Better with a Pop- The Grand Cork Experiment

The debate between natural cork and screwcaps is an on-going one. But here’s a little insight into an interesting experiment which was conducted on a group of 140 wine drinkers who volunteered to find out more. 

The Grand Cork Experiment, designed by Professor Charles Spence, of Oxford University, confirms the sensory benefits of cork-sealed wines.

We all know how a cork’s unique popping sound gets our taste buds racing as we anticipate a delicious glass of wine.

But this reaction has never previously been scientifically tested and quantified.

The Grand Cork Experiment – Neuroenological Tasting – designed by Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research laboratory, offered a unique immersive wine-tasting experience.

The ground breaking trial was organized by world-renowned multi-sensory food architects and experience design studio, Bompas & Parr, in collaboration with the Portuguese Cork Association and held in Soho, London in July 2017.

The experiment compared the impact on the wine tasting experience of removing a wine cork as compared to twisting a screwcap and tested how the sounds, aromas, and sensations associated with opening a wine bottle trigger our brains and influence our taste buds.

140 volunteers were asked to enter the Experiment Chamber, visible from the street via a giant window, and were asked to sit in a specially designed chair and put on headphones.

Before sampling each of four wines, served in identical pairs, participants were played the sound of a popping cork or a twisted screwcap and then asked to rate the wine in terms of its quality, intensity and celebratory mood.

State-of-the-art brain activity monitors were used to test how visitors’ senses are triggered by the rituals associated with wine drinking.

Hosted in a beautiful cork-clad lounge, the experiment enabled the participants to sample fine wines and test how different aromas impact the taste of wines, as well as creating personalised cork wine stoppers to take home with them.

In preparation for the final test participants had to stimulate their senses of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight by taking part in various experiences: such as drinking a mixture of malic acid and water, placing their hands in a bowl filled with glass stones,

listening to white noise through headphones, and undergoing an “eye massage” by placing vibrating pads next to the eyes.

The results were disclosed in September and unequivocally demonstrated that wine corks play a key part of the sensorial experience of wine drinking.

Comparison of the results from each wine when served after removing a cork or twisting open a screwcap, revealed that on average participants rated cork-sealed wines as having 15% better quality, being 20% more appropriate for a celebration and 16% more inciting of a celebratory mood.

Professor Charles Spence commented: “Our senses are intrinsically linked – what we hear, see and feel has a huge effect on what we taste. The sound and sight of a cork being popped will set our expectations before the wine has even touched our lips, and these expectations then anchor our subsequent tasting experience.

These results emphasise the importance of closures for wine, and the clear association between cork and quality in our subconscious.”

The cork vs screwcap debate has raged in the wine industry for decades, with experts, sommeliers, and producers from across the world deeply divided in their opinions. This experiment is the first empirical demonstration that a cork closure delivers a more positive drinking experience.

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