R E S E A R C H Open Access
A large sample study on the influence of the
multisensory environment on the wine drinking
, Carlos Velasco
and Klemens Knoeferle
Background: We report on what may well be the world’s largest multisensory tasting experiment. Over a period of
4 days in May 2014, almost 3,000 people sampled a glass of red wine in a room in which the colour of the lighting
and/or the music was changed repeatedly. The participants rated the wine, presented in a black tasting glass, on
taste, intensity and liking scales while standing in each of four different environments over a period of 7 to 8
minutes. During the first 2 days (Experiment 1), the participants rated the wine while exposed to white lighting, red
lighting, green lighting with music designed to enhance sourness and finally under red lighting paired with music
associated with sweetness. During the latter 2 days of the event (Experiment 2), the same wine was rated under
white lighting, green lighting, red lighting with sweet music and finally green lighting with sour music.
Results: In Experiment 1, the wine was perceived as fresher and less intense under green lighting and sour music,
as compared to any of the other three environments. On average, the participants liked the wine most under red
lighting while listening to sweet music. A similar pattern of results was reported in Experiment 2.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that the environment can exert a significant influence on the perception
of wine (at least in a random sample of social drinkers). We outline a number of possible explanations for how the
sensory properties of the environment might influence the perception of wine. Finally, we consider some of the
implications of these results for the wine drinking experience.
Keywords: Wine, Colour, Music, Environment, Atmospherics, Multisensory, Tasting
An extensive literature demonstrates that changing the
colour of foods or beverages often modulates their
perceived taste and/or flavour among both regular con-
sumers and experts alike (for example, [1-4]). Changing
the colour of the packaging, or receptacle, in which a
product is presented and/or consumed can influence
people’s perception of the contents as well [5,6]. How-
ever, as yet, far less research has looked at the question
of whether changing the colour of the environment in
which people eat or drink can also affect their tasting/
consumption experiences. To date, a few studies have
varied the overall level of ambient illumination in order
to mask the colour of the food (for example, ).
Meanwhile, Gal et al.  varied the brightness of the
lighting and demonstrated its influence on the consump-
tion of a hot beverage. Most recently, Xu and Labroo 
reported that the participants in a laboratory study chose
a spicier sauce (from a range of 16 possible sauces) for
chicken wings under brighter (as compared to dimmer)
ambient illumination. There have also been anecdotal
reports of others changing the colour of the environment
in order to induce a particular mood in diners .
Environmental colour and taste/flavour perception
A small number of well-controlled studies have specific-
ally examined the effect of varying the hue of the ambi-
ent lighting on people’s rating of drinks sampled from
black tasting glasses [11-13]
. In one such study, Oberfeld
et al.  demonstrated a significant effect of environmen-
tal lighting on people’s rating of white wine. One experi-
ment was conducted in a winery on the Rhine, while two
* Correspondence: email@example.com
Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology,
University of Oxford, 9 South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
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Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain
Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article,
unless otherwise stated.
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8
follow-up studies were conducted back in the psychology
lab. Changing the colour of the lighting (white, red, green
or blue) exerted a significant effect on people’s responses to
the wine in each and every experiment. That said, nature of
that change was not altogether consistent from one
experiment to the next.
In Oberfeld et al.  first experiment (conducted in
the winery), people rated a Riesling white wine as signifi-
cantly more pleasant and said that they would pay
significantly more for a bottle of the wine under the red
lighting (than under any of the other three lighting
colours). In a second study, this time conducted in the
psychology laboratory, the same red lighting resulted in
the white wine being rated as less spicy (as compared to
when the same wine was rated while under blue or green
lighting) and less fruity (as compared to green and white
lighting). Interestingly, no significant effect on the per-
ceived value of the wine was obtained on this occasion
In a third experiment, the wine was rated as tasting
fruitier under the red lighting as compared to when it
was evaluated under blue lighting. The wine also tasted
sweeter under the red lighting as compared to blue or
white lighting [13,14]. While these results are undoubt-
edly intriguing, it is worth noting that earlier studies in
this area (for example, ) found no such effect of
changes in the ambient lighting on people’s perception
of wine. Given the mixed results that have been pub-
lished in the literature [14,15], it seemed sensible to try
and resolve once and for all the question of whether
changing the hue of the ambient lighting would change
the way in which social drinkers rate wine.
The ambient lighting colours used in the present study
were selected on the basis of Oberfeld et al. , as well
as on the basis of a pre-test of various light colours prior
to the main data collection event (reported below).
