The idea of tasting "notes" in wine has a double meaning for Markus Bachmann, managing director of Vienna's Sonor Wines.
Mr. Bachmann, a trained French horn player and veteran restaurant and bar manager, is the inventor of a special speaker system, which is used to play music to his company's wines as they ferment. The result, he says, is a richer, smoother, fuller tasting wine.
As kooky as it may sound, using music to improve the taste of wine is nothing new in Austria, where many vintners play classical tunes in their wine cellars, Mr. Bachmann says.
The difference with his innovation, however, is it plays music inside the wine itself.
Mr. Bachmann explains to The Globe and Mail how it works.
How does music alter the taste of wine?
It interacts with the yeast. We're talking about how the bio-reaction changes. Normally, the yeast, during fermentation, makes methyl alcohol. But with my reaction, it makes glycerin alcohol, the highest alcohol you normally get in aged wine, and it is oily, it's a mouthful of tasty, rich flavours.
At the same time, the yeast uses all the sugar but doesn't convert it into alcohol, so it's an absolutely dry wine and it tastes like you have a fruity, full and rich and smooth taste and it gets an aged flavour as well.
So how does it work?
The underwater speaker is put inside the tank. It's a magnet only, and the wine surrounding it is like the membrane around the speaker, so the sound waves go through the wine. We're not talking about Haydn and Mozart or whatever; we're talking about if it's major or minor, if it's an F major or a B minor. That makes the difference - it's the frequency bands. Of course, Mozart uses C major, like Bach does.
So it's the mechanical vibrations of the sound waves that move the yeast and change it?
It is definitely moving because you have the rhythm, you've got loudness, and you have hard and soft tones. So it's actually like basically various methods which have been used for ages, like stirring wine, but then you have to open up the barrel and the problem of oxidation could occur, or pumping it around. But if you leave a speaker in there, everything does it on its own.
Does it matter what you play?
Actually, no. But that's sort of the marketing part of it - to say we combine it with artists, we combine it with orchestras. Now we are working together with Universal Music and Sony Classical. We sell not only the wine, we sell also the music to it.
But, in a way, it does, of course, differ. It's the frequency - if I've got C major in Haydn's symphony or Mozart's, that would be the same.
How did you come up with this idea?
A winegrower was in one of my bars and he was moaning that he has really fantastic wine but it doesn't get sold. So I said, 'It needs a bit of marketing; let's put music in it.'
It's like putting a speaker in the wine cellar and playing music, which often people do here. But he started laughing, like, 'What do you want? This homeopathic use of music? This doesn't work.'
So I said, 'Maybe if it doesn't work from outside, maybe it works from inside.'
I thought about it, and I planned it, and years later, I had the opportunity to do it at a winery school in Austria under the supervision of the teachers there, where we did three tanks - two with music, one without. Using the same fruit juice, they resulted in two different wines.
Companies in Japan have been known to play music to make bananas sweeter as they ripen, or to improve the taste of other products, like soy, mushrooms and bread. Do you think this works?
The problem with that is I don't talk to the yeast; I move it. These other playing methods for fruits and so on are more or less for the insects or birds that are in the surroundings. The surrounding biology maybe changes to make them grow better - that I do believe, but not particularly for the plant itself. This is, of course, esoteric. Not everything can be proven.
This interview has been condensed and edited.