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Cross-Modal Associations With Wine

By Alex Russell on April 18, 2014 in Food

Picture: Junior Langi

Picture: Junior Langi

You might find this concept a bit odd at first, but there are connections between our senses that we may not be aware of. Some of them are fairly obvious, such as the connection between colours and flavours. For example, give people a yellow-coloured lemon drink and everyone will be able to pick that it’s lemon. Now colour the same drink blue and ask them tell you what flavour it is. It’s a much more difficult task. Some of you might remember green tomato sauce; it was a big hit amongst kids who hadn’t really developed these connections yet, but adults couldn’t handle it, even though it tasted the same if you closed your eyes.

Other connections are a bit less obvious. Let’s take the lemon drink again and ask people to say whether the flavour is fast or slow. This seems like a really weird question, but get them to choose one. Something like 80% of people will say fast.

Welcome to the world of cross-modal correspondences. I’ve done some research into this (as well as a related but distinct topic called synaesthesia). The big name in the field is a guy called Charles Spence. Google him and you’ll find some interesting talks on the topic.

The reason I’m bringing it up in a wine column is because there are connections between wine and your other senses. Back in 2008 there was a story doing the rounds about music enhancing the taste of wine (pop ‘music can enhance wine taste’ into Google). Listening to different types of music appears to go well with different types of wines, or at least has an influence on the way that you taste wines.

Seems a bit odd, right, matching wine and music? Give it a shot next time you have people around. If you’ve got a really soft, mellow red (say, a nice Merlot with a bit of age on it), pop on some soft, mellow, relaxed, slow music and see how it goes. It sounds pretty tasty to me.

We think that the reason most people think of lemon as fast is due to the acidity. Acidic things are also often associated with lighter colours and higher pitches. So if you have some high-pitched, faster music, try matching it with a young Riesling, and maybe use brighter lighting. Or, alternatively, dim the lighting for a more mellow red, or even use some coloured lighting.

The use of these sensory connections at a dinner party is not a new idea. The famous Italian futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti used to hold multisensory dinner parties, where his guests were asked to wear pyjamas made of or covered in materials with different textures, like cork, sponge, sandpaper, felt, silk, steel wool, etc. They ate in a dark room and chose dinners based on how the dinner felt (i.e. their tactile preferences). Some of the food was then eaten with their hands to experience the tactile sensations of the food, while other portions required the guests to bury their faces in the dishes. For these face-burying dishes the guests were instructed to “let their fingertips feast uninterruptedly on their neighbours’ pyjamas”. The other senses were also stimulated with music, spraying of cologne and various other things.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone has pyjama parties where they feels everyone else up, but if you do, I’m sure the rest of us would love to hear about it. Instead, all I’m suggesting is that you think about the music and lighting that goes with your wine.

Do you have a song that goes particularly well with a certain wine? If so, let me know via Twitter at @OzWineGuy. If that works, the rest is up to you!