The future of minimalist restaurants and sombre sommeliers in dark suits and white aprons could be numbered, if – as new research suggests – we prefer to drink in florid surroundings.
More than 2000 Londoners are expected to take part in the world’s largest wine-tasting experiment next month, which aims to determine how your immediate surroundings affect your flavor perception.
Each participant will be given a single glass of wine to taste whilst being exposed to a selection of scientifically chosen sounds and colors, which will then be collated and analyzed.
Professor Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University's Crossmodal Research Laboratory, who is conducting the experiment with Rioja brand Campo Viejo, has already undertaken similar research with single malt. He found that a "change of environment can give rise to a very real 10–20 percent change in the experience of the whisky."
He claims the upcoming experiment could be game-changing. “I believe the results of our study will extend to restaurants and bars reconsidering the color of tablecloths, glassware, cutlery and even the color of pictures on walls,” he said. “The age of the white-aproned sommelier might even be drawing to an end.
"And, at home, where do people drink the most wine? In the kitchen and living rooms, which tend to be painted white or cream. If people love their wine, they should probably be thinking of injecting color at every available opportunity. It’s extremely exciting.”
Spence isn’t the only researcher to find a link between environment and taste. German researchers have already investigated the impact of color on flavor perception. In 2009, psychologists at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz found that wine was perceived to taste better in a red or blue-lit room. Drinkers were also prepared to pay more for the same wine depending on the color of the room.
The Riesling used in the experiment was also perceived as being nearly one-and-a-half times sweeter in red light than in white or green light. Its fruitiness was also most highly rated in red light.
Meanwhile, a small study out of the University of Portsmouth published in 2011 found that loud environments can make alcohol taste sweeter and impair judgement as participants were less able to detect alcohol strength as the noise and music got louder.
Another study published in the British Journal of Psychology also found that wine can take on the attributes of the style of music people are listening to. Listening to the smooth voice of crooner Tom Jones, for instance, was associated with adjectives like earthy and full bodied for a glass of Merlot.