Cork or Screwcap? New Oxford Study Adds Fuel To The Debate

Cork or screwcap? This has been a hotly debated question which many winemakers have asked themselves when bottling their wine. Recently, Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory looked to test whether the sound and sight of a cork-stopped and screw-capped 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 who designed the study, 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 emphasize the importance of closures for wine, and the clear association between cork and quality in our subconscious.”

The cork versus screwcap debate has raged in the wine industry for decades, with experts, sommeliers and producers from across the world deeply divided in their opinions. While some wine experts have criticized cork due to the occurrence of the chemical compound TCA, the compound responsible for “corked wine” advancements in technology in recent years have brought the number of wines affected by TCA down to between 0.8% and 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.

The argument for using a screwcap instead of a cork usually comes down to a few reasons. Screwcaps are not susceptible to “corked” bottles. A bad shipment of corks can have a large financial impact on small wineries.  Screwcaps are easier to open and more convenient and they are typically less expensive for wineries.

There is an inherent allure and ceremony of opening a bottle of wine using a corkscrew, but the ease and convenience of a screwcap has its upside. The psychological perception of screwcaps may change over time. After all, we should care more about what’s inside the bottle than the bottle closure itself.

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