What do Sting and Post Malone have in common, or how about Nicki Minaj and Boz Scaggs? Can we add Dave Matthews?

Music Superstars and Wine

These musical superstars all, at some point or another, played a major role in the world of wine. Many still do. Sting owns Tenuta il Palagio; Nicki is a proprietor of Myx Fusions, for those who like Moscato; Malone helps fine tune the rosé blend at Maison No. 9; and Boz for decades produced organic wine grapes in Napa (he has since sold the vineyard). Dave Matthews? Blehnheim Vineyards in Virginia.

Of course, celebrity ownership of wineries is nothing too surprising. George Clooney owns Domaine du Canadel in Provence since 2021. He’s expected to release his first wine this year.

But, music and wine seem to go together more than acting and wine; and in more ways than one. Wine.com has a page on “Wines by Famous Musicians,” so you can taste how musical creativity might contribute to a wine’s excellence. The classical composer Handel loved how wine tastes. So did Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Mussorgsky, and Sibelius. So wine understandably lubricates musical creativity, even perhaps to the point of genius. That’s a good argument for wine pairing with classical music.

Music and Winegrowing

From another angle, researchers and winemakers have taken a great interest in how music might positively affect wine maturation—yes, that means playing music for the wine as it ages. At least one French vigneron plays music to the vines (and different music to the ageing wine). And some studies, quite a few, have determined that listening to music affects human perception during wine tasting.

Mature Music and Wine Maturation

At Montes winery in Chile, they insist that only one type of music helps red wines age better: Gregorian chants. This is reserved for their top tier red wines: Montes Folly, Alpha M, Purple Angel, and the iconic Montes Taita. In one interview Aurelio Montes, Jr., explained that “the music helps the wine through vibrations to achieve a better quality while maturing in the barrel.”

He believes music can impact the wine either positively or negatively; hence, Montes’ very precise selection. “We use the Gregorian chants 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” stated Aurelio. No performances by Nicki Minaj.

Similarly, Domaine Michel Loriot in Champagne plays Beethoven’s classical music to their wines. The belief is that the vibrations from “Symphony Pastoral” reach the lees during secondary fermentation, leading to a better, creamier Champagne with enhanced tertiary flavors. Wow. The Domaine, however, does not stop there with the music.

The Music of the Vines

They work with an organization called Genodics. “Des ondes sonores spécifiques peuvent augmenter et stimuler les défenses naturelles de vos vignes,” they say. Yes, that means that sound waves enhance and stimulate the vines’ natural defenses. So at Domaine Michel Loriot, the vines “listen” to a precise sequence of musical notes during the vegetative growth phase, April to September, to help resistance against common diseases like the dreaded ESCA. Healthier vines = better wine through music.

A Unique Tasting: Wine and Music

How does listening to music while tasting wine affect sensory perception and analysis? Does music alter wines tastes?

“Pair your Krug Champagne with music,” declares the Krug Champagne App. That unique offering, which has been available for several years, stems from the research of Oxford University’s Charles Spence. He has continued.

Charles Spence and Colleagues

A late 2019 study by Spence and colleagues tested a sample of 46 participants who tasted four Finger Lakes wines while listening to a chosen soundtrack. The researchers believed the music “would alter the evaluation of the wines to be smoother and spicier.” The results? “The wines tasted while the soundtrack were playing in the background were rated as significantly fruitier and smoother than the same wines when tasted in silence.”

May we never taste wine in silence again.

Spence believes that “what we hear (specifically in terms of music) really can change our perception of the taste of wine, not to mention how much we enjoy the experience.” Moreover, playing “the right music” will enhance the wine tasting experience in specific ways, hence his Finger Lakes research.

This is all about “those wanting to deliver the most stimulating, the most memorable, and certainly the most multisensory of tasting experiences,” i.e. wine producers, restaurants, festivals, wine educators, and so on. The point is the “possibility of delivering such extraordinary multisensory tasting experiences by carefully combining (or pairing) music and tasting.”

Indeed, Bevinars founder Mark Oldman created a seminar for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen entitled Pitch Perfect: How Music Enhances Great Wine, which was covered by several media outlets.

Other Research on Music Paired with Wine

Spence is far from alone. One study, now a classic, determined that playing different music in a supermarket influenced wine purchasing. French music led to French wine outselling German wine five to one; whereas German music led to German wine outselling French by two to one.