Given the within-participants nature of this public event,
and the fact that the whole experience was designed to
last no more than 7 or 8 minutes, we were unable to test
a wide range of ambient colours. Red and green seemed
appropriate given the natural associations that exist be-
tween green and unripe (that is, sour and possibly bitter)
fruits and red and ripe (that is, sweet) fruits [16-21].
Background music and taste/flavour perception
Beyond any impact of changing the hue of the ambient
lighting (white, red or green) on people’s perception of a
glass of (red) wine, as tasted from a black tasting glass,
we were also interested in any additional effect that vary-
ing the musical environment might have on the partici-
pants’wine tasting experience. A spate of recent studies
have demonstrated that simply by changing the music
playing in the background one can effectively change
how people rate the taste of a drink or food, and/or how
much they enjoy the overall experience (see [22-27]).
Extending this line of research, we wanted to know
whether playing short musical selections during the wine
tasting would have any additional influence on partici-
pants’judgements over-and-above that elicited by chan-
ging the lighting. To this end, we complemented some
of the lighting conditions with recently-generated (and
tested) musical selections that have been shown to be
associated in the general population with sour or sweet
tastes (Knoeferle KM, Woods A, Käppler F, Spence C:
That sounds sweet: Using crossmodal correspondences
to communicate gustatory attributes. Psychol Market,
Note that, to date, the majority of studies have either
looked only at the effects of changing the ambient lighting
or only at the presentation of various background music/
soundscapes, but never at the two together. Two possible
kinds of result might be predicted given the literature on
multisensory perception [28,29]: on the one hand, an
additive or possibly even superadditive effect (that is, an
effect that is bigger than one would expect simply by
combining the effect of each cue when presented indi-
vidually) of combining congruent visual and auditory en-
vironmental cues might be obtained [30,31]. On the other
hand, however, one might also legitimately expect to find
that vision was dominant, given our status as essentially
visually-dominant creatures (for example, [32,33]), and
hence the addition of background sound might not have
any effect over and above that attributable to the lighting.
In the present study, we followed up on Oberfeld et al.’s
 intriguing findings with a much larger sample.
More specifically, we collected data from almost 3,000
participants as compared to 200 in the largest of Oberfeld
et al. three experiment. The study, presented to members
of the public as The Colour Lab, was conducted over a
period of four successive days at the start of May 2014,
in a central London location (under The Southbank
Centre). We used a within-participants experimental
design. The order in which the various environmental
conditions were presented was different on the first 2
days, as compared to the last 2 days. For ease of analysis
and presentation, though, the results collected on the
first 2 days are treated as Experiment 1, while the results
from the latter 2 days are treated as Experiment 2. In all
regards except for the order and exact nature of the
environmental conditions presented to the participants,
these two studies were identical. Specifically, in Experi-
ment 1, the environmental conditions consisted of white
lighting, red lighting, green lighting with sour music
and red lighting with sweet music. In Experiment 2, the
conditions consisted of white lighting, green lighting,
red lighting with sweet music and green lighting with
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 2 of 12
Methods and materials
A total of 1,580 participants (871 women, 643 men and
66 who failed to specify) aged 18 to 90 years (M= 34.3,
SD = 11.9) agreed to take part in The Colour Lab after the
procedure had been explained to them. The experiment
was reviewed and approved by the Central University
Research Ethics Committee of the University of Oxford
(reference number: MSD-IDREC-C1-2013-074), and com-
plied with the Helsinki Declaration. Because the experiment
was conducted through a public event, the participants did
not sign a consent form; however, the purpose of the study
and the experimental procedure were explained, and only
the participants who agreed to participate were offered a
place in the event. Any questions that the participants had
were answered. The participants were informed that, by
taking part of it, they were subject to having their photo
taken and used after the event. Eight percent of the ques-
tionnaire ratings were not completed and therefore ex-
cluded from the subsequent data analysis.
The participants were initially briefly introduced to the
art of wine tasting by a trained guide. They were also
given a tasting strip sourced from Precision Laboratories
in order to assess their sensitivity to PTC [34,35]
test is known to give rise to a wide range of different
taste experiences: from no sensation at all through to
one of extreme bitterness. The tasting strip was used in
order to demonstrate the wide inter-individual variability
that exists in the world of taste perception . Those
who found the tasting strip bitter were offered a glass of
water to neutralise the taste prior to the wine tasting. The
guide then spent 3 to 4 minutes introducing the wine and
the experience that the participants were about to have.
