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Electronic tongue taste-tests wines

Staff Writer | October 4, 2016
An electronic tongue has been developed that can accurately determine the age of wine, the type of barrel it came from, and its overall quality.
Technology   To test wines on an industrial scale
The aim is to use the device to test wines on an industrial scale to ensure they meet quality standards before they are sold to consumers.

Xavier Ceto and colleagues at the University of South Australia made the tongue out of gold, platinum and carbon electrodes. The device measures the electrochemical signals of sugars, phenolics and other compounds present in wine. These signals are then mathematically processed and converted into a unique fingerprint for each wine.

Unlike conventional sensors, which focus on specific compounds, the electronic tongue can analyse the overall combination. “It mimics the process of tasting, where the different sensations perceived (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami) are combined by your brain,” says Ceto.

The researchers recently tested the electronic tongue on 52 red wines from the Catalonia region of Spain.

First, they asked eight sommeliers to score the wines out of 10. Next, they calibrated these scores to the fingerprints produced by the electronic tongue, creating a model which could accurately predict the sommeliers’ ratings in other wines by analysing their fingerprint.

As well as scoring a wine’s quality, the tongue can also determine the age of a wine and whether it was matured in French or American oak barrels.

There are already electronic tongues that can tell wines apart based on their chemical composition and grape variety, but this is the first device that can predict the taste perception of sommeliers.

The next step will be to test the electronic tongue on a bigger scale, says Ceto. “You can’t have a person tasting 100 wines per day, so this sensor may be able to help screen them,” he says.

Although the device is configured for Spanish red wines at the moment, it could easily be retrained to assess other types of wines from different countries, Ceto says.