Rapidly advancing technology is increasingly allowing wine-makers to improve the quality of their products. New reports show that recently, an ‘electronic tongue’ was created which can determine the age and quality of wine on an industrial scale, ensuring customers receive high quality bottles.
This ‘electronic tongue’ was invented by researchers from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute, with the team being led by Research Associate Dr Xavier Ceto Alseda. The team claim that this device, which is made from gold, platinum and carbon electrodes, can accurately determine the age and quality of wine, even showing the type of barrel it was aged in.
Specifically, the device creates a unique “fingerprint” for each wine, by measuring the electrochemical signals of sugars, phenolic compounds and other compounds present in the drink. Industry publication The Drinks Business writes that this electronic tongue analyses the overall combination of compounds found in the wine. Explaining, Ceto said: “It mimics the process of tasting, where the different sensations perceived (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami) are combined by your brain.”
Testing the device
The electronic tongue was trialled with eight sommeliers and 52 Catalonian red wines. They asked the sommeliers to award the wines a score out of ten, which they then calibrated to the fingerprints of said wines produced by the electronic tongue. This allowed them to develop a model which can accurately forecast the sommelier’s ratings in other wines by analysing their fingerprint, making the electronic tongue the first ever device that can accurately predict sommelier taste perceptions.
The researchers have big plans for their electronic tongue. They want to trial it on a much larger scale, hoping to illustrate that it has the ability to end the need for sommeliers to tastes numerous wines in a single sitting. Explaining, Ceto said: “You can’t have a person tasting 100 wines per day, so this sensor may be able to help screen them.” This could prove useful, as critics have often argued that tasting many wines in one sitting can prove ineffective, due to the limits of one’s tasting ability.
So this electronic tongue could prove a revolutionary device, allowing producers to improve wine quality, but it has limitations. The University of Queensland’s Heather Smyth, for instance, argues that electronic tongues will probably never be able to replicate human taste perfectly. Elaborating, she said: “The human senses – smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight – all work together in a very complex way to deliver messages to our brain about the qualities of food and beverages we consume.”
“Emotion, psychology, past memories and experiences all influence these perceptions and contribute to our perception of flavour – no instrument can possibly replace that.” Smyth reminds us of an important truth. The ability to taste wine like an expert is an art form. You need to devote serious effort to learn this skill, especially when it comes to luxury vintages like the Chateau Lafleur 1990, a fine Bordeaux red you can buy from Ideal Wine Company, as they boast delicately balanced flavours.
This electronic tongue is an interesting innovation, as it could allow producers to refine their methods. But it will change little for average wine drinkers. In order to determine the age and quality of wine,
there really is no substitute for the human drinker, who can use their physical, mental and emotional attributes to figure out which wines they like, based on their personal preferences.