Exploring how sound influences the perception of a wine’s taste and texture…

Sound artist and wine writer, Jo Burzynska, presenting how music can define the taste of wine at Lant Street Wines, London
Sound artist and wine writer, Jo Burzynska, presenting how music can define the taste of wine at Lant Street Wines, London

Could the hospitality industry entice customers to buy a particular style of wine  – by embracing the power of music?

Eatnorth.co.uk attended an event in London where wine writer and sound artist Jo Burzynska put the theory to the taste test.

EVERYONE has that one song that evokes strong feelings of nostalgia it can almost transport your mind to a different moment.

Yet, in the wine world, producers are often focused on creating a memorable taste ,they often forget wine has the power to be an all-encompassing sensory experience. Wine marketers generally press the importance of evoking emotions in consumers by storytelling – tugging at heart strings and putting a face to the brand.

But Australasia-based sound artist and wine writer, Jo Burzynska believes the food and drink industry is missing a trick by ignoring the power of music and its assault on our senses.

She set up the world’s first dedicated wine and sound bar in New Zealand,The Auricle Sonic Arts Gallery in Christchurch – where she curated an ‘oenosthetic’ wine list. Selected wines are matched to the current exhibition and the music playing in the space.

“Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford, found that wines can dictate different moods. Cabernets are angry, Pinots romantic, Rieslings cheerful,” Burzynska told Eatnorth.co.uk at an event held this week at Lant Street Wines, London.

Tasting wine to different types of music at Lant Street Wines, London
Tasting wine to different types of music at Lant Street Wines, London

“This led me on a journey to create Oenosthesia (a term used to describe combining wine and sound work) in Italy. This involved recording the wine-making process. For example, I put microphones in the soil and I had to sterilise my microphone to put it in the barrels so that I could get fermentation sounds. I recorded a lot of sound that often only winemakers get to hear. This opened a new dimension for me.”

The concept is not new: Professor Adrian North, a specialist in music psychology, published a study in the British Journal of Psychology in the 1990s that proved certain moods evoked by music could drastically change a wine drinker’s perception of what they tasted.

Californian winemaker Clark Smith, also a professor at California State University at Fresno, has also embraced music and wine at his WineSmith vineyard.

Smith found that peak experience isn’t just in the recording or the bottle – it’s at its best appreciated through harmonising both. He believes different wine types are associated with different moods – when the wine and the music match, both improve. When they clash, it can be awful.

Burzynska put the theory to the test in a wine tasting experiment using New Zealand’s Waipara West, and Cloudy Bay and wines from Albert Seltz, earlier this week.

The Experiment:

The tasting itself was divided into two flights. In the first half of the experiment, a glass of Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was tasted with the pop song Just can’t get enough by French cover band, Nouvelle Vague and the second song was heavy, darker music by New Zealand band Skeptics – AFFCO. For the first tasting, there was not much change. The wine tasted as it should – full of fresh herbal aromas and layers of ripe guava and tropical fruit, succulent and crisp on the palate with a long flavoursome finish. But for the second song, it seemed like the wine had changed and became rather unpleasant.

The second wine was Waipara West Pinot Noir 2013. The first song with this was British musician Brian Eno’s Discreet Music, the second song was a fast and furious classical song by Mussorgsky – a Night on Bald Mountain and the third song was the quieter Just another diamond day by Vashti Bunyan. During the fast and furious song by Mussorgsky, the typical smooth and soft Pinot Noir, full of red and dark cherry, sweet summer plums and cassis on the palate, tasted markedly of tannins and appeared more alcoholic.

 by the third song the wine became smooth again. “The quieter the music, the more it had a combination of delicacy and depth,” Paul Tutton, a co-owner of the family-run Waipara West vineyard, told Eatnorth.co.uk:

The second part of the tasting involved tasting three wines with Burzynska’s soundscape (recordings of typical daily sounds from winemaking on vineyards). 

The soundscape was divided into three parts: each part was six minutes long and there was one glass of wine per part. Each wine was sipped continually throughout its respective soundscape segment. The first segment was accompanied by Cloudy Bay Pelorus sparkling wine, the second wine, Albert Seltz Pinot Gris and the third Waipara West Ram Paddock Red 2013. The sounds were unusual and at times unpleasant. In the first segment there was some white noise, high pitched noises and some sort of running water sound. Despite the unpleasant sounds it actually brought out the sweetness in the Pelorus wine.

