The Digital Future of Wine
The new frontier of digitization is in your mouth. Taste is no longer an elusive metric; it’s a quantifiable piece of data that can inform business decisions. There’s even an emerging niche for software that can make these data points actionable. Vivanda, for one, has introduced unique “FlavorPrint” technology, which uses machine learning algorithms that analyze aroma, taste, and texture variables to match a consumer’s preferences with any recipe, beverage, or food product. Using this technology, Vivanda provides data-driven, context-sensitive insights to the food and beverage industries, enabling them to reach an unprecedented level of personalization for their customers.
But what about wine?
There hasn’t been much talk about how software like Vivanda’s can revolutionize the wine industry. But it’s arguably the industry that can benefit most, because wine is all about aroma, taste, and texture.
Tasting notes are ubiquitous—and at this point parodic—in wine. Marketers love them, customers depend on them, and bloggers lampoon them. But what they really boil down to is a list of words describing an individual’s perception of a particular wine. And because perception, especially in wine, is subjective, this list can get a bit out of hand.
You wouldn’t say that a piece of chicken tastes or smells like anything other than chicken. But you might say that a glass of Zinfandel tastes or smells like any or all of the following: raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, black cherry, briar, anise, black licorice, nettle, cinnamon, and black pepper. The level of detail in wine description is extremely fine, and a descriptor like raspberry can be further sliced into clarifications like fresh raspberry, dried raspberry, or raspberry jam. Wine descriptors go beyond the realm of the edible, too, with words and phrases like tar, wet cement, garden hose, and petroleum.
The database of words describing food may be immense, but wine’s is bigger. Accordingly, it demands powerful algorithmic technology to make it usable.
One company that’s taking a taste-targeted approach to wine is Bright Cellars. Started by two MIT graduates with a passion for wine and technology, Bright Cellars is a monthly wine subscription service that matches wine drinkers of any experience level with wines they’ll love. Subscribers take a quiz to determine their taste palate, the results of which are put through a propriety algorithm that uses 18 attributes to determine a suitable bottle of wine. After tasting the wine, subscribers give it a rating, which Bright Cellars uses to further narrow the list of bottles the subscriber might like.
It’s relatively rudimentary—essentially Pandora for wine—but it points to an emerging niche in wine. By digitizing taste, the wine industry can perhaps shed its pretentious label and empower the less informed of its consumer base to make better and more confident wine buying decisions.