Before entering the main experimental chamber, the
participants were offered a glass (approximately 100 mL)
of Campo Viejo Reserva 2008 (Rioja) in a standard black
ISO tasting glass. The wine itself is ruby red in colour,
with bright and deep nuances. It features complex
aromas with an excellent balance between the fruits
(cherries, black plums, ripe blackberries) and the spices
coming from the wood (clove, pepper, vanilla and coco-
nut). The wine is aged in French and American oak and
then in the bottle in the cellar. During this time, the wine’s
bouquet develops. The wine is smooth and balanced on
the palate, has a full, elegant feel and a lingering finish.
The participants then entered a 14 × 5 m rectangular
room with white walls, floor and ceiling (Figure 1). The
participants entered from one end of the room and
exited from the other end.
Previous research has suggested that green tends to be
associated with unripe (that is, sour and possibly bitter)
fruits and red with ripe (that is, sweet) fruits (for ex-
ample, [16-21]). Having said that, Experiments 1 and 2
included three lighting conditions: red light, green light
and white light. The first two were included assuming
that these colours can presumably be associated to
taste features such as sweet and sour, and the latter as
The sounds used in the present study were taken from
a recent study by (Knoeferle KM, Woods A, Käppler F,
Spence C: That sounds sweet: Using crossmodal corre-
spondences to communicate gustatory attributes. Psy-
chol Market, submitted). On the basis of a series of
laboratory studies conducted here at Oxford University,
we (as well as several other research groups) have been
working on trying and elucidating those musical features
that match certain basic taste properties (see , for a
Figure 1 Example of the way the lighting looked in the (A) white,
(B) red and (C) green colour conditions. The pictures were taken by
the professional photographer Debbie Bragg. All images copyright the
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 3 of 12
review). Two of the soundtracks resulting from this
work were then fed into the present study: the sweet
soundtrack was legato, low in auditory roughness and
sharpness, and highly consonant. In contrast, the sour
soundtrack was staccato, high in roughness and sharp-
ness, and moderately consonant. Both soundtracks used
otherwise identical musical material, consisting of a
combination of relatively high-pitched foreground and
background elements. In the two Western samples
= 61, N
= 309) reported in (Knoeferle KM, Woods
A, Käppler F, Spence C: That sounds sweet: Using cross-
modal correspondences to communicate gustatory attri-
butes. Psychol Market, submitted), the recognition rates
for the sweet music were 57.4% and 61.6%, while recog-
nition rates for the sour music were 34.4% and 33.6%
(forced choice matchings of four pieces of music with
four basic tastes - hence chance level performance =
25%). The interested reader can download these short
pieces of music at https://soundcloud.com/crossmodal/
sets/tastemusic. The musical selections were played at a
comfortable listening level from several loudspeakers
mounted over the experimental space.
Given that we expected the participants to consist
mainly of social drinkers, the decision was made to
keep the questionnaire as simple and intuitive as pos-
sible - that is, we tried to avoid the use of any wine
language that some of the participants might not read-
ily understand (Figure 2). Specifically, three 7-point
Likert scales were included in the study: one for taste/
flavour anchored with ‘fruity’and ‘fresh’,oneforinten-
sity anchored with ‘low’and ‘high’, and one for liking
anchored with ‘not at all’to ‘very much’. Our choice of
one of the wine-makers for the Campo Viejo brand, and
seemed to capture two distinct attributes of the wine.
These descriptors were felt to be the ones that the random
sample of participants who were going to take part in the
study would be able to identify readily. The participants
were taken through the experience in groups of approxi-
mately 30 by one of four trained guides.
Following a mixed design, a repeated measures analysis
of variance (RM-ANOVA) with environment as a within-
participants factor (four levels: white lighting, red lighting,
green lighting with sour music, and red lighting with sweet
music) and gender as a between-participants factor
conducted on each of the three different attributes. When-
ever sphericity was violated, Greenhouse-Geisser cor-
rected values are presented. All pairwise comparisons
reported in the text have been Bonferroni-corrected.
Taste (fresh vs. fruity)
The analysis revealed a significant main effect of the
environment on participants’taste ratings, F(2.902,
4146.784) = 127.310, P<0.001, η
= 0.082 (Figure 3A)
Figure 2 Score sheet used in the two experiments reported here. This particular score sheet was used on the first 2 days (Experiment 1).
The order of the conditions was changed for the latter 2 days (Experiment 2).
