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Metallica singer James Hetfield can enhance Cabernet, according to wine industry consultant Clark Smith.
The Doors may seem like an unusual musical choice for a wine bar. If Cabernet dominates the tasting list, however, the sommelier would do well to play some of the group's angriest songs — at least according to a theory espoused by vintner Clark Smith.
Smith, co-founder of the R.H. Phillips Vineyard and senior enologist at Vinovation, a wine consultation firm, proposes that a wine's taste is dramatically impacted by the music that accompanies it.
Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is best when paired with "music of darkness" — thanks to the ability of rage-filled songs to smooth out similarly aggressive tannins, Smith's theory holds. An idyllic Mozart composition, on the other hand, works in reverse, potentially ruining a good Cab.
"I think everybody recognizes that music has moods," says Smith. "Quite simply, I think that wines carry mood also — and so the wine is acting like another musical instrument in the orchestra. If it's playing in the wrong thematic mode, it clashes with the rest of the musicians."
Smith asks skeptics, such as NPR's Alex Cohen, to simply conduct a test with an open mind and palette. It took only a few songs for Cohen to be convinced that music can, indeed, alter wine's taste. (A fellow journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle had a similar experience.)
A $3 bottle of Glenn Ellen Chardonnay suddenly tastes superior to far more expensive wines, many of Smith's subjects have found, when sipped while listening to the Beach Boys' upbeat "California Girls." Likewise, Sutter Home White Zinfandel — generally unpopular when tasted without music — is a favorite when testers are listening to the North Water Street Tavern Band's polka-like "Milorganite Blues."
Not everyone's experience will be the same, Smith acknowledges, but he has developed some basic guidelines regarding which types of music go best with which types of wine.
To set the right mood on Thanksgiving, he recommends, serve up some Andrea Bocelli and a good reserve Chianti with your turkey. Or you could test Smith's theory by switching the opera to polka mid-glass.