Wine has flavor, taste, scent, and color. It has a unique texture when it travels through our mouth and palate. Could it also have sound? Oenologist Stella Vassilaki founded the charming wine tasting bar ‘Mesarmi’ at the village of Houdetsi and was the first who thought to unite two worlds, unknown to each other until then: the world of music and the world of wine. Everything started last August, when Stella returned to Crete after a long wine-wandering around the world and started contemplating: how is it possible to combine her profession and passion for wine with music. The inspiration and encouragement for this bizarre idea came from her neighbors in ‘Labyrinth’, Ross Daly’s musical workshop. Ross Daly supported her idea and together they started orchestrating the most luscious encounters between musical notes and the countless shades of wine!
But how is it possible to ‘translate’ flavors, colors and scents into notes for musical instruments? The experiment wasn’t that simple! Stella had to ‘train’ a group of musicians to the principles of wine tasting. She blindfolded them, she taught them how to recognize the different wine fragrances and awakened their “olfactory memory”. They tasted wine, smelled it, felt it, and at the end, they learned to decipher their mouthfeel and senses into notes and sounds!
After this training of the senses, the five musicians (Ross Daly, Kelly Thoma, Nikos Vogiatzakis, Sofia Efklidou, Taxiarhis Georgoulis) entered the studio and started recording. A cello performed the complex bitterness of tannins, a lyra playfully improvised on citrus acidity, a tarhu added ‘volume’ into the composition, and an electric guitar translated melodically the ‘metallic’ flavors.
This is how, more or less, six eclectic wines of the Cretan vineyard became notes and travelled down the throats and ears of those who were lucky to attend one of the most original and groundbreaking wine tasting seminars on the island!
“The sound of wine”
In Mesarmi wine bar the lights go down. The first (white) wine is served in our glasses, music starts and Stella distributes two sets of cards: one with musical instruments and another with the features of each wine. The challenge now is to decide which wine each melody describes, as the senses we learned to assume as incompatible struggle to find balance: taste tries to communicate with hearing and the other way around. At the same time, olfactory memories mess with your perception: what’s the smell of wood? Vanilla? How does metal taste? Or the olives?
Sounds like a brain teaser, but in fact the whole experience is delightful! All wines are carefully chosen by Stella after many tastings, and they are all great and unique. They originate exclusively from the Cretan vineyard and from different wineries and regions of Crete. And Cretan varieties – naturally- rule the menu.
“Flavors, fragrances, colors, textures and all other elements that emerge from the process of wine aging, directly correspond to similar processes and feelings we observe in music” ROSS DALY
The night continues with another white wine, three red and, at the end, a sweet wine. Every wine has its own music, its own orchestration and rhythm. White wines are more light and titillating; Red wines are more ‘heavy’ and unique varieties have more complex nature, more playful and tempting.
Even if you don’t manage to find which musical instrument best ascribed the taste of…ginger in the wine you just tried, the sure thing is you will still enjoy the two hour seminar. You will learn to taste wine differently and you will leave the wine bar happy, full of flavors, scents and sounds! What else is there to ask for?
The power of synesthesia and the future of wine tasting
Stella’s multi-sensory “experiment” can also be described by the scientific term “synesthesia”. Copying Wikipedia: Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway... In arts, synesthesia is regarded as the simultaneous perception of multiple stimuli in one gestalt experience.
Mesarmi wine bar is now in contact with Oxford Professor Dr Charles Spence, who expressed interest and enthusiasm for the 'sound of wine', and a future collaboration is in the making.
A cello performed the complex bitterness of tannins, a lyra playfully improvised on citrus acidity, a tarhu added ‘volume’ into the composition, and an electric guitar translated melodically the ‘metallic’ flavors
Stella tells us how she decided to return to Crete after a long wandering, from Bordeaux to the Americas, Scotland, Germany, and bring with her a new kind of tourism that is still unknown in the island: wine tourism.
In the future she plans to explore olive oil and cheese tasting, and organize another musical-tasting seminar focusing on Cretan varieties and how the wine flavor differs according to region, and even producer. For the time being, the “sound of wine” is taking place every Friday and Saturday. On the same days, but a bit later, another more ‘informal’ event takes place, where wine is combined with good food!
We can’t wait to experience more! ;-)