High pitch has been proven to bring out acidity and low pitch bitternessby Barry Smith / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Professional wine tasters like to carry out their task in silence. This isn’t unnecessary fussiness; they know that extraneous noise can prevent them from picking up on the subtle features of a wine and, as the French oenologist Émile Peynaud wrote, that “quiet has always been considered necessary for a taster’s concentration.” Peynaud believed this was because “the sense of hearing can interfere with other senses during tasting,” and research has proved him right. Scientific studies reveal that white noise in the ears at the level 85 decibels—the noise you’ll hear in a commercial aircraft cabin in flight—can suppress our ability to perceive tastes like sweetness and saltiness. You can just imagine the negative impact of noisy restaurants.
While it’s clear that noise can have a detrimental effect on wine tasting, can it also sometimes enhance it? This is something Charles Spence, a psychologist at Oxford University, and his colleagues have been exploring. By finding that people regularly associate certain pitches of sounds with certain tastes—for example high-pitched sounds on a violin with sourness—it is possible to see what happens when people sip a wine before and after hearing these sounds. Spence and I have conducted a number of public tastings events where we have tested this on unsuspecting drinkers and the results have been remarkably consistent.
It turns out that when tasters sip a Sauvignon Blanc and assess it for fruit and acidity, their perception is markedly changed in the direction of sourness when they re-taste it while listening to the sound of a high pitch…