The relationship between food and wine and the benefits of pairing them correctly is a well versed topic. Food and wine are meant to compliment each other, work together, each making the other more enjoyable. But have you ever thought about pairing what you drink with what you are listening to?
When I started formally studying wine, I was struck by an important aspect of wine-tasting that I had never before considered: the ambiance of where you drink. The brightness, colors, smells, temperature, and sounds all very much contribute to how you taste, interpret, perceive and even enjoy (or not) wine. Would you enjoy your favourite wine equally in any and every setting? In the spirit of Sam-I-Am’s green eggs and ham: would you drink it here or there, indoors next to a roaring fireplace, in a plastic chair on a sun-bleached beach, in the rain, or on a train? Studies suggest that you would not have the same wine experience in all of these different situations, despite the fact that it’s the same vino in your glass. Even something as seemingly subtle as lighting is proven to have dramatic effects on taste and perception, (“Ambient Lighting Modifies the Flavor of Wine”, Journal of Sensory Studies. Volume 24, Issue 6, p 797–832, December 2009.) meaning that tasting the same glass of wine in a dim room versus and well lit room actually has a measurable effect on us. The atmosphere around your glass is much more important than previously thought. This is the reason why a wine classroom looks nothing like a swanky wine bar. Though a velvety, romantic, candlelit wine bar is a great place for a date or a relaxing drink, it might not be the best place to seriously explore what’s in your glass….and it has everything to do with all of the elements surrounding the wine as much as the wine itself.
Pairing your music and your wine is therefore an interesting exercise with two senses we don’t often consciously unite: hearing and taste. It turns out that sound is among the important senses in wine-tasting (and taste in general) too. Take a stroll through scientific journal articles on the subject and you’ll find that this is a well studied (albeit not completely understood) topic, covering not only wine and taste perception and preferences but also coffee, whiskey, and food. According to one particular study, there is even a connection between musical pitch and specific instruments and how we interpret tastes (Crisinel A-S & Spence C. 2010)!
How might we pair wine and music? In the absence of equipment to scientifically match pitches, instruments, and flavors I feel like the easiest solution is to match personalities. Every wine (and beer/cocktail for that matter), like music, composers, or bands, has a unique story, place, and character.
I’ll give you an example of a mismatch with beer to illustrate how this might work: Imagine drinking a can of Coors Light while listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D minor or Chopin’s Ballade No. 1. Seems weird, right? With no intended offense to Coors, I’d argue that the reason this pairing feels wrong is due to the immense difference in the characteristics/personality of the music and this specific beer. The simple and mass-produced personality of a can of Coors just cannot compliment such rich, complex, unique, and intense music. Now imagine listening to those same pieces of music while sipping a Trappist Westvleteren 12 – one of the most complex and special beers in the world. Works much better, doesn’t it? No fancy attire necessary!
So which wines goes best with Slayer, Vivaldi, or Otis Redding? Read on as I serve up some Italian and non-Italian pairing suggestions!
Contemporary Hip Hop/ R&B, or Opera –
Franciacorta, a prestigious bubbly wine from Lombardia. Widely considered the Champagne of Italy, it’s definitely an appropriate companion to the likes of Usher, Pharrell, Missy Elliott, or Jay-Z due to its combo of premium price, glamour, class, decadence, and celebratory spirit. Why it works with opera relates not only to the luxurious character of both opera and this wine but also to its sense of place: Milan, renowned for its opera scene.
Non-Italian pairing= Champagne, the renowned French sparkling symbol of luxury, class, and indulgence.
Metal, Goth, Industrial –
Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, wine from the Campania region. This wine comes in both red or white variations, and grows on the slopes of Vesuvius. This is the very same volcano responsible for nearly wiping out this entire area’s population in 79 AD, including Pompeii. That dark little factoid I feel makes it quite perfect to pair with Bauhaus, Siouxsie, Swans, and especially Einstürzende Neubauten. The legend behind this wine is that as Lucifer fell from heaven into the underworld (which perhaps he entered via the volcano), he grabbed onto the sky and ripped it. When Jesus saw the descent of this falling angel-turned-devil and torn sky, he wept, and where his tears fell grew the vines responsible for this wine. Lacryma Christi literally means “Tears of Christ”. For this reason, I feel it would pair well with Slayer, Iron Maiden, Bethlehem, and Lamb of God.
