GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – This is almost as bad as getting an e-mail saying you’ve lost your job. Those of us who thoroughly enjoy tasting and judging wines at international competitions were in for a shock this morning when the Swiss government’s federal research station at Waedenswil announced dire news.
The electronic nose it’s been testing, called SMart Nose, is giving positive results.
They tried to tell us gently by using the somewhat off-putting example of spinach juice (you read that right), pointing out that consumers won’t buy something unfamiliar or strange-smelling to them, so industry must use “noses”, professionals with a good sense of smell who use precise sensorial analyses, to determine what works and what doesn’t.
The idea is to help development new products while also checking on existing products.
The food industry, with large-scale production, spends a good deal of money using human noses for this work.
But the research station has been using the new SMart Nose, developed by Swiss company VOCScan AG, to test spinach juice. The idea behind the tests is that spinach has a number of nutritious qualities and should be used in fruit juice, but first its positive smell elements need to be identified. And this the SMart Nose was able to do remarkably well, just like a well-trained human nose.
In theory, then, verifying the technical aspects of a fine bottle of Pinot Noir and qualifying these, as well as being able to describe the nose, could be done by a machine.
Out the window with excellent descriptions from writers such as Wine Anorak: “Wonderfully intense nose of cherries, herbs and dark chocolate” or “Intense nose showing vibrant cherry fruit with rich savoury herbal undertones; quite complex” for two New Zeland wines.
But wait, it looks like SMart Nose is still in the early days of his training, so maybe we’ll all just get early retirement offers. Waedenswil ends by noting that “each sample provides a kind of digital print. Statistical methods then make it possible to create groups of samples with similar aromatic profiles. To validate the method, these groups of samaple are then compared to the results of sensory tests done by flesh and blood tasters”
Meanwhile, wine continues to offer us much more than just a great nose.
There’s the appearance, its visual aspects, and the palate, not to mention the harder to quantify business of pleasure and conviviality. And the story behind each bottle, and the glory of the vines in November.
To your very good health, and to ours, the wine writers, still hard at work.