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 4 of 12
and a taste by gender interaction, F(3, 4287) = 2.764, P=
= 0.002. According to the results of pairwise
comparisons, the participants rated the wine as tasting sig-
nificantly fresher in the green lighting/sour music environ-
ment than in any one of the other three environments (P
<0.001 for all comparisons). The wine was also rated as
tasting significantly fresher under white than under red
lighting (no matter whether or not the putatively ‘sweet’
music was playing in the background; P<0.001 for both
comparisons). In other words, compared to the white light-
ing baseline condition, green lighting brought out the wine’s
freshness, while the red lighting brought out the fruitier
notes in the wine. Pairwise comparisons on the interaction
term revealed that the male participants (M= 3.44) rated
the wine as significantly fresher under red lighting than did
the female participants (M=3.27,P= 0.046).
Figure 3 Mean ratings of taste (A), intensity (B) and liking (C) in Experiment 1. The error bars represent the standard error of the means.
The thicker line shows the environment being compared and the asterisks mark those comparisons that differed significantly (P<0.05).
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 5 of 12
There were significant main effects of the environ-
ment, F(2.970, 4309.665) = 31.342, P<0.001, η
0.021 (Figure 3B) and gender, F(1, 1451) = 4.448, P= 0.035,
= 0.003, on participants’flavour intensity ratings.
Pairwise comparisons revealed that the wine was rated as
tasting significantly less intense in the green lighting/sour
music environment than any of the other environments (P
<0.001, for all comparisons). In addition, the female par-
ticipants (M = 4.58) tended to rate the wine as more in-
tense than did the male participants (M = 4.47, P=0.035).
Analysis of participants’liking ratings (Figure 3C) re-
vealed significant main effects of environment, F(2.938,
4251.669) = 29.114, P<0.001, η
= 0.005, and gender,
F(1, 1447) = 12.225, P<0.001, η
= 0.008. According
to the results of pairwise comparisons, the wine was liked
more under red lighting combined with sweet music than
any of the other environments (P<0.001). Furthermore,
the participants also liked the wine significantly more
under red lighting and white lighting than under green
lighting combined with sour music (P<0.001). Pairwise
comparisons revealed that the male participants liked the
wine significantly more than did the female participants
(M=4.55vs. 4.33, respectively, P<0.001).
The results of Experiment 1 clearly demonstrate that the
sensory attributes of the environment in which people
taste a wine can indeed exert a significant influence over
their ratings (and hence also presumably on their per-
ception) of red wine (though see ). While tastes
undoubtedly differ [36,39], the general finding to emerge
from this first study is that the majority of the random
sample of participants (primarily social drinkers) preferred
the red wine (a Rioja) under red lighting while listening to
sweet music than in any of the other three environmental
conditions. That said, the addition of the sweet music
only had an effect on liking ratings. (We return to a fuller
discussion of this point in the General Discussion.)
Perhaps the key result to emerge from the analysis of
the data from Experiment 1 is that of the more than
1,500 people who tried the red wine under the four
atmospheric conditions, the general preference for the
wine was when tasted under red ambient lighting while
listening to the putatively sweet music. It is, however,
important to bear in mind here that the participants in
Experiment 1 experienced the four atmospheres in the
same order (white lighting, red lighting, green lighting
with sour music, and finally, red lighting with sweet
music). Hence, the possibility cannot be ruled out that
there might be some sort of order effects lurking in the
data. Consequently, in order to address this particular
concern we changed the order in which the colour/light
environments were presented in Experiment 2 (conducted
on the second 2 days of The Colour Lab).
Methods and materials
A total of 1,309 participants (719 women, 570 men and
20 who failed to specify) aged 18 to 84 years (M= 35.4,
SD = 11.9) took part in Experiment 2. Once again, 8% of
the questionnaire ratings were not completed and as a
consequence were excluded from the analysis. The design
of Experiment 2 was identical to that of Experiment 1 with
the sole exception that the four environments in which
the participants rated the wine were as follows: white
lighting, green lighting, red lighting with sweet music,
and, finally, green lighting with sour music. The analyses
were performed exactly as set out in Experiment 1.
Taste (fresh vs. fruity)
Once again, there was a significant main effect of the en-
vironment on participants’ratings, F(2.891, 3569.892) =
26.386, P<0.001, η
= 0.021 (Figure 4A). Pairwise
comparisons revealed that the participants rated the wine
as fresher when evaluated under green light/sour music,
as compared to the other environments (P<0.001), and as
fresher under white light as compared to red light and
sweet music (P<0.001). These results are consistent with
those of Experiment 1.