Non-Italian pairing= Madiran of France, an inky, nearly “black”, extremely tannic wine full of flavors of leather and black fruit. I feel this cup of darkness and earthy tones would accompany of the aforementioned music quite well.
Motown, Soul, Funk-
“Anima” by Marramiero, OR a beautifully balanced Chianti from the heart of Tuscany by Querciabella. Anima literally means “soul” or “spirit” and is a delightful and lively white wine from the Pescara area of Abruzzo. Querciabella is a biodynamic vineyard, meaning they grow their grapes with great focus on earthly and astrological harmony giving the necessary life force to the vines. Plus, Tuscany is in many ways considered the “heart” of Italy, linguistically, viticulturally, and artistically. Both are definitely wines to help put some rhythm in your step to the likes of Otis, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, James Brown, and Sam Cooke.
Non-Italian pairing= A biodynamic Savennieres by Joly’s Coulée de Serrant. Nicolas Joly is the modern French godfather of biodynamic viticulture. His Chenin Blanc based wines of the Loire Valley are as impressive as they are soulful.
Progressive rock, 70’s rock, Arena Rock –
Amarone della Valpolicella, of the Veneto region. Amarone is a hearty and powerful red wine made with raisined Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes giving an alcoholic boost and concentrated flavors. What wine could better accompany all those pyrotechnics, power ballads, and complete lack of subtly than this costly and made-to-impress red wine??
Non-Italian pairing= California Zinfandel from Howell Mountain. Dense, tannic, bold, concentrated, complex, and maybe even a bit of a show-off – this red is also a perfect companion to some Rush, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, or Styx.
Pop, Electro –
Prosecco. This sparkling wine from the Northeastern part of Italy is full of fun bubbles and made to be a light and easy companion to a pre-dinner/post-work aperitivo. The refreshing and approachable nature of this wine makes it the perfect pairing with pop or electro. It’s an affordable glass-filler for that makeshift dance party in your apartment to Kap Bambino, Depeche Mode, The Cure, NKOTB, Madonna, Britney and whoever your secret guilty pop pleasures might be.
Non-Italian pairing= NV sparkling from Argentina, New Mexico, or South Africa. These offer inexpensive and smile-inducing bubbly solutions that tend to be friendly to most palates and easy enough on the stomach to allow some bouncing around any living room or dance floor.
Experimental, Post-Hardcore, Free Jazz-
Arboreus Umbria IGT – Trebbiano Spoletino by Umbrian vintner Paolo Bea. This Italian orange wine is created in a seemingly unconventional manner (fermentation with white grapes’ skins following ageing on skins and lees, and no added SO2). The result is a carefully constructed and unique throwback to wines of antiquity, and though it may seem odd to modern wine-drinkers this more natural approach and experimentation in vinification is taking us back to our roots. I can think of no better “unconventional” wine or style to pair with Fugazi, Sun Ra, James Chance and the Contortions, The Ex, John Cage, Cecil Taylor, and even some post-punk like Sonic Youth.
Non-Italian pairing= Oyster River’s “Morphos” sparkling wine from the state of Maine. This lightly bubbly bubbly is a symphony of unusual: unusual methods (=spontaneous fermentation, no filtering, no additives, etc), unusual grapes (=French-American hybrids), and unusual cultivation tools (=a horse!). This is a coherent and brave new wine experience fit for any experimental or post-hardcore musical companion.
Sources and/or articles or material worth checking out:
On why music changes what (we think) we taste, Charles Spence and Ophelia Deroy, Iperception v.4(2); 2013 PMC3677333 Crisinel A.-S., Cosser S., King S., Jones R., Petrie J., Spence C.
A bittersweet symphony: Systematically modulating the taste of food by changing the sonic properties of the soundtrack playing in the background. Food Quality and Preference. 2012;24:201–204. doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.08.009 Crisinel A.-S., Spence C.
As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in non-synesthetes between tastes and flavors and musical instruments and notes. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. 2010b;72:1994–2002. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.7.1994.
Wines and Spirits: Understanding Style and Quality, Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Revised Edition 2011