Does Music Change the Taste of Wine?

Wine and Music

Does music change the taste of wine?  That question is posed by an interesting entry in Jonah Lehrer’s Frontal Cortex blog on  Lehrer’s blog is a summary of another summary by Christian Jarrett at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest web site.  The research being summarized is a paper by Adrian North in the British Journal of Psychology.[1]

In any case, North finds that his panel of tasters respond more to the style of the music being played than to the taste of the wine.  Of course they do.  His panel was 250 university students.

Even worse, both blog entries focus on the tongue.  Lehrer correctly describes the tongue as a “really dumb” organ, correctly noting that the tongue can only sense five flavors.[2]  However, they have managed to ignore a far more important component of wine: aroma.  A typical human nose can detect 10,000 different aromas.[3]  We’ve written about this before on our Wine Tasting Philosophy page.

But that’s not the real point.  There are constant references to the fact that “expert wine tasters” can be tricked, manipulated, and otherwise persuaded that bad wine is good and vice-versa.  Somehow these “experts” are never identified by name.  My guess is that many of them know less than we do after our weekend seminar at U.C. Davis and our experience tasting literally thousands of wines.

So uninformed college students respond more to music than the actual aromas and flavors of the wine.  Big deal.  Some of them will outgrow it.

[1] 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 . Currently (Dec. 29, 2011) only the abstract is available for free.  Look in the “Early View” section where pre-publication articles are posted.  (Note to Wiley Online Library, the repository for this and many other articles: my university has an institutional subscription.  I was able to log in to your site.  Why, then, are you trying to charge me for access to this article?)

[2] Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami.  Prof. Hildegarde Heymann of U.C. Davis is a leading expert on this subject.

[3] Heymann, Hildegarde (2009).  Presentation at U.C. Davis Extension seminar “The Sensory Evaluation of Wine” April 25, 2009.

About the author

Tony Lima has been a California wine fan since arriving in California from the east coast in 1974. He's lived the growth and expansion of the West Coast industry first hand. He's seen the fickle California Wine consumer fads pop up and burst... the craze for Zinfandel, then oaky Chardonnay, then Merlot, now Pinot Noir. On behalf of fellow Californian oenophiles, he hunts for great pinot noir and great values in pinot noir all along the West Coast. His day job is Professor of Economics at California State University located in Hayward. His undergrad degree in chemical engineering (MIT) and his MBA (Harvard) and Ph.D. Economics (Stanford) are the root of his interest in the Business of Wine. He is a card-carrying member of the AAWE - American Association of Wine Economists.

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