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Does Sound Affect Our Perception of Taste? These Wine Experts Think So

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Drinking wine is a complex, multisensory experience that goes well beyond mouthfeel and, as it turns out, taste.

The brain is constantly influenced by any number of stimuli. For the last two decades, researchers have studied the cognitive and perceptual factors that affect how we perceive wine.

Professor Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at University of Oxford and a forerunner in the field of what he has dubbed “wine psychology,” notes that sound is an important sense when tasting.

For instance, in Spence and Janice Wang’s 2017 study, 140 tasters with a range of wine expertise were asked to rate a pour. After hearing the sound of a cork popping, their quality ratings went up 15% and their celebratory ratings rose 20%—even though they were drinking the exact same sparkling.

As multisensory and experiential wine research continues, the terms “sonic seasoning” and “oenesthesia” have entered scientists’ conversations. Both refer to the practice of pairing wines with certain sounds or songs with the intention of drawing out attributes in the wine and heightening the overall tasting experience.

Do you think music can alter the way we perceive wine? Regardless of where your opinion falls, one thing is clear: This field of research is music to some winemakers’ ears. After all, if the simple sound of a popping cork can elicit such a strong response, who’s to say that other sounds—including music—can’t do the same thing?

Turning Up the Jams During Winemaking

Chris Carpenter—winemaker for Lokoya, Cardinale, La Jota and Mt. Brave wineries in Napa Valley and Australia’s Hickinbotham winery—has always been a music lover. In his opinion, music and wine share many similarities, and listening to the right tunes while working can help one tap into their creative consciousness.

“When I blend, which is arguably the most creative moment in the winemaking process, I lock myself away in a room with none of the operational distractions of running a winery,” he says. He often hears things in the music that unlock deeper parts of his brain, enabling Carpenter to make connections that he may not have otherwise conceived. The resulting wines from his many operations speak—or sing—for themselves.

But when it comes to Carpenter’s creative process, only one kind of music will do. “I enjoy many different genres, but classical music is the only music I blend to,” he says. “Its pattern of sound and mood, its complexity and its timelessness work on my brain in a way that seems to spark the same output in bringing the various flavors in my wines together.”