Music Makes Wine Better

Think your dinner party playlist doesn’t really matter?

Dozens of research projects over the past few years have concluded that music and wine are a great match. Some actually go so far as to say that music can actually change our perception of a wine’s taste and how much we enjoy it. So, yes, your playlist matters, and it can impact your party guests’ opinion of what they’re drinking, even if they don’t realize it.

Wine drinkers have been tested in a bunch of musical ways to see if the two are scientifically linked. They’ve been asked to taste four wines, listen to four musical pieces and play a game of matching. In this study, most of the wine drinkers paired the same wines with the same music. Another test separated wine drinkers into different groups and played different music for each group. Then, they were all poured the same two wines, a red and a white, and asked to describe them. They tended to describe the taste in a way that was consistent with the music. So, when they were listening to mellow and soft music, that’s how most of them agreed the wine tasted. When they were listening to music that was powerful and refined, that’s how they perceived the wine they were tasting.

In other words, music has the power to change how we perceive wine. It’s science. And researchers are still on the hunt for that evasive why. Why does music have such an influence on wine?

In the meantime, most of us are going to use this knowledge to create awesome wine-drinking playlists for ourselves and friends.

Companies in the wine business are seeing opportunity in the recent research obsession over the pairing of music and wine. And they’re jumping at the chance to commercialize it. The brand behind Krug Champagnes is using music to heighten the experience of guests at international events by pairing fine food and music with each of the wines.

But there are others who are using the same concept to change the wine game altogether. Peter Eastlake, a Bay Area wine expert and Food and Wine’s 2013 Sommelier of the Year, is doing it to create an incredible music festival experience. Tasked with pairing wines with San Francisco music festival Outside Lands, he was able to create Wine Lands and bring wine to a “beer and hot dog dominated universe.”

Musician Nick Ryan decided to create soundscapes for a bunch of different wines to illuminate that people can use music, instead of the descriptions on the back of wine bottles, to determine the kind of wine they prefer. So, instead of thinking of that wine as “jammy” you can think of it as this:

Others are making wine even less like a sonata and more like a basement rave.

“The thing about music is that we’re always surrounded by it,” Aaron Jolley told Vice Munchies. “People have an opinion, and they feel comfortable around it.” Jolley is a co-founder of Winyl, a pop-up wine and music bar in London that’s pairing the two in hopes that people will start to feel about wine the way they feel about music. He and Adam Satow, his DJ brother, are trying to take away some of the inaccessibility around wine (the hard-to-pronounce names, the snobbery, etc.). And they’re doing it through open-concept, live DJ-and-wine events.

Michael Ireland, co-owner of High Treason, San Francisco’s newest wine bar, is on the same page. He uses the idea that music can be “disarming.” He and business partner John Vuong decided to make vinyl records a significant part of their bar. They play all kinds of fun records, the mood of which depends on the crowd. What kind of music disarms people and gets them relaxed about wine? Hip hop, says Michael. Rock, says John. The truth is, they play a mix of tunes, from hip hop to ‘80s punk to Joy Division to the Rolling Stones.

Michael Ireland used to be a hip hop and drum & bass DJ, which may be where the pairing idea came from. But, if you think Ireland’s affinity for music is just an anomaly, you’d be surprised to hear that he’s not the only wine expert with a stand-out record collection. He can rattle off a list of local sommeliers who are booked to come into High Treason and spin their own records while they pour a selection of wines of their choice.

Michael’s idea is a common one: Use music to bring wine back down to earth. He spent a number of years as a sommelier at some of the Bay Area’s most renowned restaurants – French Laundry, Quince, and The Restaurant at Meadowood among them.

“People were nervous to be there,” he says, and it was something he didn’t like about his job. The seriousness around the wine and food took away from the experience and made people feel uneasy. He, like others making waves in wine today, is not all about that. “I didn’t grow up in a suit, I grew up on a skateboard.”

Today, the skateboard generation is running the wine scene, millennials are drinking more of it, and vinyl record sales are growing year after year. “Disarming” music and wine seem like a pair that will be together for a while. And we’re not mad about it.


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