Fri 27 Feb 2015

‘Mozart or Metallica With Your Cabernet?’ A Music and Wine Tasting


It’s a Friday night in The Wine Society’s Stevenage HQ. A number of Marketing Team members are at a private tasting after work. Among them are such seasoned tasters as The Society’s fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, our WSET-Diploma-graduate wordsmith Paul Trelford and current Diploma student Hugo Fountain.

Glasses of fine cabernet are being swirled studiously.

‘I think the first wine has lost some of its elegance with this one – but the fruit is definitely more full-bodied.’
‘I agree, but the second wine is responding better for me – it’s lost some of the minty notes we smelled earlier but it’s got such lovely fullness to it now.’

So they continue to converse and analyse how the wines are changing…

…on account of the riff to Metallica’s 1991 heavy-metal classic ‘Enter Sandman’, which happens to be emanating loudly from a boombox in the corner of the dining room.

What madness led us here? Was this really a profitable way for us to spend a Friday? As Sam from our canteen staff said when she found out about the tasting, is it just time we got lives? She has a point…

And yet all seemed to find it an eye-opening experience – as indeed I had when I was first introduced to the idea of music and wine matching.

So, can music really affect the taste of wine?
Let’s get the basic hypothesis out of the way first: yes, it certainly can.

I was as sceptical as anyone: with intuitive cynicism firing on all cylinders and an eye being kept perennially out for potential parlour tricks, I attended a workshop on the subject by California vintner, inventor and Renaissance man Clark Smith a couple of years ago at a conference in Rioja.

After he made two glasses of chardonnay taste markedly different with a mere flick of an iPod button, without even the merest power of suggestion, I was agog; but then why shouldn’t this be the case?

I realised that I had been guilty of thinking about wine and music – two of my favourite things in this world – in a rather uptight way.

‘I felt differently thanks to a piece of music’ is by no means a controversial statement to make. Music’s oft-profound effect on our brain means it is studied and used in therapy and education, and in so-called psychological ‘nudging’; marketing agencies identifying the ‘right’ ambient music for restaurants, hotels and so forth are big business these days.

With this in mind, the statement ‘A wine tasted differently with a certain piece of music’ should not necessarily be a controversial one either.

Having hosted a couple of wine and music tastings now – one for comparative novices and one for experienced palates – it is apparent that music can affect the way wine tastes in ways that are comparable to temperature and glassware. Sometimes the variation is nil and sometimes it is slight, but on other occasions it is markedly noticeable.

The tasting
As such, I was confident enough to guarantee three things were in store for my Society guinea pigs at the start of the tasting; firstly that we would taste some great wines (and our line-up on the night did not disappoint thanks to the generosity of those present), listen to some great music (an array of genres had been queued up for the evening’s exercise) and finally that we would leave having realised that we are not quite the infallible tasters we like to think we are!

Music and wine tasting

The wines were poured in pairs and each was tasted in silence at first. Thoughts and impressions were invited. The music was then put on for bursts long enough for tasters to get their heads around what was happening. Sure enough, about 10 seconds into the first piece of music, glances began to be exchanged and even a gasp could be heard over the strains of ‘California Girls’ as the tasters began to realise that the wines were indeed changing.

By the second pair of wines, everyone was talking calmly about the changes as if this was the most natural of Friday dinner-party chinwags.

Can I try?
Of course! If you would like to try these pairings or similar ones yourself – without having our notes on the results we experienced influence you – then please find the wine and music pairings from the night below:

The principles for sourcing these pairings are laid out in Clark Smith’s own methodology on his website, which includes how-tos and recommendations for hosting your own tasting.

FLIGHT ONE: Chardonnay and Oak: Good Vibrations?
Wines: Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2011; Greywacke Marlborough Chardonnay 2011
Music: The Beach Boys – California Girls; Ella Fitzgerald – St. Louis Blues; Chet Baker/Gerry Milligan – Jeru; John Lee Hooker – Sugar Mama Blues

FLIGHT TWO: Sauvignon Blanc & Rosé vs Johann, John & Jimi
Wines: Pouilly-Fumé, Château de Tracy 2012; Corse-Calvi Rosé, Domaine Alzipratu 2013
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, ‘Sleepers, Awake’; John Denver – Sunshine on My Shoulders; Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze

FLIGHT THREE: Cabernet Sauvignon – Mozart vs Metallica
Wines: Château Batailley, Pauillac 2002; Gandolini Las Tres Marias Vineyards Maipo Andes Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Metallica – Enter Sandman

FLIGHT FOUR: Syrah or Shiraz; Reggae or Pop?
Wines: Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2005; Peter Lehmann Stonewell Barossa Shiraz 2004
Music: The Maytals – Pressure Drop; Sally Shapiro – He Keeps Me Alive

The wines

The wines

For the curious, here’s what we found on the night:

FLIGHT ONE: Chardonnay and oak: good vibrations?
‘California Girls’ had a remarkable effect on the unoaked chardonnay from Chablis, making its fruit seem more generous and expressive. The oaked Greywacke, on the other hand, became muted and out of sorts. ‘St Louis Blues’ had an inverse effect, dumbing the Chablis and bringing out more toasty nuttiness in the Greywacke. Chet Baker and Gerry Milligan’s frantic jazz rhythms did not suit either, whilst John Lee Hooker had a similar effect to ‘St Louis Blues’ on the oaked wine.

FLIGHT TWO: Sauvignon Blanc & Rosé vs Johann, John & Jimi
Bach was no friend to either of these wines, though some who found the Pouilly-Fumé a little too exuberant for them expressed a preference for the acidity-dimming effect the piece had on this wine. John Denver’s ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’ revived our Corsican pink dramatically, making it taste more delicate, more fruity and generally far more pleasant. Alas Mr Hendrix then toppled both, making each taste comparatively unfocused and dull.

FLIGHT THREE: Cabernet Sauvignon – Mozart vs Metallica
The remarkably elegant 2002 Batailley was notably more subtle and complex with Mozart, but the robustness we had smelled and tasted before the play button was hit seemed frustratingly lacking. The fuller-bodied Gandolini Cabernet was not so enamoured with ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ and seemed to retreat into its shell. Metallica had an inverse effect, with the dark fruit of both wines soaring, albeit perhaps at the expense of some finesse. I then went back to ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix, which seemed to have a happy-medium effect, allowing body and complexity to sit alongside each other quite comfortably.

FLIGHT FOUR: Syrah or Shiraz; Reggae or Pop?
Although neither the Crozes-Hermitage nor the Barossa particularly enjoyed Sally Shapiro’s electro-pop, the reggae number ‘Pressure Drop’ had a pleasing effect on the Crozes, smoothing over some of the more farmyard-like smells and thus making it more appealing to non-Rhôneophiles present.

Music and wine principles
As some may have inferred from the above, some principles can be grabbed at here, primarily in terms of personifying the wines in musical form. Fresh unoaked chardonnay is lifted by the summery rhythms of The Beach Boys whilst heavier, oakier versions are enlivened by huskier bluesy ones. Big, dark, brooding reds baulk at Mozart but enjoy Metallica.

And rosé loves John Denver…

Much more erudite people than I have written far better about all this, but I find much of the joy in the concept to be due to its flexibility. Music and wine are both subjects that straddle the objective and subjective in fascinating ways, and finding pairings that work well based on one’s personal taste is great fun.

Anyone wishing to find out more should head over to

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. Dave Williams says:

    Loved the article and love the idea. Since music can have such an impact on both mood and memory it should be no surprise that it should influence how we perceive the taste of wine.

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