Can music influence the flavor of wine?

Does French music = French wine?

Adrian North is one of my favorite researchers. In his experiments he combines genius and practicality. It is not easy to study the influence of music on wine. In 1993, he undertook a study in a wine bar, revealing the different purchases of various clients when listening to classical music or top-40 music. In 1997, he studied the behavior of some clients in a supermarket. He always associated wine purchases with the ambient music, looking to understand if the nationality of the music somehow influenced the nationality of the wine purchased.

His latest experiment is studying the cognitive process triggered by background music on the perception of the flavor of wine. Specifically, North wondered: can music influence our perception of the flavor of wine? Can it influence what people perceive through their other senses?

The professor, together with his students at the University of Edinburgh, demonstrated that this possibility not only exists, but also may be relevant. The researcher asked 250 men and women to evaluate the flavor of a red or white wine. Some of them drank the wine in silence, while others listened to one of four kinds of music. Although the wine, red or white, was the same for everyone, the description of flavor varied in strong correlation with the kind of music playing.

A glass of wine in exchange for some questions

The study was conducted using four pieces of music chosen in conjunction with four desired perceptions. A sample of 250 adults was offered a glass of wine in exchange for responding to a questionnaire. After having cleansed their palates with water, the participants were given 125 ml of red Cabernet Sauvignon or white Chardonnay and placed in one of five rooms to drink it. They were invited to drink after five minutes of sitting without conversing with the other people in the room. In each of the five rooms, four with music and one without, 25 different people tasted each kind of wine in combination with each type of music.

After finishing the wine, the participants were asked to vote on the flavor, giving a rating from zero to ten for each of the four aspects studied. They were also asked to evaluate how much they enjoyed the wine on a scale of zero to ten and their enjoyment of the music on the same scale. Zero indicated, “The wine definitely does not have this characteristic,” while ten indicated, “The wine definitely does have this characteristic.”

Tailor Music musica su misura

The characteristics studied:

  • potent and full-bodied
  • subtle and refined
  • lively and refreshing
  • mellow and subdued

For each of the four perceptions, the scores of the wine consumed without music was compared to those consumed with music.

If we take the average of these percentages (red and white wines), the study demonstrates that the perception of a wine’s flavor moves in the direction of the mood expressed in the music 37.25% of the time; more precisely, the average percentage for the white wine was 32.25% and that of the red wine was 42.45%. This signifies that the the effect was stronger on the flavor of red wine than on white.

After these results, A. North asked himself why the effect on red wine was stronger than that on white wine.

Many winemakers maintain that red wine contains a much more complex flavor than white wine, and this complexity could bring about great uncertainty in the consumer’s mind. We know that the explosive effects of music are more common when we ask people to judge something about which they know little or who find it difficult to pass judgment. This signifies that there were more uncertainties when they had to judge the red wine and it would be more inclined to be influenced by the music.

The various types of music and the condition of no music do not have an effect on the results of enjoyment

In few words, music influenced the flavor of the wine but did not make people enjoy it more, making them impose on the wine a different flavor but not a better taste. There were no further significant differences between men and women.

In conclusion

The study demonstrates that the specific flavor of wine was influenced in correlation with the emotional state of being. If the ambient music was strong and heavy, the wine was perceived as such, and vice versa.

“It is widely recognized in the scientific community that music influences behavior. However, this is the first time that it has been scientifically proven that music can influence one’s perception and change the way we taste wine.”

Marco Solforetti

Heriot Watt University
British Journal of Psychology

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