The delicacy of a well-chosen piece of music.


Do a quick Google search on “Books on Wine and Music” and, trust me, you’ll find pretty much nothing. This search will yield a good amount of books on wine tasting itself, to be sure, but that’s really where it ends. A slightly more open-ended search, such as “music and wine” will open up a few more options. The prevailing philosophy about pairing wine and music is that a particular grape has a particular musical genre that is its pairing muse. I don’t disagree that this is true in some instances. However, I take issue with the idea that a Syrah from Southern California, one from the Rhône Valley, one from Washington State, and one from Australia can be musically identified in the same way. I’m guessing the winemakers would take issue with that as well!

The leader in this space is Clark Smith, of course, who argues that the music you listen to can change the flavor of the wine you’re drinking. I really appreciate how he uses the term “emotional modality” to describe both the wine and the music that he believes pairs well together That’s exactly the right wording in my opinion because it goes beyond the factual tasting notes that most people, frankly, don’t really care about and gets at the heart of the elements and the the feelings they evoke.

Without a lot of thought we can intuit that there are certain musical styles and sounds that would pair better with certain types of wines. I can imagine listening to classical flute music while drinking a glass of champagne, for example, but I don’t hear it so much when I think of sipping a a Syrah. Conversely, an opera aria screams out to be paired with a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, not a Sauvignon Blanc. Or does it?

Just now I made generalizations about genres of music (or in the case of the white wine, the sound of a particular instrument). However, while there are certainly generalization to be made, and I would argue those made above are going to work for you about 95% of the time, consider the famous “Flower Duet” from Lakmé by Léo Delibes. To me, the melodic and harmonic movement of this operatic duet is perfect for a full-bodied white wine and is too gentle for most red wines.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we must be as specific with our musical pairings as winemakers are with the date they harvest their grapes, the types and amounts of yeast they add, and the number of months (or years) their wines age in the barrel. When winemakers do not take the requisite care – or when wine is mass produced to such a degree that quality is simply an afterthought (sorry Chalk Hill Chardonnay) – their wines are mediocre at best, headache-inducing at worst. Why, when creating the perfect special occasion for those important moments in our lives, would we not take the same care to treat our ears to the delicacy of a well-chosen piece of music?