Gimme That Snickers Syrah!!
I hope I’ll be forgiven, in this case, of trying to figure out what utility an "Electronic Tongue" able to identify a wine and it’s chemical make up has for my own life and career. As it turns out, I can already identify what’s in a wine pretty much by looking at the label on the wine. So what’s in it for me, a lowly wine PR dude and wine drinker?
To be sure, I understand what the scientists find exciting about this and Dr.Ebeler from UC Davis states it nicely: "One of the most interesting aspects is the ability to predict sugar,
acid and alcohol content using sensors that are not specifically
sensitive to these components."
Further, I understand what those 8 or 9 people in the world willing to pay a million dollars for an ancient bottle of wine see as this e-Nose’s utility. And yes, it will be nice to have a simply, cheap way to determine the identity of a wine (or its fraudulent nature) if you happen to trade in wines that tend to be counterfeited regularly.
But what about me? Will I need a portable e-Tongue in my life?
I’m not sure yet. I do know I would not want one if it could not use it to identify the different varieties in a blended wine. I had an email conversation with one of the e-Tongue project’s researchers, Celiea Jimenez, to determine if the e-Tongue was capable of doing this. In short, they aren’t sure. Damn!
So, while I can’t quite find any particular utility for the e-Tongue as currently configured, that’s not to say I’m some sort of Vinious Luddite. Because here’s the devise I really want: A portable machine that can interpret a uniquely coded, e-mailable file that is a digital representation of the aroma of a specific wine and produce that wine’s unique aroma for me to examine through my own nose. I want an e-Nose! And damn the consequences!!
What consequences? Well, first, consider the utility to someone like me. I estimate that over the last 20 years I’ve sent or arranged to be sent more than 3,000 bottles of wine out to writers and reporters and bloggers as media samples. That cost my clients a lot, it cost our planet a lot, and it’s not fun to do as far as projects go. What if I could just email Robert Parker, Jim Laube, Eric Asimov, Tyler Colman, Dr. Debs, and others an electronic sample of my client’s new wine??? They could sit at their desk and quickly evaluate the aromatic qualities not just of my clients’ wines, but of hundreds of wines at a sitting.
And consider the marketing potential of an e-Nose. I imagine the same e-Nose Aroma Synthesizer sitting in grocery stores across the country (except in TN) where customers choose the wine they are considering purchasing, pushing a button, then pushing their nose into a tube to inhale the glorious aromas of a 2007 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ("Mmmmm Gooseberry and Cat Pee!!!!", said the shopper.).
The problem, or consequences, of course is that easy and cheap delivery of aroma would lead to the necessity felt by many marketers and producers to exaggerate their product’s aroma…to make it stand out beyond the other typical wines that consumers would inevitably, once they start sniffing synthetic aromas 20 at a time, come to find incredibly similar.
This compulsion to stand out would inevitably lead producers to
offer "Chocolate Merlot", Cranberry Chardonnay, "Calvin Klein Cabernet"
and "Snickers Syrah". And is that so bad?
The electronic tongue may support the suspicion that a portion of wine makers and wine rats out there may have crappy palates – despite their professional training.