not music, conversation (both yours and of those around you), whether or not your shoes are tight, and a thousand other possibilities that have an effect on our perceptions. The operative word is "perception."

      It would be much more interesting for some researcher to tell us why perception is influenced by external forces. My suspicion is that it has a lot to do with how comfortable (or not) the external force makes us feel, which thereby opens or shuts certain perception centers in our still largely mysterious brains.

      • 1WineDude

        Thomas – appreciate what you are saying here, but is there evidence that the ambient noise, lighting, etc. have such specific impacts? I am not saying that they do not, but I am not sure the same measurable impact on wine tasting and perception has been seen with those inputs?

        • Thomas Pellechia


          Having been involved in scores of wine tastings–often with the same wines, and even with the same people–I can say without hesitation that every environmental factor has some effect on our perception of taste. I'll go even further and say that not only environmental, but the power of suggestion has a major effect on our taste perceptions.

          Have you ever loved a wine at a tasting room, bought it, opened it at home, and then wondered why the hell you bought it?

          Humans are relatively weak and not exactly in-tuned with our own perceptive brain functions. The reason PR is so potent is based exactly on our inherent inability to understand and to critically evaluate our perceptive strengths. This is exactly why blind wine tasting separates the BS from the PR.

          Having said all that, no one can convince me that music changes the wine itself, except maybe for the possibility that subtle vibrations can alter the product the way a blender can alter a product–but I don't see that as anything more spectacular than what would happen with any other product that is subjected to vibrations.

          A lot of the nonsense that people ascribe to wine and wine appreciation is simply that: nonsense.

          • 1WineDude

            Thomas – I appreciate what you are saying (and having done blind tasting and judging, can attest to it firsthand); what I am saying is that it would be great to have some science behind those things. I suspect scientific study would corroborate much of what you suspect to be true.

            • firstvine

              Hi Joe, I used to work in Food Product Development for a consumer packaged goods company, and we collected all sorts of data on the impact of ambient lighting and noise on taste. In the end, this is why food product tastings are done in controlled environments for replicable results. This past January I saw the wine isolation tasting booths at UC Davis for the first time — just like the ones I worked with nearly 30 years ago. So no doubt they've found that they need that same kind of ambient control too.

              • 1WineDude

                Thanks, Tom – further evidence that we are impressionable beasts even when it comes to food. Cheers!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Bill – would LOVE to take this to the next step and attend a seminar if possible. Please shoot me details and dates to joe @ 1winedude.com. In the meantime, I think I need to see if the Philly orchestra would be up for a symphony and wine-tasting event… ;-). Cheers!

  • @ilpalazzone

    Ciao Joe! Great post. Have you heard of Giancarlo Cignozzi – he plays music to his vines here in Montalcino… – taking the theory right to the origin of a wine… http://www.alparadisodifrassina.it/musica.php?lan

    • 1WineDude

      @ilpalazzone – Thanks! I have heard of that indeed. Wondering if these studies will end up proving him right…

  • Ron Saikowski

    Pavlov was somewhat right about his dogs and the situation of anchoring. I can tell you that we drink whites with Summer Music while out on the back veranda watching the antics of birds and discussing the day's ventures. I also find myself leaning toward whites when the weather is warm. However, cold weather brings out the red wines.

    • 1WineDude

      Ron – and we also drink the whites when it’s friggin’ hot outside and those whites are cold. :) To me, that is conditioning, but maybe not quite the same conditioning as the music thing. But the point you are making at heart is that we are easily manipulated and are probably adept at making excuses to poo-poo that and try to downplay our predilection to outside stimuli, bolstering the false pretense that we are actually in some control. And I would agree with that – we are, clearly, not in so much control of our reactions as we assume, even (or especially?) when it comes to vino. Cheers!

  • Clark Smith

    Thanks for exploring this topic, Joe, and I find your comments right on the money. I just got through doing a segment on NPR's Soundcheck on wine & music, featuring the very clued-in cognitive psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: http://bit.ly/vqg2Kr .

    In 2007, I presented a study to the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference on the topic, which is available along with tons more info at http://postmodernwinemaking.com/pmwine/wine_n_mus… .

    There's a video of one of my seminars at http://bit.ly/uescTB .

    • 1WineDude

      Clark – great to hear form yo and thanks for the links. You know, I am still telling people about your Monticello Viognier song! :)

      • Thomas Pellechia

        I would like to note that the neuroscience mentioned above does not say definitively that music has any effect on the wine itself, nor does it say that one particular wine pairs with any particular music. It's about our internal programming and, unless I am a dull-head, it seems also to say that this thesis points to individual application, not to mention individual environmental experience.

        People who have something to sell are often good at converting a scientific message into simplistic gibberish.

        • 1WineDude

          Thomas – I think you have it right on the mark, I interpreted the results in the same way. The wine is not impacted, but out *perception* of the wine’s qualities are impacted.

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com





Sign up, lushes!

Enter your email address to subscribe and get all the good stuff via email.

Join 36,893 other subscribers