April’s Gulp turned 25 or so foodies into scientists for a day led by our mad scientist host LeBeau.
Clark Smith is a highly regarded wine production consultant and professor at UC Davis teaching Fundamentals of Wine Chemistry. He too is a mad scientist. Through his extensive research and experience as a wine marketing expert Clark has discovered an important and influential connection between wine and music. In the same way food can change the way we experience and taste a glass of wine so can music. Crazy, right? Actually there is science to back this up. One of the things he and his company are sought out for is creating the proper musical and ambient background in wine tasting rooms.
LeBeau decided to put Clark’s findings to the test in his own personal wine laboratory, Gulp! According to Smith’s research there are peak experiences we have where all the components of the moment come together and produce unforgettable memories. "The more we explore it, the more mysterious wine seems. It appears to provide a mirror to our feelings," says Smith, who is also an Adjunct Professor at California State University at Fresno. "We associate different wine types with different moods, just as we do with music. When the wine and the music match, both improve. When they clash, it can be awful!" Lebeau saw this to mean, We should learn to enjoy the wine as a whole cloth instead of just judging the components.” So let’s get onto the learning!
One of the first things that made this Gulp different from others was that we ate between the pairings. LeBeau wanted to make sure the only thing we were pairing with the wines was the music he would be pairing. Deb Knepp provided a lovely opener with her homemade breads. Both breads used a craft brew in the recipe. One was her Angry Orchard cider bread. The texture was a little chewy and the flavor was tangy with just a hint of sweet. The other was her Hoppy Cheese bread. This was made with one of Coreen’s homebrews. It was very reminiscent of rye bread and the cheese was a back note. Deb also made deviled ham spread that was great on the Hoppy Cheese. It was like having a ham sandwich on rye! All I need was a cold one and a pickle! (If I drank beer and liked pickles.)
We enjoyed the food and chatted then Lebeau called us to attention. He explained how the day was going to work. First this was a blind tasting. We would also be tasting both red and white wines. We would be served 3 glasses each for the tasting so we could really compare any differences in the wines with different styles of music. Lebeau cautioned everyone, “There is going to be a lot of wine today so make sure you eat. We want everyone to have a great time and be safe.” He went onto explain how music and wine work together. According to science the thalamus is this spot in the middle of the brain and it has a big job. It registers stimulus and relays it to the rest of the brain for response. When hear you a bird singing in the park you take the sound in your ears and it goes straight to the thalumus. It sends the message to the other parts of the brain for processing, For instance: You hear a bird singing. The thalamus says, “Oh, that’s a bird singing, what do you want to do brain?” The rest of the brain takes over and decides whether or not to stay and listen, move away or throw a rock at the damn thing. (My brain would stay and listen.)
So the point of Clark’s study was that wine works on the brain in the same way. The wine goes in, the thalamus says wine and sends it off to the rest of the brain for enjoyment or not. The bird singing could enhance the experience because you are enjoying the sounds or sour the drink because you find the sounds irritating. According to Clark, “What goes with what? You can make pretty good guesses about what will work by learning to be as sensitive to the mood of a wine as to the mood of a piece. Anybody can tell happy music from sad from angry from romantic from lustful. Wines are the same. Cabernets are angry, Pinots romantic, Rieslings cheerful. After that, it's trial and error. Pay particular attention to astringency: the smoothness or harshness a wine displays when tasted in a specific musical environment. You don't need more than a few seconds to sense the effect.”
The first pairing was with white wines. We were served the wine in order and then Lebeau turned on the music.
The wines were all Chardonnays. We were not told what they were or the vineyards they were from until after we tasted and listened. The pre-music tasting notes were:
Wine #1 was Robert Mondavi’s Private Selection, citrusy with grass and tropical notes, crisp and clean.
Wine #2 was Febvre Chablis, acidic and minerally.
Wine #3 was Oak Leaf, pear, oak and buttery.
Song #1 The Beach Boys “California Girls.” Everyone agreed this was a happy song evoking beaches, suntan lotion, summer and teenage hormones. The Mondavi, for me, was a great match up for this light and fun song. I really noticed the tropical notes in the wine and the sweet citrus really showed up. The Febvre was ok. Some in the group preferred this one over the first. There was an oakiness to it that some liked and I found the minerality wasn’t as pronounced. The Oak Leaf was flat. All the butteriness was gone and we lost the fruit.
Song #2 Ella Fitzgerald “St. Louis Blues.” Who doesn’t love Ella?! Well the Mondavi didn’t. It was pithy and bitter. The Febvre was the favorite for this song. It was dry with the mineral/stone flavor in the front and green apple showing up on the end. The Oak Leaf found its oakiness with the Blues but still a bit flat.