There were significant main effects of environment
(F(2.951, 3685.723) = 32.829, P<0.001, η
(Figure 4B) and gender (F(1, 1249) = 6.435, P= 0.011,
= 0.005). Pairwise comparisons revealed that
the wine was rated as tasting significantly more in-
tense under white lighting and red lighting with
sweet music, as compared to green lighting alone and
when paired with the sour music (P<0.001, for all com-
parisons). The participants also rated the wine as more in-
tense under green lighting as compared to green lighting
and sour music (P= 0.011). Additionally, the female par-
ticipants rated the wine as tasting more intense overall
than did the male participants (M=4.60 vs. 4.46, respect-
ively; P= 0.011). The patterns of results for intensity are
numerically very similar to those reported in Experi-
ment 1 (compare Figures 3B and 4B).
Analysis of the participants’liking ratings revealed signifi-
cant main effects of environment (F(2.933, 3672.711) =
49.204, P=0.001, η
= 0.038) (Figure 4C) and gender
(F(1, 1252) = 10.664, P=0.001, η
= 0.008), as well as
a significant interaction term (F(2.933, 3672.711) = 3.883,
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 6 of 12
= 0.003). Pairwise comparisons revealed
that the wine was liked significantly more when rated in
the red lighting/sweet music environment, as compared to
any of the other environment (all Ps <0.001). The partici-
pants also liked the wine more under white light than
under green lighting no matter whether the sour music
was playing (P<0.001). Pairwise comparisons revealed a
significant gender difference with the male participants
once again tending to like the wine more than the female
participants (M=4.57 vs. 4.36, respectively; P=0.001).
Post-hoc analysis of the gender by environment inter-
action revealed that men liked the wine more than did the
women in under white light (P<0.001), red light (P=
0.005) and green light/sour music (P=0.023).
Figure 4 Mean ratings of taste (A), intensity (B) and liking (C) in Experiment 2. The error bars represent the standard error of the means.
The thicker line shows the environment being compared and the asterisks mark those comparisons that differed significantly (P< 0.05).
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 7 of 12
Overall, the results of Experiment 2 replicate the find-
ings of Experiment 1 in showing that, on average, the
participants liked the wine significantly more under red
lighting when paired with sweet music than in any of the
other three environmental conditions.
The results of the two experiments reported here pro-
vide empirical support for Oberfeld et al.  claim
that the colour of the environment can influence people’s
(social drinkers in both studies) wine tasting experience.
In particular, our results demonstrate that the red wine
(a Campo Viejo Reserva 2008) was perceived as signifi-
cantly fresher and less intense under green lighting, as
compared to either red or white lighting. In both of the
experiments reported here, the red lighting tended to
bring out the fruitiness (as compared to the freshness) of
the red wine. Perhaps most importantly, the participants
liked the wine most under the red lighting while listening
to the sweet music in both experiments. Taken together,
these results demonstrate that the environment in which a
wine is tasted can indeed exert a significant influence on
the perception of wine (at least as indicated by the ratings
of a random sample of social drinkers)
To give an idea of the magnitude of the change in rat-
ings that were attributable to the change of environment,
the results reported here reveal a maximum increase of
0.6 points in a 7-point liking scale (or a 9% change) when
immersed in red lighting, with ‘sweet’sounding music
playing. People found the wine noticeably fresher and less
intense when tasted under green lighting with ‘sour’music
playing in the background. The increase in freshness
equated to a 1-point (or 14%) change, and the decrease
in intensity 0.6 points (a 9% drop), respectively, on the
7-point rating scales.
Explaining the impact of the environment on the wine
Having demonstrated that the visual, and to a lesser
extent the auditory, attributes of the environment can
affect the rating of wine by a random sample of social
drinkers, the question then arises as to what the mech-
anism mediating these effects might be. One possibility
here is that changes in ambient lighting, and/or changes
in the background sounds can elicit a change in saliva-
tion. Any such change might, in turn, be expected to
affect the taste of the wine . However, such an overt
orienting account  would seem unlikely given that
one of the only studies to have directly assessed the im-
pact of environmental lighting and sound on salivatory
flow  failed to document any significant effect of
changing the lighting from bluish-white to red, or pre-
senting the sound of wailing sirens, kitchen noises and
conversation, or silence on salivatory flow rates
Another potential mediator of the cross-modal effect
of the atmosphere on the wine tasting experience might
be the meaning and any associations conveyed by different
lighting colours (or types of music). In many contexts,
the colour red signals negative valence, danger/loss, and
has been linked to avoidance behaviour in humans .
Green, by contrast, has been associated with positive
valence, gains and approach behaviour. According to such
an account, it might seem surprising that red lighting led
to the highest liking ratings for the wine sampled in the
present study (see also [44,45], for suppressive effects of
red on consumption/usage).
