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What if you could pair your favourite song with wine?

Video highlights from Great Innovators: The Rise of Australian Wine with Sam Neill

A study has paired the sound of music with the taste of wine, to further enhance the wine’s flavour.

Sitting down at a nice restaurant you may order a nice glass of wine to accompany your meal, perhaps a peppery Shiraz to go with your steak or an oaky Chardonnay to compliment your braised chicken, but what if you could also match your wine and food with music or even colour?

A study by Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University has been trialling matching tastes such as sourness and sweetness with different sound properties.

Professor Spence, who has been working with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Chef Jozef Youssef of Kitchen Theory, believes that other senses can impact or even complement each other which he says happens in two ways.

Firstly, through something called sensation transference.

“What this means is if you listen to a piece of music you really like, some of that positive effect will likely carry over to influence what you think about whatever you are eating and drinking too,” Professor Spence explains in an email.

Secondly, carefully chosen music or sounds can be used to “sonically season” your drink.  Essentially there is music we associate with sweetness and some music that we associate with bitterness and sourness, and even, as professor Spence explains music that has notes of spice and cream.

“Most people tend to associate lower-pitched and brassy notes with bitter tastes, whereas higher pitched musical notes are associated with sweet and sour tastes instead.”

However, it’s important to note that music doesn’t have the ability to totally change what you are tasting. “But what you can do is use the music to draw people’s attention to something in their tasting experience. The more we attend to and concentrate on what we are tasting the more salient it becomes to us,” Professor Spence explains.

Professor Spence has been experimenting mainly with classical pieces and instruments. For example, he finds that clarinet and flute go well with white wine, while string quartets pair better with Bordeaux.

And though his experimentation has mainly focused on classical music, that’s not to say its limited to it. He explains that the principles of his study extend across every genre of music.

So fear not, if you feel like listening to a bit of Otis Redding or head-bang to some Queens of the Stone Age, there’ll be a glass of wine to accompany it.

However, if Bohemian Rhapsody is your jam, you may have a problem finding the appropriate drop.

“The only problem with using pre-recorded music is sometimes it changes during the track, e.g. from major to minor chord, such as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Professor Spence and his team found that even colour can influence taste. Colour is what sets our expectations of wine. Not just red versus white or rose but the subtler differences in shade. For sommeliers and wine experts, these smaller details in wine colour and shade distinguish what kind of wine it is, what region, the temperature the grapes grew in and even if the grapes were over extracted. So when we taste wine we already have an expectation of what it might taste like, anchoring our tasting expectations.

“Change the colour of the wine, e.g., artificially colouring a white wine red, or rose-coloured as we recently did with a group of almost 200 sommeliers in Barcelona, and they all of a sudden start to smell and taste the red wine aromas (which they don’t get when drinking wine uncoloured. Note that wine experts tend to be more influenced by changing colour of wine than novices,” Professor Spence explains.

So what does Professor Spence suggest should pair with Australia’s Penfolds Grange?

“Well, something Australian to enhance the perceived authenticity of this Australian wine. I would also go for something classical given the research out there suggesting that listening to classical encourages us to spend more on food and drink and seems to be associated with notions of class. After that, I am thinking something with cello notes to emphasise the texture.”

How did Australians revolutionize winemaking? Don’t miss Great Innovators: The Rise Of Australian Wine With Sam Neil, Premiering TONIGHT 8.30pm AEDT/NZDT on National Geographic.

Lead Image: Still from Great Innovators, photograph by Sandrine Chevassu

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