Several years ago, I witnessed an interesting experiment at the Fritz Allendorf winery in Germany’s Rheingau region. The owner poured us a glass of wine and led the group into a white room. The colors in the room were changed from red to green to blue, and we were asked to observe our impressions of how the wine was transformed under different color conditions.
Allendorf claims to have discovered that ambient lighting has a significant impact on a wine’s taste. He says that blue and green light makes a wine taste spicier, that red light brings out sweetness and fruitiness, and that people were actually willing to pay more for the wine they tasted in a red room. While his research isn’t exactly scientific, I had the impression he conducts this experiment on everyone who visits the estate.
Did it work? Somewhat. While there seemed to be slight taste differences as the colors changed, those differences weren’t significant enough to support Allendorf’s thesis. Still, the experiment was fascinating as an attempt to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Most experts tell us that our impressions of a wine are registered on the nose, and that the nose telegraphs these impressions to the brain. Allendorf seems to think that mood is the main determinant of taste, and that the atmosphere in which a wine is consumed will determine our reactions.
A more interesting experiment is being conducted by Dialogue in the Dark, a group that offers exhibitions and business workshops in complete darkness, led by blind guides. Over the course of nearly two decades, they have presented a series of four-course dinners served by blind waiters in total darkness, challenging the guests to identify the components of the meal they consume.
They have now launched Wine in the Dark, which recently took place in Hong Kong. Participants put all personal belongings in lockers, including cell phones and eyeglasses, and are served a series of wines in a pitch-black room. They are challenged to discover whether they can tell red from white, and particularly whether they can identify traditional aroma descriptors—cassis, lime blossom, green apple—without the use of sight. In the course of 90 minutes, the tasters discover a new dimension in the relationship between smell, taste and visual perception.