Another study by Adrian C. North found that, when tasting wine, if “the background music was subtle and refined then the wine was perceived as more subtle and refined than when no background music was played.” Likeise, when the background music was zingy and refreshing so was the wine taste!

A Master of Wine Who is a Musician

Susan Lin has a master’s in music and hold the title of Master of Wine: a rare combination. She loves classical music. She performed an experiment not long ago with 71 participants who unknowingly tasted the same wine four times, and teach time Lin played different music . . . or offered silence. “Almost all participants were confident that each glass contained a different wine” when listening to different music, Lin reported. This was a special wine pairing.

She noted that “strikingly, the wine was least impressive when tasted without music: flat and acidic. This was the same wine that had been perceived as exciting, vivacious, fresh and effervescent when tasted with Saint-Saëns’ sprightly Finale – Carnival of the Animals.” What a wine pairing!

Next Time, Pair Your Wine and Music

In conclusion, the relationship between wine and music is a rich and multifaceted affair, spanning from the creative inspirations of musicians and composers to studies exploring the impact of music on wine maturation and sensory perception. Whether it’s the rhythmic vibrations of Gregorian chants enhancing the aging process of fine red wine, or the lively notes of a Saint-Saëns piece enhancing the perception of a Champagne’s character, the influence of music on wine seems undeniable.

We should continue to explore and understand this fascinating connection. One thing remains clear, or should we say “loud and clear”: the experience of enjoying wine surpasses taste and aroma to encompass the sounds (or silence) that accompany it, making each sip a truly multisensory delight.

An Interview with Susan Lin MW on Wine and Music

Master of Wine Susan Lin was kind enough to answer a few of Charlie Leary’s questions:

How does music enhance wine tasting and appreciation?

Music has evocative powers; it can elicit images, memories, and feelings from a very personal and individual place in a person. When you combine this with another powerful sense—taste in this case— the potential exists to influence what we perceive in the wine glass.

Why, in your opinion, does this happen?

The psychological concept of priming is key to illuminating what is behind this effect. When we are exposed to one stimulus, our experience can influence a subsequent, related stimulus. Research by Charles Spence and others, including mine, have corroborated trends demonstrating our tendency to make intuitive associations between what we hear and what we taste. Music can be discussed in terms of its constituent elements, such as pitch (high-low), tempo (fast-slow), articulation (dynamic-smooth), timbre (sharp-round), and volume (loud-soft). Research indicates that we map these to certain sensory elements, such as acidity/freshness, fruitiness, richness, complexity.

The particular combination of musical elements comes together to give music its character. My research has corroborated that of Adrian North and others showing that our perceptions of wine tend to hew close to the character of the music being played, such as gentle or powerful, calm or exciting. Sensory descriptors given for the wine tend to follow this character; for example a wine perceived as exciting could be described as ‘crisp, zesty, fresh,’ while a wine perceived as powerful may be described as ‘rich, complex, bold’. By selecting a piece with specific musical elements that in turn create an overall feeling, our sensory experience of a wine can be primed to perceive certain qualities.

What suggestions do you have for everyday wine consumers regarding pairing music and wine?

Start with what you know you love and don’t be afraid to try wildly different combinations, even genres of music you might not normally listen to. You might be surprised by the outcome. Be curious, explore, and let your senses take over. The more we let ourselves feel, the more profound and enriching the experience.

Charlie Leary

A member of the Circle of Wine Writers, Charlie Leary has directed restaurant wine programs in the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and France. In the mid 1990s, while earning a PhD from Cornell University, he made artisanal cheeses and counted among the first North Americans inducted into the Guilde International des Fromagers; he later planned, planted, and managed an IGP vineyard in Andalusia.

His book-length guide to worldwide wine education programs (Leary’s Global Wineology) was first published in 2022, in part based on his experience earning numerous wine certifications. His feature articles have appeared in Decanter magazine, Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux, JancisRobinson.com, Sommelier Business, Hudin.com, and Tim Atkin MW’s website, among others. He recently consulted for the wine metaverse startup Second Winery and wrote a detailed report on the history of wine sensory analysis for the Wine Scholar Guild. Charlie now lives in Panama, where he offers wine classes, and is writing a book on the philosopher Montesquieu as an eighteenth century winegrower. IG: @bacopty