Does the pop of a cork affect our perception of wine quality?

28th July, 2017 by Patrick Schmitt

‘The Grand Cork Experiment’ was launched last night in London to find out whether the pop of a cork really does affect our perception of wine quality.

Does the pop of a cork affect our perception of wine quality?

Employing ‘sensory architects’ Bompas & Parr, and funded by the The Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR), a space in Soho was transformed into a laboratory to test whether the pop of a cork had a more positive impact on the wine tasting experience than the click of a screwcap.

In a room lined with red felt, visitors were placed in a chair and given headphones, before being asked to rate four wines according to their quality, intensity and how much they invoked a feeling of celebration.

Importantly, the wines were served in pairs, and before each one was sampled, the taster was played either the sound of a cork popping, or a screwcap being twisted open.

With 300 people due to pass through the Soho-based cork experiment, it is hoped that collating the test results from each one of them will provide an indication as to whether the sound made by opening a wine sealed with cork makes a wine taste better, and your mood more celebratory.

Or, in the words of APCOR chairman, João Rui Ferreira, who was present at last night’s launch, “We hope to bring some science to the preference for wines sealed with cork from consumers all over the world.”

In a room lined with red felt, visitors were asked to rate four wines according to their quality, intensity and how much they invoked a feeling of celebration

Continuing, he told the drinks business that he wants to prove that the pop of a cork improves your drinking experience. “We think the sound of a cork popping makes you perceive that the wine is better,” he said.

Also in attendance last night was Carlos de Jesus from Amorim, which, as the world’s largest cork producer, was a further sponsor of the experiment.

Speaking to db at the event, he stressed the powerful and positive impact of cork on the wine drinker, not just due to the sound it makes when the stopper is removed from a bottle, but also because of “the haptic qualities of cork”.

He also highlighted the benefit of this for the wine industry.

“You see drinks companies spending millions to create something special at the time of consumption, but the wine industry has that embedded in the packaging, and we want to draw attention to the positive impact of wines sealed with cork,” he said.

Continuing, he urged db to consider “the cultural weight” that comes with the pop of a cork, which, he added, was a sound that “permeates western and eastern cultures”, while also being one that’s universally associated with “happiness”.

In short, he said, “That pop means a lot more than we give it credit for”.

He then commented, “We spend a lot of time discussing the negatives of cork, but not enough time discussing the positives, and unless we consider these too, we are not getting the full picture.”

The Grand Cork Experiment is influenced by research from experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence, of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, which looks at how our senses of touch, sound and sight influence our experiences of food and drink.

Bompas & Parr has taken this research a step further at the temporary installation, by using state-of-the-art brain activity monitors to test how visitors’ senses are triggered by the rituals associated with wine drinking.

TheGrand Cork Experiment began last night, where 100 drinks professionals and press were said to take part in the research, which took place at 15 Bateman Street in Soho.

The experiment will continue throughout the weekend, and the London-based venue plans to see 200 pre-registered people pass through its doors.

The Grand Cork Experiment is part of a €7.8 million global project to promote cork by APCOR, with these funds being spent on a range of initiatives running from January this year until mid-2018.

As much as €1m has been committed to marketing cork in the UK because the country is “a big wine influencer”, according to APCOR’s Ferreira.

The UK has been granted the second largest promotional budget by the organisation after the US, where €2m is being spent on raising awareness of cork’s special properties – although APCOR is not planning to take The Grand Cork Experiment across the pond.

To see inside The Grand Cork Experiment, click here.

8 Responses to “Does the pop of a cork affect our perception of wine quality?”

  1. When I open a bottle of wine, I like to feel I am participating in a centuries-old experience, not a functional modern alternative. Exchanging the traditional cork for a screwcap is like swapping shoelaces for Velcro.The gentle ‘pop’ is an audible stimulus to the tastebuds like the ringing of Pavlov’s bell? And an opportunity to demonstrate my finesse and flourish with the Waiter’s Friend.

    As long as a bottle contains a cork, it lies somewhere on a spectrum topped by the finest wines in the world; whereas a screwcap indicates the depressing practicality of an electric car.

    • chester says:

      Perhaps You should also not have a smartphone, but communicate through a telegram?
      The ‘depressing practicality’ of an electric car is great for the planet to begin with, but have you actually had a pleasure of driving one? What’s so depressing about it?
      And God forbid paying with “plastic”, huh? I mean, the FEEL OF MONEY..

  2. Glugger says:

    Shouldn’t your headline have read: “Cork company who are shelling out 7.8 million euros to try and persuade punters, who these days couldn’t really give a toss, that cork is better than screwcap in ‘cork is better than screwcap’ shocker”?

  3. ravi singh says:

    A very valuable experiment, wonder what the outcome will be? It’s worth noting different corks have a different pop sound which definitely adds to the mystique, particularly when dinning.

  4. The sound of a cork coming out of a bottle is OK. I’d be happy to listen to it through speakers. It is the thought that the tree bark is coming out of MY bottle, and that it might be leaky or affected by TCA that puts me off.

  5. Nick Reynolds says:

    As Gligger says above, it the “experiment” is funded by a vested interest doesn’t this make the whole exercise a marketing campaign rather than an objective scientific exploration?

    Let’s try the same experiment in Australia or New Zealand where screwcaps are the norm and see what happen: I suspect, however, that this wouldn’t be something that APCOR would want to fund.

  6. Rambler says:

    Yet another PR exercise for the cork industry, this time an experiment that proves absolutely nothing. Coming from a country where a screw cap is seen as a guarantee of quality, expression of terroir and reliability, and where consumers are informed by knowledge of what’s in the bottle rather than tradition, the results here would be very different. Each year I open hundreds of wines under both closures, and the depressing incidence of TCA taint and oxidation due to cork seals continues. My experience is that cork has cleaned up its act a bit in recent years, and Diam corks have helped that, but recent bottles ruined by TCA/cork issues have included a Roederer Cristal 1996, a Chateau Margaux 1995 and so it goes. A good bottle under cork is a good bottle indeed, but if I were a customer choosing a bottle at retail level I would always opt for a screw cap given the choice. I speak from 40 years’ experience in the wine industry.

  7. SJR says:

    I agree with Rambler’s suggestion that the cork producing industry has cleaned up their proverbial act, there are still flaws to all closures. There are always going to be studies that show the psychological/cognitive impact of the sound of a cork coming out of a bottle, which is the reason for this study. A secondary purpose is of course use of the right type of cork. If the study (big if) was neutral in terms of the outcomes of the study, then it should not be a surprise that wine drinkers enjoy the anticipatory sound of a cork being popped out of a bottle, be it Champagne or still wine. We all know that cork allows oxygen to enter the bottle and the sulfites to slowly escape, which in turn allows wine to age correctly, something stelvin caps are just starting to do, versus the older stelvin caps. To discuss Rambler’s note on Diam corks, while good, are not innocent of creating side affects to the wine, e.g., ATB or a-typical bitterness. The issue with ATB, unlike TCA is that wines that use the DIAM corks are all going to have ATB, versus wines that exhibit TCA, are usually one out of twelve wines, and more easily detected than those using the DIAM corks.

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