Music with wine: Just the right notes


There are numerous factors that have been demonstrated to influence the perceptions of a wine including temperature at which it is consumed, the size and shape of the glass, the appearance of the label, the time of day it is drunk, its presumed cost, associated food pairings and the power of suggestion.

Now to the list can be added background music.

Celebrated British chef Heston Blumenthal, the owner of The Fat Duck, which has three Michelin stars, is a proponent of “multi-sensory cooking” which incorporates visual and aural components.

Blumenthal’s point is that “eating is one of the few activities we do that involves all of the senses simultaneously.” His culinary approach is to incorporate elements that stimulate more than just the taste buds because of those factors beyond the components of the dish that may influence how the meal is perceived.

Blumenthal notes that this extends to wine as well. During a recent demonstration he poured glasses of red and white wines and had them tasted by audience members while classical music was playing. The red was accompanied by a very powerful composition while the white was tasted with a lighter and more refined melody playing. Not surprisingly the words used to describe the wines mirrored the music with the red called “rich, heavy, full” and the white was described as “fresh, crisp and light.” The “gotcha” style catch with which Blumenthal demonstrated his point was that he actually poured the same wine to both groups. The “red” was augmented with flavorless food coloring.

Subsequently, others have also shown that background music influences the taste of wine. We have no idea why this is considered new or “novel. Hearing traditional Kiddush melodies most assuredly improves the taste of even the worst sweet, Malaga style, Concord grape wine, and even more so when a dry table wine is used to sanctify the occasion via the fruit of the vine.

So for your next Kiddush consider the wonderful Hagafen Pinot Noir 2013 that shows dark fruit, raspberry and earthy aromas on a medium frame with savory flavors of black currants, strawberry, spice and notes of coffee and mild oak at the finish. This is a lovely Napa Pinot.

Spirits-wise, as of this writing, once of us has just finished two days of Disneyland with the family, in incredibly hot Anaheim, Calif. Great fun and all that, but oy, was it hot. What is needed is something simple and delicious to cool the blood, slake the thirst and refresh the soul. An elemental libation that is fairly uncomplicated to mix — potent, but not too strong, slightly sweet, but with a pleasing, tangy bite that reawakens the senses. What is needed is a gimlet.

A simple concoction of white or clear spirit (traditionally gin) and lime juice, with a history dating back at least to the mid-19th century, the gimlet is a delicious and enduring classic. As Raymond Chandler put in his novel The Long Goodbye, “We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. ‘They don’t know how to make them here,’ he said. ‘What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.’ ”

While we might argue that last point, and the proportions mentioned are far sweeter than modern sensibilities, the tone is exactly right. The gimlet is simple, straightforward, pungent, and remarkably satisfying.

The gimlet is one of those rare exceptions to the general rule that fresh fruit juice must always be used for the cocktail to taste any good. Fresh lime juice is too tart and adding sugar doesn’t quite cut it right. In this matter, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe is a sound guide: “The bartender set the drink in front of me. With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look. I tasted it. It was both sweet and sharp at the same time.” Exactly so.

Here, then, is a classic gimlet:

Stir or shake two ounces of Plymouth Gin (regular London dry gin will work if you can’t find the more traditional stuff) and one-quarter an ounce of Rose’s Lime Juice with cracked ice — or whatever ratio suits your taste. Mix or shake well so that everything is very cold.

Strain the contents into a chilled martini glass or into a chilled old-fashioned or highball glass with ice. If using the martini glass, garnish with a twist of lime and — if you can be bothered to fuss — coat the rim with sugar; if serving over ice, garnish with a lime wedge. For a touch of modern sensibility, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

So sit back, relax, and chill out with a classic gimlet. Consider a little ambiance by thumbing through a copy of The Long

Goodbye. L’Chaim!

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