Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Bionic Nose

Researchers at Virginia Tech are experimenting to determine whether the electronic nose (hereafter referred to as the nose) is a valid tool for wine discrimination and analysis. The test involved wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that had received different doses of pre-harvest/post-bloom aqueous ethanol treatments which increase flavor and aroma development. The purpose was to see whether the nose could tell them apart: It could. The nose didn’t do any better than chemical analysis but it is supposedly cheaper—promising results for the nose. Meanwhile, the panel of sensory testers (ordinary human noses) could not detect the difference...

All this makes me wonder: How did the wine industry come up with the chemical/olfactory quality benchmarks that are used to evaluate wine? I could be wrong but, I’m guessing the benchmarks came from wines that are known by human experience to be exceptional. In other words, people decide what’s good wine not some bomb-sniffing machine. But, you say, “wine-makers utilize chemical analysis to evaluate wines everyday—it’s a tool of the trade—quality assurance.” I can’t deny that. I just don’t think that hitting your mark for pH, TA, alcohol, etc is all there is to creating a great wine. It’s more of a guideline to quote a certain Disney pirate. Wine is subjective and should be subjective—just like life. Usually it’s the surprises that make it worthwhile.