The science of wine

a wine glassA story I posted last year purported that wine experts were easily hornswoggled into thinking white wine is red. This seems to confirm many peoples’ suspicions that wine tasting is an entirely subjective experience, or at least that the visual component is much more important than we would predict.

A recent study shows that wine actually attacks more parts of the brain than just those used for taste and smell. In a connoisseur, wine tasting triggers mid-frontal cortex activity, the same area used for language and recognition. For those in the trade, this adds to the argument that tasting can be a highly objective experience:

“This is fantastic,” says Andrea Sturniolo, one of the sommeliers who participated in the study. He feels that it vindicates the skill of “breaking down the many tastes of a wine”.

My mother works for a winery in Carmel Valley (Bernardus, for those interested), which along with every other wine company is pandering to the results cast down by the Wine Spectator. Until recently, it was believed that their scores were highly subjective and political even. But a company by the name of Enologix has taken the process of score prediction to a scientific front.

Using chemical data from past wines and their complementary Wine Spectator scores, Enologix has trained some machine learning system to predict the outcome of new wines. They claim upwards of 90% accuracy in scoring any wine sample, which suggests, along the recent psychological study, that the tasters at the Spectator are recognizing good wine based on some objective measures. Wine makers use the Enologix system to score their wines while still in the barrel, allowing them to optimally blend for the best possible score.

Ananova: Wine experts fooled into thinking white wine is red
Nature: Wine tasting takes brains
Enologix: QMS Reports

4 thoughts on “The science of wine

  1. Enologix has two core inventions, quality metrics and software. Clearly the metrics came first. The company developed a way of tracking the California regional winemakers’ quality. Next, knowing the algorithm for quality they created software that says which winemaking is linked to quality, and more important how to simulate blends. So Enologix breakthrough is no different than other software, wordprocessors, photoshop, etc. which is helping artists—writiers, photographers, illustrators, architects, and now winemakers. Way cool way to protect the art of winemaking.

  2. I’m always impressed at the power weblogs have to seek out information. I can’t believe that one post about Enologix brings in someone from the company.. I’m interested in how you found this post.

    I also think that the description of the product as a design tool for wine makers is fascinating. I wonder if people can recognize the influence of digital tools on wine design.. will there be a flash revolution in the wine industry?

  3. I find it rather disingenous of the Enologix poster to liken their “system” to a wordprocessor. If it were a more accurate analogy, then the wordprocessor would be telling the writer that his prose needed to “drain down” a bit or that Pulitzer wouldn’t happen.

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