It would, however, seem reasonable to assume that
environmental colour may be interpreted differently
depending on the particular situational context (for ex-
ample, ): While red and green may generally serve as
cues for negative and positive valence, respectively, context-
specific colour associations are likely to supersede such
general associations in food consumption settings .
Specifically, during food consumption, individuals may
draw upon red and green colours as indicators of likely
taste and flavour based on learned associations between
food colours and specific tastes. So, for example, redness
in fruit typically signals ripeness and a sweet taste,
whereas a green colour typically indicates unripe
and/or sour (and possibly bitter) fruits and vegetables
[4,16-19,21]. Red is obviously also a very successful
colour in the soft drinks aisle (think of Coca-Cola red).
Such cross-modal correspondences between basic tastes
and flavours on the one hand, and colours, sounds, shapes
and so on on the other have become a rapidly growing
area of interest for many researchers and marketers
As for the background music, it is worth mentioning
that that sharpness and roughness are inversely related
to sensory pleasantness . Hence, it is worth noting
that the ‘sour’music is likely to have been perceived as
less pleasant than the ‘sweet’music, at least based on the
predictions of psychoacoustic models of pleasantness. As
such, one could imagine a kind of ‘sensation transfer-
ence’effect [52-55] from people’s feelings about the
music (that is, like vs. dislike, or like less) carrying over
to influence their ratings of how much they liked the
wine. Importantly, such as account is based on the basic
response to the music rather than necessarily any fit be-
tween the music and the lighting. It should also be noted
that the ‘sour’music used in the present study was
higher in pitch than the ‘sweet’music. Previous research
has suggested that higher pitched sounds tend to be per-
ceived as colder, drier and harder than sounds having a
lower pitch [56,57]. These associations may have been
reflected in the different ratings of the wine. For ex-
ample, the fresh/fruity ratings may have been influenced
by the higher pitched notes of the sweet music. Future
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 8 of 12
research may aim to disentangle the effects of the differ-
ent attributes of a soundscape (that is, pitch, tempo,
identity) in the wine-drinking experience .
With this kind of research, where the participants were
obviously aware of what was being manipulated, namely
the music and the lighting, one should always consider
the extent to which people actually perceived the wine
to change its perceptual qualities on the one hand, versus
just changing the judgments that they made about the
experience on the other . One bit of evidence speaking
in favour of the former interpretation was the many infor-
mal/anecdotal comments from members of the public
who had been through the experience of The Colour Lab
(Table 1). One thing that was very noticeable subjectively
was how rapidly the taste/flavour of the wine seemed to
change following a change of the ambient lighting colour.
That said, it should be remembered that the participants
tasted from one and the same black wine glass throughout
the experiment. If anything, this is likely to have evoked a
unity assumption (namely a belief in the participants that
the taste of the drink was unlikely to change ). Should
the present experiment be repeated with different glasses
being handed out in each environment it is very well
possible that an even bigger effect of the atmosphere on
people’s wine ratings may be obtained. And following on
from the intriguing work of Litt and Shiv , one could
also think that it might be interesting to repeat the present
experiment after participants had been exposed to taste-
changing substances like miraculin.
One important caveat when it comes to interpreting
the results of the present study is that we cannot say
anything about how long-lasting the effects of environ-
mental changes on the wine tasting experience are. Note
that the participants were exposed to all four environ-
ments over a period of no more than 7 to 8 minutes.
Follow-up studies would therefore be needed before any-
thing concrete could be concluded about the long-term
effects of the environment on the experience of wine
(or any other food or drink product for that matter).
Further research is also needed to fully address the
question of how much of the effect of adding the music
changed in the presence versus absence of the congruent
lighting. There are now a growing number of studies
showing that what we hear can exert a significant impact
on what we taste [22,27,59]. Interestingly, the results of
five out of the six ratings in the presented study showed
significant differences as a function of whether or not
the congruent music was presented. Such results are
clearly inconsistent with a straight sensory (i.e., visual)
dominance account as outlined earlier. However, it is
difficult to say whether the auditory and visual environ-
mental cues combined in an additive vs. in a superadditive
manner without conducting further research. In particular,
one would need to compare a music-only versus amusic-
Table 1 85 participants responded to the questions
“What did you think of Campo Viejo’s Colour Lab? Has it
changed your taste perceptions?”and are presented here
Did you like the experiment/experience? Tell us about
1 A very interesting experience of taste and flavours. The
lighting was like going through the 4 seasons and gave
the wine a very different taste.
