Wine, Art, and the Language of Representation

by Dwight Furrow

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, Pablo Picasso

Many works of art seem to be about something. Even if they don’t convey a clear message, they nevertheless invite thought about a subject matter and thus can be said to represent an object, process, or state-of-affairs. Does this language of representation help clarify the sense in which some wines can be considered works of art? In what sense does a wine represent something?

The obvious candidate for the subject matter of a wine is its terroir—the soil, climate, weather, and other geographical and geological features of the place in which the grapes are grown. Wine presents a subject matter—the nature of its terroir—and invites us to explore it via the flavors, aromas, and textures of the wine, just as a painting presents a subject matter and invites us to explore it via line, shape, and color. Thus, wine has the “aboutness” relationship that is generally regarded as a necessary condition for representation.

But how does wine present a subject matter? What is the nature of this “aboutness” relationship? Read more »

Wine and Music Pairing: A Next-Level Aesthetic Experience

by Dwight Furrow

The evidence that pairing music with wine can enhance one’s tasting experience continues to mount since I last visited this topic in 2017. A research team headed by Q.J. Wang showed that, in a winery tasting room, wines tasted with a soundtrack chosen to enhance oak-derived flavors were rated as significantly fruitier and smoother than the same wines tasted in silence. Master of Wine, Susan Lin wrote her thesis on the effects of music on the taste and mouthfeel of Brut Non-Vintage Champagne. And Jo Burzynska’s published research includes a paper entitled “Tasting the Bass,” which investigates the effects of lower frequency sound on the perceived weight and body of a New Zealand Pinot Noir and a Spanish Garnacha. The study also measured the influence of pitch on aromatic intensity and the perception of acidity.

This recent research is on top of the earlier studies in which test subjects show statistically significant agreement about which wine goes best with music samples presented to them (cross-modal correspondence); and that the right music can influence specific aspects of the tasting experience, such as perception of sweetness, flavor notes, perceived acidity, and level of astringency (cross-modal influence).

For instance, in one study by British music psychologist Adrian North, subjects were offered a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay. After rating the wines along four dimensions—powerful and heavy, subtle and refined, zingy and refreshing, and mellow and soft—they tasted the wines while listening to music chosen to highlight each dimension. Both wines were scored significantly higher on the powerful/heavy metric by those who listened to the powerful/heavy music (Orff’s Carmina Burana) and the same effect was found with the other dimensions tested. The music had similar effects on both red and white wines and was independent of whether the subjects liked the wine. There is now almost 30 years of research leading to the same conclusion. Music can enhance our appreciation of wine. This is not surprising given the evidence that all variety of environmental and contextual factors from weather to the sound of popping a cork influence the taste of a wine. Read more »