We often think of our sensory modalities as like separate channels. In fact, there’s a lot of cross-talk and interference between them. Consider how the prick of a needle is more painful if you watch it go in. Under-researched in this respect is the way that sound can affect our taste of food and drink. We know that such interactions occur. For instance, crisps taste fresher when they make a louder crunching noise. In a new study, Adrian North has shown that when people drink wine to the accompaniment of music, they perceive the wine to have taste characteristics that reflect the nature of that concurrent music. If you want your Merlot to taste earthy and full-bodied, try savouring it to the tune of Tom Jones. To add a little zing to your Pinot, perhaps try some Gaga?
North tested out the taste perceptions of 250 university students as they drank either Montes Alpha 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (red wine) or Chardonnay (white wine) – both are Chilean. Crucially, some of the participants sampled their glass to the tune of music previously identified by a separate group of people as powerful and heavy (Carmina Burana by Orff); others drank their wine to music rated earlier as subtle and refined (Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’); others to the tune of zingy and refreshing music (Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague); and lastly, the remaining participants drank their wine with mellow and soft music in the background (Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook). There was also a control group who drank the wine with no music.
After they’d savoured their wine for five minutes, the participants were asked to rate how much they felt the wine was powerful and heavy; subtle and refined; mellow and soft; and zingy and refreshing. The results showed that the music had a consistent effect on the participants’ perception of the wine. They tended to think their wine had the qualities of the music they were listening to. So, for example, both the red and white wines were given the highest ratings for being powerful and heavy by those participants who drank them to the tune of Carmina Burana.
It remains for future research to establish whether these effects would hold among participants who had a greater knowledge of wine (a factor not assessed in the current study). Also, it’s not clear how much it’s the cultural connotations of the music that influences the perception of the wine, or how much it’s the physical properties of that music. Finally, it perhaps would have been better if the music had stopped whilst the wines were rated.
This research builds on some earlier, related findings. People buy more French wine when French music is playing (and ditto for German music and wine). Past research has also shown that people eat and drink their way to a higher dinner bill when the restaurant plays classical music as opposed to pop, presumably because of the “upmarket” connotations of the classical accompaniment.
North, A. (2011). The effect of background music on the taste of wine. British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02072.x
- Practising describing wines could help you become a connoisseur (earlier Digest item).
- On Vines and Minds (Psychologist magazine feature).
- And check out the Wine Psych blog!