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On Tasting
Electronic Experts Give Wine Advice
Monday, 15th June, 2009  - David Farmer
More Mumbo Jumbo form the wine trade.

When I first became enthralled with the power of computers decades ago I talked to a learned scientist in this field about what it meant for the future and after a few moments of reflection he looked closely at me and said; 'Remember, you put bull s..t in, you get bull s..t out'. You will be aware of similar remarks.

The giant U.K. supermarket chain Tesco is trialing a Virtual Wine Advisor which I'm informed will act like an electronic sommelier. International Supermarket News (14th May) report the following: "Located in the wine aisle, the touch screen application gives customers expert recommendations on which wine to choose to go with the meal they are planning - taking the mystery out of wine and food matching... Customers will also be able to search for wine by country, colour, style and price, and can get access to further information on a bottle of wine simply by scanning the bottle's bar code."

You get the drift.

Andrew Gale, Tesco BWS Category Technical Manager, said: "We know our customers are really interested in exploring new types of wine, but they want to make sure they're getting a wine that will suit them, at the right price. The Virtual Wine Advisor is an exciting new piece of technology that takes the guesswork out of choosing wine and will give customers the confidence to try out wines they wouldn't normally choose."

I take a contrary view as it will do nothing of the sort - the problem goes back to who puts what information in and which self appointed expert do we have this time.

Let's take matching wine with food - perhaps the simplest of our problems. I gave up on this decades ago. If there is a secret I've yet to find it and the best that can be said is the stronger the food, possibly the stronger the wine. Match what you like - who cares, just make sure you have a glass in your hand. Next we must deal with the question - what actually would I like to drink tonight? Price will be foremost in your mind but after that, how's a bloody machine meant to help.

A machine might select your seat on a plane but it sure won't promote you to first class. The point of wine is that it is not safe. It's not completely predictable. I thought that's what we liked about it. And all wine is qualified in one way or another. What you like at the moment another person does not like.

But I accept I might be completely wrong and the machine will be a big hit. Consider this though. Robert Booth reported in the Guardian, 18th April that some U.K. supermarket chains taste wines according to the moon cycles.

"The idea that the taste of wine changes with the lunar calendar is gaining credibility among the UK's major retailers, who believe the day, and even hour, on which wine is drunk alters its taste. Tesco and its rival Marks & Spencer, which sell about a third of all wine drunk in Britain, now invite critics to taste their ranges only at times when the biodynamic calendar suggests they will show at their best...

"...The calendar has been published for the last 47 years by a gardening great-grandmother called Maria Thun, who lives in rural Germany. She categorises days as "fruit", "flower", "leaf" or "root", according to the moon and stars. Fruit and flower are normally best for tasting, and leaf and root worst."

So now we have to add this to our wine advisor. And when you press the help button it will say, 'anything you buy will not taste correctly until the next fruit day which is in three days time. We advise not to drink any wine until then - have a good day'.

Ah! the mumbo jumbo that is the wine trade. Who would want it any other way?

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