Wine, Music, & Your Brain Event- write up by Albert Dall
Hello SFAS members!
I hope your summer has been enjoyable and full of music and fun. There has been a lot going on in the Bay Area this season. We’ve had music events at Leslie’s and David Snyder’s (“Wine, Music, and your Brain,” and “Raspberry Pi Baking”), great performances at local venues (King Crimson, Sheryl Crow, Beck, and Planetarium to name a few), as well as two audio trade shows (LAAS and CAS7). Phew… Busy days!
In this article I want to revisit the Mother’s Day Weekend event held at Leslie’s house.
Clark Smith, creator and proprietor of WineSmith, conducted a presentation and wine tasting for SFAS. Clark has been working in the wine making business since 1972. He has taught classes at UC Davis, consulted with many, many wineries around the world, and blended his own wines. He also writes and plays music, but as he says, “I need to keep my day job.” In 2013, his book, Postmodern Winemaking, won the Book of the Year Award from Wine and Spirits magazine.
The Saturday afternoon event was attended by nearly 30 people. This was not a technologically overwhelming presentation. As intended, and as wine and music should be enjoyed, it was a more experiential event. To encourage sharing by members, their significant others, friends, and family, and to honor Mother’s Day, SFAS offered half-off registration for the women attending. During setup, members introduced themselves to one another and to Clark. Anticipation and curiosity became elevated as the wines were poured.
Kevin looking happy about the tasting event, as Clark answers questions
Board Members Larry and Jay, with guest Yolanda
Gracious host Leslie and enthusiast Grant filled the glasses
The wines on offer for tasting.
Clark began his presentation by playing acoustic guitar and singing, “If I Could Be the Wine.” Then he explained how the method of wine making historically taught by the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology program had developed into a reduction science. A colloidal suspension was offered as the end product, rather than a wine you taste and experience. He made the analogy that some in the music world value frequency and amplitude more than the feel and liveliness of a music listening event. I might have to admit, I’ve sometimes been more in the former than the latter school myself. What’s great is that we can all learn and change our preferences through experimentation. Clark likes to think of wine as liquid music. Additionally, wine, like some music, can be mysterious. Very slight changes in the wine or the environment can drastically affect the tasting experience. This is one reason why a “peak experience” is not easily repeatable nor consistent. The same is true with music.
I think many of us have had a “peak experience” while listening to music where the mood, time of day, company, and possibly a glass of wine or beer all combine to be the perfect blend such that we remember the moment as quite stupendous. Some music can be exclusionary, meaning it won’t necessarily lead to a peak wine experience as it plays. Other music can generally be categorized as inclusionary. This style of music may be labeled romantic and emotional. As an example, I remember Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” from Verdi’s Turandot at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. Friends were visiting and we were enjoying good wine with dinner and then the music. We all were choked up. I will always remember this as a classic moment in time and a peak experience.
Clark next spoke about cognitive musicology. Here he described the phenomenon that women can process emotion and logical thinking while listening to music. Guys, it seems, can only do one or the other at a time.
(“sweet spot” slides courtesy of Clark Smith)
With this in mind, heh, pun intended, one can extrapolate to conclude that the emotions felt while music is playing will directly influence the wine tasting experience. So if you are trying to sell wine, you probably want a tried and true playlist that will cause those “good” emotions to be felt as you serve wine. It will make the wine taste better. A style of music can accent a similar style of wine. There can also be parallels in the visions of the winemaker and the composer of music. If the two are similar, the music may compliment the wine nicely.
With this premise and hypothesis laid out, the wine tasting began. Let’s see if we found that the music affects the taste of the wine.
Clark served three different white wines to start the tasting:
1) 2015 Glen Ellen – Chardonnay (green apple with tannin character, astringent)
2) 2015 Carmenet – Chardonnay (buttery, oak, full palette character)
3) 2005 WineSmith – Chablis (lemon oil, mineral, complex subtle character)
We first tasted the wines with no music and noted the characteristics described above. Then we tasted the wines as The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” played. The group’s notes were surprisingly uniform: wines 1) and 2) became more enjoyable. With happy upbeat music playing the character of the wine mirrored the mood of the song. Next, a sultry and complex song was played and we tasted again. As Ella Fitzgerald sang “St. Louis Blues” the Glen Ellen Chardonnay showed no character. The Carmenet Chardonnay showed a more fruity character, and the mineral tastes in the WineSmith Chablis seemed more noticeable. The same held true when Chet Baker played jazz. The more complex wine showed its character, while the more basic single-character wine was not appealing.
For the next exercise we moved to red wines:
1) Sutter Home – White Zinfandel NV
2) 2007 WineSmith – Pinot Noir – Russian River Appellation
3) 2012 WineSmith – Cabernet Franc
4) 2012 WineSmith – Cabernet Sauvignon – Clone 15
The pattern of the red wines was that there was an increase in astringency from wine 1) to wine 4), but also an increase in complexity. Clark’s Pinot and Cabernet Franc were crowd pleasers, with many of us asking if we could buy some. Yes, he has a wine club and offers nice discounts. For a test, we had a sip of the wine we liked, then another of the same while The Doors’ “People Are Strange” played. When listening to this discordant song as we sipped the wine, the good characteristics of the wine that we just took note of could not be discerned. This change happened almost instantaneously. The song affected the wine! It’s a very interesting tune, a Doors classic, but not one you would want to play during a dinner party.
I tend to listen to some music that may fall in the same category. Have you heard King Crimson’s Red, or Indiscipline? It’s very complicated progressive rock. You have to want to listen. It’s a study. But when I listen intently, I usually don’t have a glass of wine in hand. Now I have an idea why. The wine probably wouldn’t taste good. When I do sip wine with music playing, usually more harmonious and melodic music is playing, for example during meal preparation, and then I sit down to enjoy dinner. After that it’s serious listening, in the sweet spot, but usually not with a glass of wine.
I’m glad we had the opportunity to explore two great pairings in life, wine and music, with Clark. The event gave me a better idea on what to plan for and expect the next time I have friends over for dinner and music. Hopefully you will consider this too.