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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Okay, that's food, but what about what you're drinking today. Sure you want a pair a wine with what you're eating, but it turns out there may be something else just as important.

Mr. CLARK SMITH (Winemaker): One of the things that has a very strong effect is the music that's playing.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: California winemaker Clark Smith has tested his theory with hundreds of people, cases of wine, and hours of music, and he's concluded that this...

(Soundbite of song, "People Are Strange")

Mr. JIM MORRISON (The Doors): (Singing) When you're strange...

BRAND: ...will make Cabernets taste better. And this...

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: ...goes best with white Zinfandels and makes reds taste terrible.

Now, we were a bit skeptical. But hey, it's Thanksgiving, so we asked DAY TO DAY's Alex Cohen to lend her palate and her ears to an experiment.

She and Clark Smith tasted three Chardonnays, a low-budget 2006 Glen Ellen...

(Soundbite of wine cork)

BRAND: ...and two pricier bottles, a 2006 Rombauer; and one of Clark Smith's own wines, called a faux Chablis.

Here's Alex Cohen.

ALEX COHEN: All right, Mr. Smith, I am ready to go. We've got here in front of us now three wines. Which ones should I start out here with?

Mr. SMITH: Let's start with the Glen Ellen.

COHEN: Okay.

Mr. SMITH: So you can see that it has an aroma of golden delicious apples. It's a little bit sweet in the mouth.

COHEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SMITH: So now let's go ahead and change the environment. Put on the Beach Boys' "California Girls."

(Soundbite of song, "California Girls")

THE BEACH BOYS (Band): (Singing) I wish they all could be California girls. I wish they...

Mr. SMITH: And you notice that it gets intensely fruity, very round, and lush.

COHEN: Hmm.

Mr. SMITH: Now taste the Rombauer.

COHEN: Okay.

Mr. SMITH: See how harsh and hot it is?

COHEN: That's really weird. You're kind of freaking me out; it is. That is really bizarre. I was so ready not to buy into your idea at all, but even actually just the whiffs of it going into my nose was like spicy in a not good way.

Mr. SMITH: It's overbearing, isn't it? And you can take a look at my wine; it's going to be even worse in this environment.

COHEN: You're a brave man, to say your wine is going to be bad.

(Soundbite of pouring)

COHEN: Here we go.

Mr. SMITH: Well, it's just not in the bottle, you know?

COHEN: Mmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. SMITH: So the acidity there is very piercing.

COHEN: It's a little bit like drinking rubbing alcohol. No offense.

Mr. SMITH: There you have it.

COHEN: Not to your wine.

Mr. SMITH: No, that's just the way it...

COHEN: That's wild. We should point out here that of the three, Glen Ellen, which was the only one that tasted nice with this music, it was $3.

Mr. SMITH: There you go. The other two wines are $30. So now let's change the environment.

COHEN: Okay.

Mr. SMITH: I've got a great old cut of Ella Fitzgerald doing St. Louis Woman, real Bourbon Street kind of music.

(Soundbite of song, "St. Louis Blues)")

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD (Singer): (Singing) Oh, I hate to see that evening sun go down.

COHEN: So should I start up once again with the Glen Ellen?

Mr. SMITH: Yes.

COHEN: Okay.

Mr. SMITH: You see how harsh it is?

COHEN: I seriously feel like you're a bad magic act. I - you're saying exactly what's in my head as I'm tasting it. Yes, it doesn't taste good. Now, don't - don't say anything. I'm going to taste the next one.

Mr. SMITH: Okay.

COHEN: Don't tell me what I'm supposed to taste. Now it's kind of sweet and nice.

Mr. SMITH: You know, the alcohol and the butter just disappear into the music that Ella is putting out here.

COHEN: And that was the Rombauer, which just moments ago with The Beach Boys - not so good. Okay, we're going to move on to your wine now. This is the faux Chablis.

Mr. SMITH: Okay.

COHEN: Hmm. I don't like it as much as I did the Rombauer, but I'll tell you what. It didn't have that kind of like harsh attack on the senses that it did during The Beach Boys. Why is this happening this way? How come you're able to predict exactly what I'm going to be tasting?

Mr. SMITH: Well, I think everybody recognizes that music has moods, and those are pretty strongly shared. Everybody can tell "California Girls" is a happy piece of music. Quite simply, I think that wines carry mood also, and so the wine is acting like another musical instrument in the orchestra, and if it's playing the wrong thematic mode, then it clashes with the rest of the musicians.

COHEN: Huh.

Mr. SMITH: Same thing would happen if you played a piano in major key while all the other instruments were playing in minor key; it would just sound like noise.

COHEN: Okay, if you could offer a recommendation for a type of wine and one song that might make a perfect little note to accentuate your Thanksgiving festivities, what would your recommendation be?

Mr. SMITH: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Chianti with turkey and Bocelli, Pavarotti's understudy, a very romantic piece.

COHEN: Bold suggestion, bold ideas. Clark Smith, thank you so much for sharing them both with us.

Mr. SMITH: Well, thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: That was DAY TO DAY's Alex Cohen.

If you want to test Clark Smith's theories for yourself, we have his wine list and music pairings at our Web site, npr.org.

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