By AMANDA BARNES — From WINE SEARCHER | Tuesday, 11-Mar-2014

Can music change the taste of a wine?
A recent experiment seems to suggest so.
The avant-garde project of Viñas Inéditas could be dismissed as a kooky garage wine, but a $200,000 grant from Chile’s Agricultural Innovation Fund and the results of his first professional tasting last month prove it’s a serious undertaking.

A shed in deep southern Chile is emitting some rather strange sounds: a chaotic mix of jazz and folk music resonates from the garage winery.  Winemaker Juan Ledesma is making wine with the help of a little music.  But he isn’t serenading the wines solely in the barrel room or vineyard as others have done before him.  Instead, he has plunged music speakers into the actual barrels.  Welcome to Terroir Sonoro | Photo © A. Barnes |

Chilean Immerses His Wines in Jazz
Can music really change the taste of a wine?On February 8, a panel of four wine professionals and 12 amateurs took part in a blind tasting, assessing the musical wines alongside control barrels that had been produced in comparative silence — and 15 out of 16 tasters spotted the difference.The wines: a cabernet sauvignon from Itata and a malbec from 200-year-old vines in Bio Bio (pictured below) were made identically.  The grapes were all picked on the same day, and processed in the same way before both being aged in lightly toasted barrels from the same forest and cooper for the same amount of time. The only difference was that the Terroir Sonoro wines had a speaker playing jazz music within the barrel.Why? Because Ledesma believes it will improve the wines.  Technically speaking, he thinks the unfiltered wines enjoy greater interaction with the lees because of the musical vibrations caused by the speakers, leading to specific aromas.

Mad but mellow Malbec

I thought it was madness,” admits one judge, François Massoc, the winemaker at Clos des Fous, Aristos and Calyptra.  “Although there have been previous cases of wineries using classical music for their wines, I never thought that it could have any technical sustenance.  But this madness is not an ‘artist’s whim,’ it is a serious scientific study that is well considered and has achieved results in a short time.”

For each blind tasting the panel were given two glasses of one wine and a third glass of another.  The aim was to try to identify which of the three wines was different.  In the cabernet test, 94% were successful, while 88% mastered the malbec.  It should be noted that according to the rules of wine tasting — where the most unusual results are usually removed — the tasting showed a 100% success rate.

The 2nd part of the tasting required the panelists to complete spider diagrams of the aromatic profile of each wine, to see if they could identify what impact the musical treatment had on taste.

The aromatic profile of the wines with Terroir Sonoro treatment indicates a more complex evolution and contributes to the aromatic expression in general,” Ledesma concluded from the results.

200-year-old malbec vines in BioBio | © A. Barnes

In fact, some of the professional judges concurred (without knowing) that the Sonoro wines were « more rounded » and « less harsh » than the control wines, which would suggest a preference.  However, other panel members don’t recall registering a preference as such, just a difference.  “Effectively it was possible to distinguish significant differences between the wines, but I don’t remember if I had a preference for one or the other,” commented Professor Johannes de Brujin, an amateur panel member.

Developing a preference, though, is not the aim of the game; rather, it is to incorporate the influence of music throughout the winemaking process.  “I hope that the music reveals the same spirit in the wine,” says Ledesma.  The choice of music is tailored to each wine and is, of course, influenced by the winemaker’s musical tastes.

Juan Ledesma | © A. Barnes

Once Ledesma had tasted the newly made wines, he composed a simple backbone score of his musical interpretation of the wine: the concentrated malbec was slightly more rock ‘n’ roll than the lighter, more folky cabernet, for example.

That musical score was given to a group of professional folk and jazz musicians who turned it into a complete piece of music — three songs for each variety.  These songs are played on a loop through a speaker submerged in the wine as it ages inside the barrels.

Terroir Sonoro has 10 barrels each of cabernet and malbec and, while the musical composition is the same for each variety, the speakers embedded in the wine have been specially adapted to resonate at the appropriate frequency for each individual barrel.  Once each wine is finished, the hope is that it will not only taste different from those that have been conventionally made, but that it will pair perfectly with the music used during its aging.

Good vibrations

The effect of reverberations on the growth of plants has been widely studied.  There is one winemaker in Austria who plays music through the fermenting juice, while many wineries play music in the barrel room as well as offering a pairing for music while tasting wine.  Further north in Chile, Montes winery has been playing Gregorian chants in the barrel room since 2004.

There are studies that prove that soft vibrations make the liquids perform a better aging than in silence or with strident music,” says owner and winemaker Aurelio Montes.  “But there is a second factor that plays a very important role in music and wine… this has to do with people, the relaxed and happy atmosphere that you create when music is being played makes people happier.  Human beings in a good mood will do a better job.

Staff at the Montes winery have also done studies on the impact of tasting wine with music.  Their conclusion? « Music does influence the taste of wine positively in 100% of the cases. »  However, putting music into the barrels as Ledesma is doing is, for Montes, “going too far.”

Montes' wines age to the sound of Gregorian chants
Montes’ wines age to the sound of Gregorian chants | © Montes

Ledesma admits he has his fair share of critics and doubters, but says the level of support offered to him has been much greater.  He describes the results of his jazz-filled barrels as promising, although before releasing the wine — along with a downloadable audio track — he wants to let the lees groove to the beats for just a little longer.  “The detected differences are significant, but it is estimated that they will be even more noticeable through a longer aging period, » he explains.  « They will now be evaluated again in six more months.”

In the meantime, during the upcoming April-to-May harvest, Ledesma will be making some more Terroir Sonoro wines — alongside pocket-friendly, conventional ones — using the same old-vine malbec and cabernet sauvignon, but also pais and cinsault.  Of course, there will be more jazz pumped into the barrels, but what will be rocking the production team as they work the harvest?  “The music we play during fermentation is what we want to listen to while working, and what generates good vibrations between the workers, » Ledesma says.  « And obviously these good vibrations arrive to the wine in some form or another. »

For now, though, it seems that a relatively unknown winemaker in the forgotten lands of Maule is redefining the powerful impact of wine coupled with song.

Amanda Barnes is a British freelance writer and editor who specializes in travel, food and wine writing as well as dabbling in the arts, environment issues and profiling people.

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