In life, it seems like there are some debates that are simply unsolvable. If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Does wine taste better when bottled with a cork or screw cap?

Luckily, at least as it pertains to the latter question, there might soon actually be a definitive answer, thanks to neuroscience. A team of researchers with Oxford University in collaboration with the Portuguese Cork Association are going to subject individuals to a brain scan while they sip on different wines. It's all part of an effort to determine if there is a neurological preference for one type of wine storage method over the other, reports

The event, Neuroenological Tasting-- The Grand Cork Experiment, will seek to remove the influence of subjective bias from the heated debate. (In case you're wondering, "neuroenology" is the study of how the brain creates the taste of wine... yes, there's actually a word for that.)

Obviously, any debate that revolves around taste is going to have a subjective element. What tastes good to one person might be disgusting to another. But the debate about how wine tastes when corked or screw capped is also steeped in a cognitive-historical context that goes beyond taste. Traditionalists might prefer corked wine because that's the convention. Similarly, perhaps some people are bothered by the extra effort that uncorking a bottle requires compared to the screw cap. So while this experiment can't remove simple tasting bias, it can at least reduce the issue to taste in a way that mere taste-testing cannot.

For the experiment, sensors will be placed on the heads of taste testers while they sip. The sensors will monitor brain pleasure responses and translate them into numbers that can be used for comparison purposes. The data analysis will look for ways that the subjects' brains register their tasting experiences that go beyond simple taste. For instance: Does hearing the cork pop have a neurological effect? What about participating in opening the bottle? How does smell differ after the bottle is opened? Do different types of cork matter?

At the very least, the test should determine if anyone is allowing their preconceived biases about corking or capping to influence their experience. Does the pleasure response really change when tasting wine that's been corked versus capped? It's the ultimate lie detector.

Regardless of how the taste test pans out, there are some facts about wine storage that might need to be factored in as well. For instance, corked wine spoils easier. Twenty percent of all corked wine is lost to taint. But capped wines can't breathe, which can effect how they age. So there are pros and cons to both storage methods even if you don't factor in taste.

Perhaps the experiment will only enliven the debate. Wine drinkers are already prone to pontification; factor in neuroscience and the wine-talk might only become more convoluted. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the results show.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Should wine be bottled with a cork or screw cap? Debate to be decided by neuroscience
Taste tests are biased, but brain scans don't lie.