The wine tasted in the second part of the soundscape changed the taste the most and the wine for the third segment went least well with the sounds.

Overall, our verdict was that the perception of a wine’s typical taste profile did change depending on the style of music played.


EatNorth.co.uk caught up with Jo Burzynska  after the event.

What is Oenosthesia and how did you get into it?

Oenosthesia is a multi-sensory installation exploring the synergies between sound and taste. The work was created during a Suone dal Confine artist residency in Irpinia, Italy in July 2012 from field recordings that I made within the regions’ wineries and vineyards. Their different frequencies and timbres were designed to interact with selected local wines served at specific times during its performance.

I’ve been writing and judging wine for 20 years. I’m also actively involved in music. I have classical training and have engaged in experimental music and DJing. I specialise in sound art. But it’s only in the last decade that I became aware of the connection between the two.

I had a hunch that they had an influence on each other, which I initially thought was just something I was experiencing. However, I realised it was a more universal phenomenon when I discovered the winemaker and technologist Clark Smith in California  had also suggested the enjoyment of a wine could be enhanced by music. Research within psychology now proves the link between wine and music was not just my imagination.

Why did you choose Waipara West, Albert Seltz and Cloudy Bay wines as part of your debut in the UK?

I was looking for great wines that would suit the style of the music I’d be playing. It also made sense to use quite a lot of New Zealand wine as I’m based in New Zealand and a lot of the recordings that I used to create Oenosthesia were made in New Zealand vineyards and wineries.

Is there really an interest in combining sound with wine?

I think there is. A lot of people are drinking it where music is played, for example a restaurant or bar. I think interest is certainly growing as more people realise multi-sensory connections can do powerful things, for example chef Heston Blumenthal’s sound of the sea – a dish served at his Fat Duck Restaurant in Berkshire – with an ipod playing the sound of the sea.

I set up the world’s first sound bar in New Zealand, which was about creating an environment to enhance people’s enjoyment of wine, which was very well received. Restaurants and bars will likely pay this more attention when people discover how powerful it can be. There are lots of different applications in different areas.

What was the highlight of your last working week?

I had an artist residency at the Institute for Art and Olfaction on Los Angeles where I was learning to mix perfumes to create a multisensory sound and smell installation. This applied research into crossmodal perception so that the scent was perceived in different ways due to the changing soundscape.

And the lowlight of your last working week?

None! Long days at the perfume blending bench which could mean that the smells – all be they pleasant one – seem to lodge in my nose for hours after I’d finished!

What is the best part of your job?

I’m in a lucky position to be working in areas that I have real passion for. Combining wine and music which I have great interest in, I am incredibly lucky to do this.

How has 2016 been for you and your business?

It’s been an interesting year where wine and music have really come together. I hope 2017 brings more of the same but with more discoveries. With wine there is always more to discover. I also plan to continue my research into sound and taste. I am about to start a PHD, at the University of New South Wales, Australia, to further research those areas. But I will return to NZ with my new found knowledge.

What are the key trends that are impacting your business and how do you hope to live up to them?

In the multi- sensory area there is more interest and understanding. I think the PHD will deepen my understanding of this. It is something of an interest of mine and collaborating with psychologists and neurologists in order to apply new findings to my work. This is something I have done before but will do more in depth as part of my PHD.

Favourite restaurant you have eaten this year and why?

Roots in NZ. It is a very interesting restaurant that uses good quality local and organic produce.

Favourite bottle of wine you have had in the last month. Why and where did you drink it?

Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir from NZ. I tried it as part of my work as a wine writer – but this was one wine that I took to finish with my dinner!

Favourite cocktail you have had this year. Why and where did you drink it?

A mystery gin-based very savoury cocktail that was created for me by the barman in the Library Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.

Best job you have had in your career. Why did you leave (or you may be still in it)?

The job I have now. I am a free agent – a wine writer/ judge and artist. It embodies all of my greatest passions- wine, music writing and creating.

Who have been the mentors in your career or people who have inspired you the most?

The people who are actually making the wine and doing this with sensitivity and humility, respecting and expressing their place. It makes my job a joy!

Chef Heston Blumenthal’s Sound of the Sea


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