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Put a cork in it

The pop of a cork is a celebrated sound across the world, but new research released today has found that the sound of a cork popping can actually make us think our wine tastes better.

The first of its kind, the study was designed by Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research laboratory, and looked to test whether the sound and sight of a cork-stopped and screwcaped wine being opened would influence the perception of the wine inside the bottle.

140 participants were asked to try two identical wines, and give them ratings after having been played the sound of a cork popping, then again after having heard a screwcap being opened. They were then asked to actually open both bottles and rate the wines again.

Overall, participants rated the same wine as 15% better quality when served under a cork than a screwcap. The wine under a cork was also rated as more appropriate for a celebration (+20%) and more inciting of a celebratory mood (+16%).

Professor Charles Spence, comments: “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 sets 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 provides a more positive drinking experience.

Some wine experts have criticised cork due to the occurrence of the chemical compound TCA, but huge advancements in technology in recent years have brought the number of wines affected by the chemical down to between 0.8 to 1.2%. As such, top winemakers across the world are increasingly choosing cork as their closure of choice, with 7 out of 10 wine bottles now sealed with a natural cork. 

Cork stoppers are the most famous product of the cork industry, with more than 12 billion bottles of wine closed every year with cork. The cork stopper has been the closure par excellence of wine for many years due to its unique properties – helping to best preserve the natural characteristics of wine as well as offering a quality, premium wine drinking experience. The environmental benefits of cork stoppers, which are natural, re-usable and recyclable, have also contributed to it being the closure of choice for over 70% of wine producers.

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27 September 2017 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, Editor in Chief