Last week I was invited to an event hosted by New Zealand producer Villa Maria and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. They wanted to explore the relationship between wine and music.
Arriving at Henry Wood Hall, the LPO’s rehearsal venue in Borough, I was expecting the entire orchestra to be playing while wine journalists swirled, sniffed and scribbled.
But instead I found a small group in church pews around a tape recorder. I took my place next to Philip Tuck MW and Charlotte Read, European market manager of Villa Maria.
There were six wines in front of me: a Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Rosé, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. All were classic New World expressions of their varieties.
Our task was to listen to six snippets of classical music performed by the LPO and match them to the six wines. At the end we would be asked to explain the reasoning behind our matches.
It turned out Philip, Charlotte and I were the only ‘wine’ people participating, the rest being members of the orchestra. I was looking forward to hearing their views from the musical side of the fence.
Of the six pieces, I only recognized two: Haydn’s The Creation and Wagner’s Die Walküre. I matched Haydn with the Riesling and Wagner with the Gewürz for its feminine aggression. Later, for the Wagner, I switched to the weightier Cabernet Merlot after hearing all six pieces.
When choosing a wine for each piece, I tried to align their characteristics: bold with bold, delicate with delicate, complex with complex. Some matches were easier than others.
On hearing the second snippet, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, I knew it could only be matched with the Pinot Noir. Beautiful, delicate and haunting, the music seemed to echo the contents of the glass, or at least the highest possible expression of the grape.
I later learnt it was the composer’s last ever piece, written while he was dying.
While listening to each piece, I looked at the six glasses and tried to imagine the notes coming out of them, which seemed to help with the elimination process. I’d changed a few of my answers by the end, finding the Rosé and the Riesling the hardest to place.
The exercise was fiercely subjective, and often people matched their least favourite piece of music with their least favourite wine. The musicians’ knowledge of the composers and the pieces also tended to affect their decisions.
Some of our matches were unanimous – Sauvignon Blanc with the frantic, jazz-like Scherzoid by Mark-Anthony Turnage. The piece is only five years old, and so suited a young wine, its urgent, disjointed, Hitchcock-esque nature pairing well with the racy white grape.
Jennifer Higdon’s feminine Percussion Concerto was an obvious match for the floral Gewürz.
Interestingly, I found myself aligning more with the musicians than the wine buffs, my answers being almost identical to one of the double-bassists.
Is there any science to it? Can you match wine and music the way you can match wine and food? I think not.
Music is appreciated on intellectual and emotional levels far more complex than those on which we appreciate wine, which can certainly inspire emotion, but not in the same way, it need hardly be said.
Perhaps in the end it’s all too subjective to say anything meaningful.
Fiona Mottershaw (Villa Maria):
Philip Tuck MW
Written by Lucy Shaw