Could furry wine glasses be the future?

21st January, 2016 by Patrick Schmitt

Forget the shape of stemware on a wine drinker’s experience, it’s glass texture that’s the new focus of research, according to Professor Charles Spence, an expert in multisensory perception.

Glass textureSpence, who is a leading experimental psychologist and the director of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, told the drinks business this morning that he is currently exploring the impact of different stemware textures on people’s experience of drinks.

“We are playing a lot with texture and feel, for example, glassware manufactured with textured rims or lips,” he said, as well as looking at “things you feel while you are tasting”.

The new emphasis follows extensive work with leading chefs, where Spence has found that touching different fabrics can affect the taste sensations of diners.

Experiments using a range of fabric swatches have been shown to enhance certain traits in dishes, changing the way the food both feels and tastes, according to Spence.

For example, at Heston Blumenthal’s recently re-opened Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, a pudding featuring orange blossom and meringue called Counting Sheep comes with a furry spoon, no doubt to accentuate the fluffy texture of the food.

Professor Spence

Professor Spence

While top mixologist Tony Conigliaro is trialling customised cocktail glasses to influence the experience of his drinks, using the likes of rope wrapped around the glasses’ stems to bring a different sensation to the glass, and ultimately, the cocktail itself.

When it comes to wine, Spence told db, “We are looking at the moment whether the feel of different fabric swatches might affect the language used to describe red wines, so whether we see textural terms, like velvety, and if we can enhance them.”

Taking this further, he said that glasses can be etched or bevelled to alter their texture, although for “simple demonstrations”, Spence said that he’s wrapping various drinking vessels with sand paper to explore the influence of texture on the drinker’s experience.

Although Spence’s research is new, an investigation into the influence of texture on taste is not, and Italian 1930’s futurist Filippo Tommasi Marinetti explored the concept with his “Tactile dinner parties”, where guests would wear pajamas covered in different materials and eat from bowls with textured coverings.

Counting Sheep

The Fat Duck’s ‘Counting Sheep’. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

“People were doing this a century ago,” recorded Spence, referring to Marinetti, although he said that today there is a major difference – the food is much better.

“Now we think we can deliver the best products on the plate and in the glass so the focus is on the other sensory cues that can enhance the experience,” he summed up.

Spence will be exploring the influence of light and sound on the wine buying and drinking experience at the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) in Brighton, England, on 26-28 May this year.

For the full list of speakers click here.

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