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e've all heard about blind
tastings as an objective
way to assess a wine's
quality, but what about
blind hearing? Could
you tell the di�erence
between sparkling water and Champagne
purely by the noise it makes being poured
into a glass? If you think that all zzy
liquids sound the same, you're mistaken,
as I discovered on a trip to Berlin for Krug
Celebration, which takes place
in a di�erent city every year
to commemorate the annual
recreation of Grande Cuvée, the
house's original Champagne.
Charles Spence, Oxford
University's professor of
experimental psychology, played a recording
of two liquids being poured into a glass to
sceptical food and drink writers. The ner
sound of Champagne bubbles (Krug Grande
Cuvée) was clearly more delicate than the
fuller sound of the carbonated water.
It's obvious that sight and smell play
almost as great a part in food and drink
appreciation as taste,
but the role of sound
has been less explored. Spence, however, is
on a mission to change that. "Wine writers
often reach for musical metaphors," he
explains. "Is this just lling in column inches
or picking up on an underlying truth? Is there
a deeper harmony between what we detect
on the palate and the sounds that we hear?"
Spence has succeeded in embodying
taste in musical form. He plays us music that
corresponds to sweet, salty, bitter and sour.
Each sounds like a ringtone, but the rounded
notes of sweet is the only one you might
download; salty is distractingly bubbly, bitter
is low and deep, sour is jarring. Spence has
tested them around the world and there's
almost universal agreement on which
matches which taste.
Spence thinks the connection between
sound and taste ts a Champagne house
perfectly. "The master blenders are doing
something close to musical composition.
Speaking to the Krug family, they seemed to
have a passion for the intellectual challenge
involved in matching taste to music." Or
as Krug CEO Margareth Henriquez puts it,
"Krug's challenge every year is to recreate the
most complete symphony of Champagne."
When we taste some recent Krug vintages,
each is accompanied by music. For the
austere 2003 vintage the music selected is
a jazzy piano piece. For Krug Grande Cuvée,
which is meant to express the complete
personality of the house, it's
Beethoven's rousing 'Ode to Joy'.
But this isn't just a performance
for journalists: download the
Krug app and you'll nd playlists
chosen by leading musicians to
enhance the characteristics of
each of Krug's Champagnes.
The bitter truth
However, it's not just wine that this applies
to. Spence gives us two pieces of chocolate,
one containing 70 per cent cocoa and the
other more bitter at 80 per cent. Again, he
plays di�erent music as we eat. The chocolate
eaten with the more melodious music tastes
like the less bitter 70 per cent, but Spence
says the chocolate is exactly the same; a 5
to 10 per cent change in bitterness can be
registered according to the music played.
Spence calls this 'digital seasoning' and it
has a practical application. Restaurants can
pick background music to enhance their
food, so that Italian food will taste more
Italian when Italian music is played. "There's
a disconnect between how much e�ort
goes into the design of a restaurant, and
how much e�ort goes into the music that
provides the sonic accompaniment."
The senses of sight, smell and taste all help us to appreciate food and drink,
but could sound be just as important? And if music matters to our tastebuds,
could it dramatically change the way that we dine out? WORDS BEN MCCORMACK
"WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF WE BROUGHT IN AN
ACTUAL MUSICIAN TO ACCOMPANY A COURSE?"
FOR THE EARS
Krug's music-matching app and
Heston's the Sound of the Sea
ILLUSTRATION: MATT MURPHY. PHOTO: SERGIO COIMBRA