How To: You Might Not Understand Wine, But Music Can Make You Think You Do

You Might Not Understand Wine, But Music Can Make You Think You Do

Buying and drinking wine can be intimidating. There's so much to know, and so many ways to reveal your ignorance. If you're completely befuddled by wine and how to describe it, don't worry, you're not alone.

Picking the right bottle of wine; a daunting task. Image via Shutterstock

A study by Dr. Adrian C. North during his time at Heriot Watt University in Scotland shows that people tend to describe the wine they're drinking in terms identical to music that is also playing at the same time.

For example, when the researchers played a "powerful and heavy" song, descriptions of a white wine as also being "powerful and heavy" were 32% higher. When a "zingy and refreshing" song was played as drinkers sipped red wine, "zingy and refreshing" descriptors were 43% higher.

Rick Steves with headphones and bad wine. Image via Rick Steves

Alas, according to Dr. North, while playing different types of music will definitely affect how we perceive and describe the wine, it won't make bad vino taste any better. For that, there are other things that can be done.

Cognitive Priming Alters Physical Perceptions

We associate what we hear with what's in our mouth, thanks to an effect called cognitive priming. Music works its way into our brain and activates, or primes, information stored there.

For example, hearing Nirvana might bring back memories of flannel shirts, guys with swinging long hair, and the grunge style of the '90s. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl proves how effective music is at priming: "When I listen back to this stuff [Nirvana's music], it's like it makes me sort of feel the way I felt then, because it's so real."

Nirvana in their heydey. Image by Anton Corijn/Nirvana

Once cognitive priming has prepped our brains with memories of how this gritty band rocked in their heyday, it leads us to associate those thoughts with the wine in our glass. Priming doesn't actually affect our taste buds at all, but as you can see from the study's results, it tricks us into changing our perceptions.

Music Influences What & How Much Wine We Buy

Want your customers to buy French wine? Then play French music. At least, that's what a 1997 study led by Dr. North showed. Another study (also headed up by Dr. North) showed that playing classical music leads people to spend more in restaurants as opposed to playing pop music or no music at all.

French musician Serge Gainsbourg. Image via So Frenchy

Meanwhile, an older study by marketing experts Charles Areni and David Kim when they were at Texas Tech University shows that people buy more expensive wines when classical music is playing in the background versus the Top 40. So if you're trying to save money when you walk into a wine shop, head back outside if you hear Mozart.

Fortunately, for those of us on a budget, there are actual steps you can take to improve crappy wine and even drink less—no soundtrack necessary.

Cover image via El Gran Catador/Imujer

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