2 Absolutely. I now see why they make wine red.
3 Absolutely. Very surprised by changes.
4 Amazing experience (and I don't drink alcohol). Still don't
like wine, But loved to taste and feel the difference as a
scientific sensorial experience. And great to find I'm a
supertaster. Great host by the way!
5 Amazing. Very interesting. Would love to know results!
6 Brilliant experience. Loved it!!
7 Brilliant! Was a bit sceptical but it works!
8 Brilliant!! Definitely changed my perceptions. Who would
9 Brilliant, extremely interesting & something I had never
10 Cool experience. Let’s me understand more how your
environment can affect your taste buds.
11 Definitely. Fascinating experience.
12 Enjoyed it –Has definitely changed my perceptions on
13 Excellent, enlightening experience, something to think
14 Fantastic experience. Really interesting. Changed
15 Fascinating! Flavour/colour connection: The change was
instant. How curious!
16 Good fun…Interesting to see how colour and sound
changes taste and perception
17 Great & new ideas about taste experience relationship.
18 Great experience & really interesting. I am a chef - So
always curious about new taste experience. Keep me
19 Great experience. I didn't think the colour/sound would
alter my perception as much as that!
20 Great fun! Love red lights. Brought out flavour of berries.
21 Great idea & lovely staff.
22 I think this is something creative and different and totally
changed my taste perceptions.
23 I thought it was brilliant & really showed me the influence
of environment to taste as well as difference in each
person’s own taste.
24 I was mildly aware of sound and light changes but this
has confirmed it.
25 I'm amazed. I thought for me drinking it was mood
dependent. But now I think environment plays a big part
26 Incredibly interesting. I couldn't have expected such a
different change of taste.
27 Interesting science behind how taste can be influenced.
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 9 of 12
plus-lighting condition in order to determine the precise
nature of the interaction between auditory and visual en-
vironmental cues. Finally, it is also worth noting that using
musical selections that are even more strongly associated
with a particular taste than those used here might lead to
an even bigger contribution of auditory environmental
cues to the overall multisensory tasting experience.
Ultimately, we believe that results such as those
reported in the present study will feed into those who
Table 1 85 participants responded to the questions
“What did you think of Campo Viejo’s Colour Lab? Has it
changed your taste perceptions?”and are presented here
28 Interesting to see how colour effects your taste buds. Red
is my favourite.
29 It was a fun experience. I have never tried wines like this
30 It was a great and unexpected experience.
31 It was fantastic, Thank you.
32 Love the event. Love the wine anyways.
33 Loved it. Great experience. Can't believe how much taste
34 Loved it. Yes - An "eye opener".
36 Never realised how much colour and music could alter my
perception of wine.
37 OMG. Can’t believe it is same wine.
38 One of the funniest ways I’ve ever had to taste a wine!
Well done Campo Viejo!
39 Proved colour and sound does and can change your
40 Quite bizarre! Such different flavours!
41 Quite interesting. Thinking of changing my living room
lights and taste of music.
42 Really a new experience. Between the 5 trials the flavour
was completely different.
43 Really fun & interesting look forward to the results.
44 Really fun! Always loved this wine.
45 Really interesting experiment, love.
46 Really interesting. Defiantly change perception.
47 Really interesting. Maybe look at the shape of the glass
influencing. generally super interesting
48 Really made me think about the link between senses &
49 Refreshing experience and good for r&d.
50 Though provoking. Surprising.
51 Totally changed seeing how different environment
changes the taste. Really good!
52 V. interesting, totally surprised by the influence of the
53 Very cool, worth it! Yes very much so.
54 Very cool. Interesting! So many crushed grapes. Very, very
55 Very enjoyable yes defiantly noticed difference with/
56 Very good and amazing how colour changes taste. Would
really love to hear results.
57 Very interesting - colour certainly did change flavour for
58 Very interesting –next time I drink wine I shall pay more
attention to my surroundings.
59 Very interesting and unique experience.
Table 1 85 participants responded to the questions
“What did you think of Campo Viejo’s Colour Lab? Has it
changed your taste perceptions?”and are presented here
60 Very interesting. Definitely changed my perception.
61 Very interesting. The taste definitely changed with the
62 Very interesting. Need to always be in a red room.
63 Very interesting. Yes it has made me more aware of how
environment affects taste.
64 Very surprised at the degree of difference colour change
made. Less so w/sound. Thank you. V interesting.
65 Was very surprised at how I was affected by the colour.
66 Wow. Good stuff. Really enjoyed that one.
67 Yes –I knew it was the same wine yet colour changed my
opinion on how much I liked it.
