Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken. -Ludwig van Beethoven
“Everybody” knows how retentive I am when it comes to pairing wine with food. While I tend to be a traditionalist (red wine with meat or earthy dishes, white wine with lighter dishes), I am still open to experimentation and unusual pairings. Even when the pairings have nothing whatever to do with food.
Pairing wine with the intangible is nothing new, but it seems somewhat contrary to traditional beliefs. We humans have always liked pairings, and wine hasn’t always figured in the equation. For instance, we like to “pair” our dancing with the proper music. Waltzing at a rap concert? Break dancing with Bluegrass? I think not. But when the right music and right dancing come together, the experience can be pretty damn ethereal. Slow dancing with a loved one on a balcony overlooking the city lights while ol’ Blue Eyes croons in the background? Yeah, baby.
When we go to the movies, we expect that the score will be compatible to the movie’s plot (if any), and that the dark, mysterious music of a mystery, the high-pitched, frenetic sounds of a horror movie, or the soft, appealing sounds of a love story will fit perfectly with what we feel when we are watching said flick. Somehow the theme song of the Three Stooges playing during a Hannibal Lechter scene just doesn’t cut it. So pairing the impalpable is just human nature. Whether it’s making sure that our – or our children’s – clothing match, that our shoes or purses go well together, or whether our cologne doesn’t clash with our soap, we are a very structured species when it comes to pairing.
In my observation, for instance, it appears that beer pairs much better with football or baseball than wine does. Better, even, than Cabernet. Just sayin’.
Marketing departments and savvy restaurants have discovered the effect that music has on their dining customers. Soft, warm music will permit diners to extend their stay in a romantic (read pricey) restaurant. Annoying music played softly (or loudly. Whatever) in the background will subtly encourage people to make their meal a quick one and leave. People are hungry but irritated and will leave rather than linger.
The idea of the unusual pairings first came to my attention during the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio in February of 2013. Tarissa Tiberti, the Gallery’s director, was impressed by the efforts of Jason Smith, Master Sommelier and William Moss, Wine Director and Sommelier at Le Cirque and Circo restaurants. More on that in a moment.
Professor Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology in the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology has done a great deal of research comparing the responses of humans to unusual outside stimuli. Some of these stimuli include people’s reactions to colors of dinnerware, size and weight of cutlery, the effect of music on the dining experience, the effect of music while drinking wine, and even the effect of the type of roads while driving! It all comes down to what is called “multisensory perception.”
For the sake of our discussion we’ll focus only on the wine aspect of Prof. Spence’s research.
According to Professor Spence, our enjoyment of wine can be linked to the atmosphere of the restaurant, the lighting, the food, and even the glass in which the wine is served. That’s a feature that Reidel has exploited. But is it so?
While I had always put my love of wine in the emotional realm anyway, it wasn’t until the Vegas Wineaux Wine Club went (as a small group) to an Art & Wine event at the Bellagio when they opened the Andy Warhol Exhibit. At the event they spoke of the emotion of pairing wine with art. Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take our glasses into the gallery, but we were given the rationale of which wines paired with which pieces of art. Hm. Interesting. And in a good way.
What? What happened to savory with savory, sweet with sweet? Well, it was all there, only on an emotional level.
It really had me thinking on how other this could work in other ways.
If you’re watching I Love Lucy, are you thinking a deep and brooding Petit Sirah or a complex Bordeaux? Or are you thinking a spritzy pink Muscat, chilled and ready for an evening of laughter and fun? See how that works?
Now why am I talking about this? As you know, this is my year of wine immersion. I have finished my California Wine Appellation Specialist credential, with WSET, CSW, Sommelier, and more to come. While working towards these certifications, one thing has become very clear. That is, there is no room for emotion in wine. Everything is about analysis, breaking the wine down into its component parts, and laying out the physical structure in written terms. There is zero room for anything emotional or intangible. Period. But I’m not worried about that because in my mind, knowing the physical makeup of the wines actually helps with the emotion. If someone is dining and drinking alone and not happy about that fact, for instance, telling that person that a Pinot Noir is gentle, silky on the palate, and warming to the heart is a good start to that customer having a satisfying experience. “Warming to the heart” isn’t a phrase that’s permitted on the tasting grid. Knowing each wine, however, is key to being able to make studied, correct, and, yes, emotional, recommendations. Once I’m done with school… Emote away!
The opening quotation from Beethoven proves that this isn’t a new concept. Wine is the glue that can hold music, art – and food – close to the spirit and heart of man. Just take a look at the quotes on the sidebar of this page – the concept of wine as more than just a beverage has been a part of the human experience for millennia.