When you go wine tasting--which is compulsory if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area--sometimes the very same wines don't taste the same at home.
Perhaps the winery has slipped you an old bottle containing new wine. Perhaps you're just a little more sober at home. But it could be all down to the music that happens to be playing.
It might sound odd. However, professor Adrian North of Herriot-Watt University in Scotland had his suspicions, so he created an experiment to see if music influences a drinker's perception of the wine.
Published by the British Psychological Society, his research made him conclude that Tom Jones enhances your Merlot-sipping experience.
No, that wasn't the only finding. But the mere thought of associating an elderly chest-baring Welshman with Merlot moved me to temporary paralysis. Then I remembered just how powerful the influence of "Sideways" had been in having Merlot seen as a having a similar quality to Welsh soccer.
The good professor experimented on 250 no doubt willing students. He gave them some Montes Alpha 2006 Chilean Cabernet or Chardonnay. I wonder how big his budget might have been as the Cabernet seems to retail for an unoutrageous $23.99 a bottle.
Simultaneously, though, he gave different guinea sippers different music to listen to as they drank. Some were blessed with Carl Orff's cheerily portentous "Carmina Burana." Others bathed in a little Tchaikovsky from his "Nutcracker."
The truly fortunate ones, though, got Nouvelle Vague's "Just Can't Get Enough," which might surely affect a whole dinner, not merely a glass of wine.
The results, so professor North declared, showed that the music influenced greatly how the researchees viewed the wine.
Yes, those who listened to "Carmina Burana" seemed to think that even the Chardonnay was a heavy-duty wine.
Hence the professor's suggestion to add some Tom Jones to your Merlot.
This research apparently follows on from earlier work that showed suggestible humans buy more French wine when they hear French music. Which leaves one thinking what would they do if they heard something Swedish.
I was skeptical of professor North's judgment, so I popped into my cellar, weaved past the mice and brought out a few bottles, some of which I was more familiar with than others. There was a Lava Vine Viognier, a Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, an Elyse Zinfandel, and a Truett-Hurst blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
Then I pulled out my iPhone and tried different music with each wine.
This was a slightly laborious process and was entirely unscientific. I can confirm, however, that only the Viognier managed to tolerate Lady Gaga, every wine tasted far richer and more subtle with Keith Jarrett's piano playing in the background, and only the Zinfandel worked with Arcade Fire's "Rococo."
I also learned that it is an idea beyond the absurd to sing while drinking wine, no matter the song.
Might I suggest that each of you tries this experiment over the next few days and reports back with your findings. If one can find the perfect musical combination for every varietal, I feel that we could--together--make life a little more bearable.