We know alcohol can affect our mood, but can our mood also affect alcohol?
Picture this: it’s 5:30pm on a Friday and you just got off work. You storm into a liquor store in a co-worker-induced rage and go straight for the wine aisle. But then you stop, flummoxed. What vintage pairs best with blind fury?
There’s not a lot of research that examines the link between our current mood and our preferred alcoholic beverage. Scientists have investigated the relationship between wine and music?—?a recent study shows that pairing the right tune with the right wine can improve the wine’s taste by up to 15 percent. And a study from 1999 found that in-store music can directly affect which wines consumers are attracted to. According to the results, when a store played French music, shoppers were more likely to purchase a French wine.
Then there’s the link between wine and romance. Australian winemaker and surgeon, Dr. Max Lake, spent a portion of his career researching why wine often acts an aphrodisiac. He determined that the scents of certain wines imitate human pheromones. Red wines with leathery, earthy notes mimic male pheromones while white wines with yeasty or citrusy notes emulate female pheromones.
Now, I don’t know much about science, but I’m fairly good at drinking wine and I’m even better at having emotions.
Since science wasn’t going to help me get to the bottom of this, I reached out to Phil Vettel, restaurant critic for the Chicago Tribune, who told me, “Yes, I think the taste of wine can be affected by your mood. When I’m in a sad or surly mood, nothing tastes particularly good. And I never open a bottle of the good stuff if I’m not in a good mood.”
But Vettel disagreed with the idea that people might consciously gravitate towards specific wines, depending on their emotional state. According to him, people are more likely to pick their drink to suit the occasion or to enhance the food they’re eating.
Now, I don’t know much about science, but I’m fairly good at drinking wine and I’m even better at having emotions. So, with the help of an ex-chemist friend, I put together an experiment designed to test my theory that specific wines taste better when paired with certain emotional states.
This experiment began like most terrible experiments do–with a few hours of free time and six unlabeled bottles of Trader Joe’s wine. I went with Trader Joe’s to keep quality consistent but also because it’s the fiscally responsible choice.
First, I cleared my emotional palate by chugging a bottle of water while watching a webcam video of the ocean.
I chose three red wine options (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot) and three white wine options (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.) I also selected six varied emotional states (fear, joy, anger, desire, sadness and courage).
First, I cleared my emotional palate by chugging a bottle of water while watching a webcam video of the ocean. When I finished, I felt completely serene, but also like I maybe had to pee. I went to the bathroom and then tested each of the wines to establish my baseline ratings.
Next, I selected six different scenes from movies, each designed to provoke a strong emotional reaction. After watching each scene, I tested the individual wines and assigned each wine a rating.
I continued the experiment, alternating between ocean views and emotionally fraught scenes. Then I took a nap. I compiled my results the next day, in the throes of an unfortunate hangover.
To put myself in a terrified state, I watched the hobbling scene from “Misery,” which truly messed up the rest of my day. After trying the wines, I discovered that white wines do not pair as well with fear as red wines do. Then again, does anything really taste great after watching Kathy Bates shatter someone’s ankles with a sledgehammer?
Verdict: Abject terror pairs best with Cabernet Sauvignon.
To muster joy, I watched the scene from “500 Days of Summer” where Joseph Gordon Leavitt dances to Hall and Oates. I discovered that most of the wines were not affected by this mood, except for the Cabernet Sauvignon, which apparently is not a joyful drink.
Verdict: Joy pairs best with Shiraz; don’t serve Cabernet Sauvignon at your wedding.
To get myself in an angry headspace, I watched the opening scene from “Full Metal Jacket.” Apart from reminding me that I am not cut out to enlist in any kind of organized fighting unit, this scene also proved that red wines go well with anger.
Verdict: Anger pairs best with Shiraz.
I created an amorous mental state for myself by watching Diane Lane have a torrid affair in a bathroom stall with Olivier Martinez in “Unfaithful.” I discovered that while all wines go well with desire, the red wines were improved by the mood, whereas most of the white wines either stayed the same or tasted worse.
Verdict: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc pair best with desire.
To test sadness, I watched the funeral scene from “My Girl,” which was a very, very bad idea. When I finished sobbing 20 minutes later, I learned that all wines taste pretty good with a chaser of tears (except Chardonnay, which tasted markedly worse).
Verdict: Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc pair best with uncontrollable weeping.
My 20-minute crying jag made me realize I should probably eat something. To recalibrate my equilibrium, I re-watched Joseph Gordon Leavitt dancing to Hall and Oates while eating goldfish crackers.
Verdict: Joseph Gordon Leavitt is charming and pairs well with cheesy snacks.
To recreate courage, I watched the final race scene from “Cool Runnings.” I discovered that courage is the one emotion that doesn’t appear to pair well with wine; Merlot was the only wine to have its taste slightly improved by the mood. The rest of the wines either stayed the same or tasted worse.
Verdict: Merlot pairs best with courage.
While this experiment was incredibly fun to execute, the results are, unfortunately, inconclusive (it’s hard to assign any real scientific credence to an experiment that involved as much drunken crying as this one did).
The relationship between mood and wine is most likely tenuous. As Vettel says, “Mood may have something to do with WHEN people drink (and, I suppose, how much) but I don’t believe mood makes one wine taste better than another.”