Each month Sam Hellyer, Head of Wine & Spirits, will be guiding you through his top tips to buying all things drinkable and fun facts to wet one’s whistle. This month, Sam explores the power of music and the influence it has on the taste of wine.
09/02/2020 Chiswick Curates, Wine & Spirits
Every so often, when there’s little else to report on, a story makes the rounds that Classical Music increases your enjoyment of wine. Now you won’t know this; I’m a sociologist. That’s not some unusual self-identification, I actually have a degree in sociology, so as you can imagine this subject really interests me. I find it hard to believe that one type of music ie classical music, affects all people the same. Are there no other genres that also increase the enjoyment of drinking wine or is this all in our heads? This has been puzzling me recently and I thought I would explore my past experiences to help me come to some kind of conclusion.
I’ve spent years working shop floors with an array of people who’ve played their collections of music to fuel our vinous labours, and I’ve played mine in return and a sort of cross pollination has occurred. To this day when I drink Mencia I’ll always think of Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan.
Both my Mencia-Memories and my music-mood relation are heavily context dependent, and clearly, I am not alone. Anecdotally we can all think of a wonderful drink or meal we’ve had on holiday that stands out in particular and that we can never truly recapture. Recently I was reading a book about Wine by Mike Veseth, the Wine Economist, and it mentioned an interesting piece of research. While in an MRI scanner participants were given wine and told how much it cost. Invariably, the more expensive they were told the wine was the more pleasure centres lit up. This would seem to verify that the more expensive a wine is the more pleasurable the experience. In fact, when given the same wine twice but told that one was more expensive, the pleasure centres were more active when the participant believed the wine had a bigger price tag. Even more interestingly the pleasure centre lit up even before they drank the wine. It seems that the brain pre-juices you with joy-hormones (not a scientific term) when you believe you should be enjoying something. Therefore, this may suggest that context influences your experiences when drinking wine or more than we might think.
Exploring this idea in relation to the theory that classical music makes you enjoy wine more, this may indeed be true, but it depends completely on personal taste and whether you listen and like classical music. But, if you happen to enjoy the janky-punk music of New York, or raucous Jazz that noodles on for hours on end, or even the latest hip and trendy music all the kids are dancing to in the discotheques, no matter what you like, if you’re enjoying the music, you’ll probably enjoy what you are drinking even more. If you extrapolate this out to night clubs it does explain why the cheapest beer, or the house rum and mixer still tastes good on a night out, even though you know it’s not of the highest quality. In these situations, you are having fun already, and so those joy-hormones (I really can’t apologise enough) are coursing through you.
Personally, I don’t mind Classical music, but it sort of washes over me and the last thing I want a wine to do is to be underwhelming. I want something to grab me and make me pay attention. I think the same is true of my music tastes. Some of the best wines I’ve sampled have been on the shop floors of my early career, while an array of staff's music collections floated out of the speakers. One of my favourite bands these days is The National. I was introduced to them by a colleague who played them off her iPod. I asked how many albums she had, and she replied, “all of them”, so, we listened to them all, in a row, long after we’d locked up and began an impromptu wine tasting (of reasonable portions). I still listen to The National now, and when their new album came out, I carved out an hour with a glass of wine (or two) to listen to it. Was the album as good as I think? Was the wine as nice as I remember (a Dog Point Pinot Noir)? Yes, but I guarantee it with some contextual feedback. You can deploy your joy-hormones (I’ll donate to a science charity, I promise) to help you ensure you have a good time. Conversely, if you’re having a terrible day, I’d probably suggest that you don’t open a nice bottle, as I promise it won’t live up to your expectations.
Should you listen to classical music to enjoy wine? Well, only if you love classical music. My dream is to one day take an exceptionally good bottle of wine to a concert by one of my top five artists and just ride out the night. If you’re curious, the fantasy list is below:
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with a Lynch-Bages 1999.
2. Franz Nicolay with a Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir from a recent vintage (last 6 years).
3. The National with a Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling from a recent Vintage (last 3 years).
4. Pete Yorn with Joseph Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet 1996
5. Chateau Musar 1983 (for historical reasons).
If you also have a fantasy wine and music pairing, then please drop me a line and maybe we can put together a playlist.
For more information contact our Head of Wine & Spirits Sam Hellyer.