Music and wine are two of life's greatest pleasures and in this month’s issue of Decanter magazine Margaret Rand explores the relationship between the two. It has certainly provoked much discussion here at Decanter HQ and we would love to hear what you think. Tell us your favourite music and wine matches at email@example.com. Meanwhile, for a little inspiration, we’ve asked members of the Decanter team to share their thoughts below.
This is a topic I think of often. Not through any great philosophical creeds, merely because I often seem to have music playing when drinking wine. And one does often influence my choice of the other (the stories of German wine merchants playing Bach in their stores to increase sales are legion). It’s true that nationalities have an obvious synergy: the fun of Bernstein and Gershwin is only augmented by a cheeky Oregon Pinot Gris; Ravel or Poulenc all but demand an Alsace version. Verdi calls for Barolo, De Falla a buoyant Ribera del Duero. But such rules have obvious flaws: what Russian wine can match the majesty and awe of Tchaikovsky; what Chilean composer can do justice to its nuanced Syrahs?
Oh dear, I could write an entire feature on this topic… but given that Margaret Rand has already done so, I’ll content myself with an argument for matching the quality of wine with that of the music being enjoyed. Britney Spears with Italian Pinot Grigio, if you will. My favourite composer has always been Beethoven, not just for the triumph of his music, but for the tragedy and angst often involved in arriving there. His work mirrors the complexity and struggle of great Pinot Noir – often whimsical, often profound, but always memorable. Listen to the seventh symphony with a New Zealand version, maybe that of top dog Escarpment. But substitute it for a Gevrey Chambertin for the lush earthiness of the second movement.
There are many songs which inspire drinking. The Doors’ Alabama Song, for example, has one reaching for the Jack Daniels before the opening chords are out, and then there’s Ian Dury’s Sweet Gene Vincent and the spine-tingling ‘Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief…’ Leaving classical aside, you just have to follow instinct. You’d think the only match for flamenco would be sherry, or a robust red from a goatskin, but Camaron de la Isla and his hoarse laments give me a thirst that can only be slaked with cold beer. Then there’s the time of day. A friend sent me a Creedence Clearwater CD which I opened on Saturday and, the family out, I put on Suzie Q about as loud as my wheezing hi-fi can go. Guitar-based rock? Surely whisky, straight from the bottle? But it was 11am on a beautiful September morning, I was cooking lunch, and there happened to be a bottle of Waitrose Brut NV to hand… a match made in heaven.
Editorial Assistant, Decanter
It all started with Aurelio Montes playing monastic chants to his maturing wine casks in his Feng Shui-optimised barrel room.I got to thinking about wine and music, and whether there really is a correlation between the two. Can what we drink be made to taste better depending on the soundtrack we sip it to? Apparently so – a study carried out by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that music can affect perception in other senses and change the way wine tastes.
The research is based on the theory of cognitive priming, which holds that certain styles of music stimulate, or prime, certain parts of the brain. When wine is tasted, these areas are already active and have a corresponding effect on our perceptions of taste. Hence when a powerful piece of music such as O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is played, a wine like Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon is perceived as being richer and more robust than when no music is heard. Similarly, a Chardonnay seems bolder and fresher when accompanied by pop.
So which CD’s do I whack on when I’m cracking open a bottle? A Tempranillo calls for something upbeat and fun – Chuck Berry or the Contours, while a Pinot demands something brooding, pensive and introspective, say Feist or Regina Spektor. Champagne goes best with effervescent and ebullient tracks from the likes of the Noisettes, Lady Gaga and La Roux, while Merlot is made for mellow music – Otis, Jack Johnson and José Gonzales. Nothing goes better with a crisp, dry Manzanilla than the passionate lyrics of Pasión Vega, or the hypnotic chords of Paco de Lucía. Syrah screams guitar – Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses and Green Day would all work a treat, while I can think of nothing better to accompany a sweet, mouthfilling PX than treacle-voiced Ella Fitzgerald singing Cheek to Cheek.
Chief sub editor, Decanter
It’s a tough ask this, matching a piece of music to a specific wine, mainly because music is so personal. You might like Amy Winehouse; if I don’t, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong, just that I don’t like Amy Winehouse. If she doesn’t sing off key and the music is not out of tune, then, like a wine, it’s correct and merely down to the personal choice of the consumer (aural or oral). To my taste, most Pinot Grigios are as insipid and tasteless as an equally wet love ballad like Extreme’s More than Words, but equally, there are some wonderful pairings, too – arguably boasting more complex notes in both melody and glass.
So for Joni Mitchell or Aimee Mann moods, perhaps a contemplative Burgundian Pinot Noir, though New Zealand Pinots may well suit more upbeat folksy tunes like Ben Harper or the Dave Matthews Band. Australian indie band The Whitlams needs that classic Aussie blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz – preferably unoaked – while the more alternative rock of Powderfinger demands some toasty oak to partner a hefty Barossa GSM. For whites, perhaps a racy, zesty South African Sauvignon Blanc with some Ella Fitzgerald scat, and the many and varied guises of Chardonnay would suit a compilation album. Finally for Riesling – German, Austrian, Alsatian and Australian – surely works from the great classic composers would strike the perfect chord?
Tell us your favourite wine and music matches, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org