Music and Wine - A Classic Pairing Part 1

Tracy and I are both following the Society of Wine Educators' posts on Facebook and the latest post for the aspirants who quest for the Certified Wine Educator award was an article today about wine and music pairings. A 2010 Pouilly-Fumé "Silex" from the now deceased Didier Dageneau was paired with Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K 285.


Silex (French for "flint") was the more austere style of Dageneau's two best wines. For me personally, “Pur–Sang” (French for a Thoroughbred horse) in the years before Didier's death was the very best expression of Sauvignon ever. Note: The French do not speak of Sauvignon Blanc, they call it simply “Sauvignon”. The “Blanc” is redundant for the French, it would be like saying –“Try this Cabernet Sauvignon Rouge”

Didier Dageneau and Sauvignon Blanc are both dear to my heart, at one time his wines were for me the quintessence of Sauvignon Blanc. Dageneau was a rebel in all senses of the word. In the early 2000s he was seen as one of France’s most talented winemakers. I met him in 2003 and he completely lived up to his reputation  - he gave us a tour and started out by keeping us waiting an hour but with his wit and charm he soon won us over. He had designed a special shaped elliptical barrel that he was convinced would add more subtle oak textures to his wines.

One taste of his wines erased any preconceptions I had about the man, one taste and boom in a second you become a believer. I loved his wines so much that my wife bought me a case for my birthday even though it arrived 2 years later. I loved every last drop.

Alas although his estate lives on his wines are now long gone and like so many lost heroes the name lives on only for those who can afford to pay for the wine that is now unreachably overpriced.

So what does this all have to do with music and wine – well I used the reference to Didier Dageneau to introduce an event that occurred last July in which Veritas held a Music and Wine pairing as part of the Wintergreen Performing Arts Summer Music Festival - who better to introduce the idea than the iconic Dageneau.

A Classical Pairing Part 1

We hear about wine and food pairing all the time, so what about a wine and music pairing?

The person who introduced me to the concept of the interplay between wine and music was Clark Smith, a well-known figure in the world of wine chemistry and the author of Post Modern Wine Making. I met him at a winemaker’s seminar organized by Mark Chien, who at that time was the Pennsylvania enology extension agent.  As a carrot to attract participants, we were told that after a day of learning about wine chemistry, Smith would entertain us with a seminar on music and wine. You can imagine I was much more impressed with wine and music than I was with a whole day on wine chemistry.

With that experience in mind and in conjunction with Erin Freeman, Music Director of the 2017 Wintergreen Performing Arts Summer Music Festival, I thought it would be fun for Veritas to do a wine and music pairing. Our premise was simply that cognitive and emotional processes affect the perception of wine.  There is no debate that music affects emotions, therefore there has to be a relationship worth exploring between wine and music.

We know from common experience that if we are feeling happy, happy music makes us feel happier and conversely if we are feeling sad, sad music makes us feel sadder. Just look at the way music and wine behave together; where there is music, usually there is wine. Whether it is ‘wetting the baby’s head,’ a bar mitzvah, a graduation, an engagement or a marriage, music, and wine help us celebrate the important milestones in life.

There are many studies in neuroscientific and psychological literature that attest to the fact that cognitive and emotional factors can influence the way we perceive and experience both wine and music. One of the most frequently quoted studies is a report by Gil Morrot in The National Institute for Agronomic Research from The University of Montpelier, the oldest and most prestigious of the French universities. He took 54 students from the enology program at the University of Bordeaux, the second oldest and most prestigious university in France, and asked them to write descriptions of three wines, two of which were red and one white. Think of it as if a group of Harvard students was asked to do a blind tasting organized by Yale.

One wine was a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and the other two were white Bordeaux wines, one of which had been dyed with a tasteless red color dye to look like the other red wine.  The result of the study was that the students described qualities of red wine like cherry, plum and even forest floor in the white wine dyed red. For me this study only proves how easy it is to fool students who were under way too much psychological pressure, and absolutely confirms that man is a more visual than olfactory creature.

Examples abound where conscious and especially subconscious bias influences our decision-making processes. One I particularly like was done at the University of Leicester back in the ‘90s, where it was shown that French music played in the wine section of a supermarket increased the sales of French wines—and the same held true if you played the Glockenspiel in the German section.

Smith’s work has not been subject to the rigors of scientific measurement because to do so would require the use of an MRI brain scan in which the subject would be required to sip wine whilst listening to music. Studies like this have been done under similar conditions, but the cost of doing such studies are prohibitive.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we will explore the outcome of Veritas' Wine and Music pairing exercise, including notes on the wines, sound clips of the music with which they were paired, and thoughts on how the pairings affected emotional and sensory experiences.

NewsAndrew Hodson