Sound of Wine

The Sound of Wine

Except for the psychics among us, we each have five senses. We first use our eyes to gauge the appearance of a wine, its clarity and color. The nose comes next, bringing up the possibility of hundreds of aromas—from fruits to dirt—as we probe the wine for character. We then carefully ease the wine into our mouths both to taste (fruit, spice, mineral, earth, floral, vegetal) and to feel (tannins, body, viscosity). Finally, we use our ears to listen to the wine.

Of course you may think I have a screw loose for suggesting we listen to the wine in anything but a metaphorical sense. At best, you say, we can enjoy the sound of a popping cork, of clinking glasses, or of music chosen to enhance the mood, but hearing is decidedly a sensory side show when it comes to wine. And yet doesn't a quiet environment enhance the wine tasting experience as much as good lighting, un-stuffed sinuses or a clean palate? If hearing has nothing to do with wine appreciation, how come we call all those aromas and flavors “notes?”

Australian composer Tony King is one wine fancier who views wine and music as one holistic entity. King uses the implements of wine—glasses, bottles, corks, barrels, corkscrews, and even the wine itself—to create the Sound of Wine, an album of musical pieces that certainly stretches the boundaries of instrumentation, if not wine equipage. The eleven pieces on the CD, with evocative titles the likes of “Perfect Blend,” “Sunrise on the Vine,” and “The Tasting,” are the product of several years of careful construction by King.

It may be simple enough to evoke sound by skimming a finger over a wine glass or tapping on a wine barrel, but truly integral (and interesting) music is another matter. King had to build his compositions by plumbing the depths of sound each piece of wine-related material would create, then sewing the disparate pitches, timbres and colorations together into true musical pieces. Modern electronic recording equipment, of course, is helpful. King created most of the percussion by tapping on wine barrels and popping wine corks. He created the bass sounds by blowing into wine bottles.

We all know that we can create musical notes by filling glasses with liquid to varying degrees and tapping the glass, but King experimented with a far greater range of glass-related subtleties, finding that a quick touch on the rim of a glass could change the quality of the sound, as could tilting the glass in any of a number of ways. I am one of those wine people who firmly believes in using different glasses for different wines; King found that this maxim certainly applies to vinous music making in that a Bordeaux glass will give a sound that is more—well Bordeaux—than a Shiraz glass (which, no prizes for guessing, sounds much like Shiraz). It goes without saying that these glasses were filled to the desired degree with the appropriate wine; I imagine the wine was “subtracted” a little at a time until the desired tones were reached.

It is much easier to use words to describe a wine than it is to use words to describe Tony King's innovative music. We have well-known verbal conventions for the wine description, although it is clear that we will have to add the aural element to our laminated tasting cards some time very soon. King is a talented musician and composer, and he certainly could have written and engineered an equally stimulating album of music using milk implements, or items taken from the world of diet cola drinks, but then that wouldn't be wine, would it? The Sound of Wine is unquestionably a stimulating journey into both music and wine, but play the CD only after you've jotted down your wine notes, as you wouldn't want to be enjoying the fine finish of a Riesling and find yourself listening to a Grenache.

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Wine involves all the senses, even sound.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Tony King

Australian musician Tony King makes music with wine accessories.

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