Song #3 Sean Hayes “Angel.” Mondavi loved Sean Hayes bringing the citrus to the forefront for a sweet juicy sip. The Febvre went flat with little to no flavor. The Oak Leaf lost the buttery and got fruity. The winner this round was the Mondavi.
Song #4 Stereo Lab “One Note Samba/Surfboard.” This jazzy little number made the acid jump up in the Mondavi. The Febvre got fruity with more apple and a touch of citrus. The Oak Leaf is made for Jazz. It smoothed out and got all kinds of buttery and toasty, oh yum! The Gulpers were evenly split between 2 and 3 as the best pairing for this song.
The group was amazed by the changes in flavor and mouth feel in the wines depending on the songs. It really was like pairing food! While Coreen brought out the next food course discussion was lively and loud as people talked across the room commenting on the songs and artists as well as the wines. It was like the Umami event earlier in the year. Everyone’s curiosity and taste buds were piqued. We were learning something new that was increasing our knowledge and enjoyment of not just the wine but music as well. I love learning when I feel like I am playing!
Coreen served a crispy flatbread pizza topped with cherry tomatoes and sausage. It was a perfect choice for busy table talk. They were bite sized pieces, crispy and savory just right for popping into the mouth. You had eaten 2 or 3 before you knew it when you suddenly realized how delicious it was.
Next up was a red course. Just like in the first course this was a blind tasting. LeBeau also asked us to taste only one wine with each song. Kyle pegged it before the reveal this was the same wine in each glass, Lindeman’s Pinot Noir. Without knowing this was there enough difference in the music pairings to think these were different varietals…hmmm. Without the music this Pinot is medium bodied with strawberry and cherry flavors. It is a touch acidic but not so much to be off-putting. Bring on the music!
Song #1 Classic Spanish Guitar. (please remember we didn’t know this was the same wine). Wine #1 got smoky to match the seductive strains of the guitar and I got a green pepper taste while others felt cherry was the big fruit note. It was nice and could be a Pinot.
Song #2 Vivaldi “Spring.” First off I did my Laura Linney impression, “I’m Laura Linney and this is Masterpiece Theatre.” KP laughed. Anyway, this music brought a richness to the wine that wasn’t there before. Licorice and caramel were right there then came the cherry and a touch of smoke. The smokiness is interesting since this wine is fermented in stainless steel vats. Maybe a cab?
Song #3 SOS Band “Tell Me if You Still Care?” This song was very much a sultry rumba and it brought out a seductive vanilla note in the wine. I just wanted to listen and drink. Wally yelled for Barry White. You get the idea. Who cared about the varietal.
We were duly impressed this was all the same wine, except for Kyle who guessed it right at the beginning….smarty pants. We became believers and couldn’t wait for the next setup!
The third tasting was a little more involved. Lebeau didn’t hide the wine varietals. Each glass held a different wine. The idea was to compare the findings of Clark’s experiment to our own taste buds. As Coreen and I passed out wines Lebeau gave us Clark’s opinion of each wine’s mood and music pairing:
Beringers White Zinfandel, Happy and lively that goes with Pop, Dixieland or Polka
Lindeman’s Pinot Noir, Romantic and seductive that goes with rumba, R&B, Jazz
Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvingon, dark, angry and brooding that goes with Metal, Blues, Angry Jazz
Our results were:
White Zinfandel tastes a lot like sweet tea no matter what we listen to but it really was best with lighter music like Dixieland. Jim said it reminded him of drinking an Arnold Palmer. It was least flavorful with the Doors. Do not drink Zin while listening to Ministry. It was awful!
The Pinot liked the Doors and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It was fuller bodied and jammy with cherry but not sweet. The Blue Grass tune made it very green and acidic tasting. Sinatra brought out vanilla and cloves.
Then there was the Cab . Dixieland and Polka brought up a lot of acidity and killed the fruit. The Doors made it astringent and brought out a green pepper taste. I thought for sure Jim Morrison would have been a Cab guy. I loved it with Nick Cave. I tasted Vanilla, smoke and leather, very sultry and brooding. Dixieland and Polka amped up the acid and minerality and not in a pleasant way. Sinatra brought coffee, smoke and vanilla to the Cab. He was always so classy. For a lot of tasters Ministry paired best with the Cab. This is pure headbanger music and the cab tasted like caramel, leather and smoke. People were bouncing and sipping.
To finish out the day Coreen served and oreo ice cream treat and as usual I forgot to take a picture of the dessert! I guess I am so full of wine and food by the end I am in a happy Gulper mood and just enjoying the afternoon so the dessert is lost. Sorry Coreen.
This was a really great afternoon. Thank you LeBeau for all the work you put into this day! Thank you Coreen for the delicious food treats that kept us all eating and sober! I LOVE GULP! See you next month!