68 Yes - interesting to learn about taste buds and the wine
69 Yes definitely. Don't know how but very good
experiments. Good luck with results. So many crushed
70 Yes indeed. Fascinating stuff. Will paint all my rooms red
71 Yes very good. May introduce colour at my next dinner
72 Yes! Interesting. Will use info in future dinner parties.
73 Yes, amazing experience.
74 Yes, great idea. Interested to know study results.
75 Yes, I didn't expect to taste much difference but I did.
76 Yes, I didn’t know just the atmosphere colour could
change the "taste" of a wine.
77 Yes, I didn't realise how visual taste was.
78 Yes, I liked the wine more with the music!!
79 Yes, it changed my taste perception. Interesting lab!! In all
colours change the perception –taste.
80 Yes, it is interesting how colours influence our perception.
81 Yes, it was a completely different wine with the different
82 Yes, loved it!
83 Yes, very good experience. Amazing how the same drink
tastes so different.
84 Yes. Fascinating.
85 Yes. I'm getting different lights in my home.
Spence et al. Flavour 2014, 3:8 Page 10 of 12
are interested in the delivery of immersive multisensory
tasting experiences (for example, ), as well perhaps
as helping those thinking about the optimal design of
the atmosphere for the on-premises drinks trade and
A large sample study on the influence of the multisen-
sory environment on the wine drinking experience is
reported. The results presented demonstrate that the
environment can exert a significant influence on the
perception (ratings) of wine, and provide relevant infor-
mation for both researchers and practitioners that are
interested in multisensory experience design. In particu-
lar, the wine was perceived as fresher and less intense
under green lighting and sour music and liked more
under red lighting while listening to sweet music. Fur-
ther research will undoubtedly be needed in order to
clarify the possible mechanisms for the effects reported.
Note that under such conditions, one can be sure that
changing the colour of the ambient lighting does not
affect the visual appearance of the drink itself (at least
for transparent drinks like wine), since the drink looks
jet black within the tasting glass. Hence, any effect that
remains under such conditions can undoubtedly be at-
tributed to the change in the ambient lighting.
Oberfeld et al.  argued that this may have been a
result of the difference between the participants that
they tested in the two studies.
We assessed any difference between female and male
participants on the ratings of the tasting strip in Experi-
ments 1 and 2 by means of a paired-samples t-test.
Overall, the women rated the tasting strip as signifi-
cantly more bitter (M= 5.99, SD = 3.8) than did the men
(M=5.55, SD =3.7), t(2719) = -3.025, P=0.003. Note that
this kind of sex difference has frequently been reported in
the literature (for example, ).
Note that we did not have any clear predictions about
the influence of gender, if any, on participants’responses.
However, given that we had such a large dataset, and given
that there are well-documented gender differences in
taster status (for example, ), we thought it worthwhile
to add this factor to the analysis.
In other words, if you do not like the wine that you
happen to be drinking, you might try changing the
environment, be it the colour of the lighting or the
music playing in the background.
It is, however, perhaps worth noting that only 12 par-
ticipants were tested, and hence further research with a
much larger sample is probably needed before unequivo-
cally ruling out a salivatory contribution to the influence
of lighting and sound on taste perception.
One might speculate as to whether the congruency
between the red lighting and the assumed, if not seen,
redness of the wine in the glass may have played any role
in driving up the participants’liking ratings. Specifically,
the cognitive processing of the putatively red wine com-
bined with the red lighting may have been, in some
sense, more fluent .
Funding for this study came from Campo Viejo and Pernod Ricard.
CS developed the idea of the research project. CS contributed to the data
for Experiments 1 and 2. KK and collaborators provided the auditory stimuli
for use in Experiments 1 and 2. CS, CV and KK conducted the analysis and
interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. All authors approved
the final version.
The authors would like to thank Klangerfinder GmbH for allowing us to use
the sweet and sour sounds in the present study. The authors would also like
to thank Campo Viejo and Pernod Ricard for generously supporting The
Colour Lab. Logistical support for the event was expertly handled by Miss
Jones and Co.
CS is supported by the Rethinking the Senses grant from the AHRC. Carlos
Velasco would like to thank COLFUTURO, Colombia, for financial support
toward his PhDs.
Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology,
University of Oxford, 9 South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.
of Marketing, BI Norwegian Business School, Nydalsveien 37, Oslo 0484,
Received: 6 June 2014 Accepted: 14 July 2014
Published: 1 October 2014
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Cite this article as: Spence et al.:A large sample study on the influence
of the multisensory environment on the wine drinking experience.
Flavour 2014 3:8.
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