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The Latest (Useless) Wine Technology

I'll apologize right off the bat for being a horrible skeptic when it comes to these sorts of things. I thought I might be able to refrain from bashing this product that I'd never seen or experienced, especially as I was beginning the article about it. But as I was reading about a new kiosk solution for grocery store wine aisles that helps consumers find wines that they would like, I eventually got to the following description of the technology:

"What kind of matches does the system make? An occasional wine drinker who heavily salts his food, puts plenty of sugar in his coffee and hates diet sodas would be matched with Beringer White Zinfandel, 2004 or St. Supery Moscato, 2004, an Italian wine. Someone who doesn't use salt, takes their coffee strong and black and drinks diet beverages would get a recommendation for B.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001 and Franciscan Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000."
It was at this point that I was forced to throw up all over this idea. Now I'm all for helping shoppers connect with products that they will like. The premise behind this solution is a good one, namely that there's a dizzying array of choices available at your local grocery store when it comes to wine, and it's hard to be sure you're gonna get one you like unless you've tasted it before. But I would put hard cash on the fact that asking someone whether they drink diet soda, put cream in their coffee, and whether they tend to put salt on their food doesn't get you any closer to knowing what sort of wine to recommend to them.

As someone with a good deal of experience in interactive design, especially for retail e-commerce, I can tell you that it's UNBELIEVABLY difficult to make good recommendations to people using an automated system, even if that system is driven by highly complex artificial intelligence. And that's true for something like shoes, or jewelry, which are both a lot simpler than tastes in food.

People's tastes are so subjective, AND so difficult for them to describe, that even the most elegant, multivariate, multi-step wizard can't begin to approach a solid recommendation, even if you do have some statistical data that correlates cream-with-their-coffee drinkers and White Zinfandel. Not to mention the added variable of food pairings, which can turn even the most accurate recommendation based on someone's personality or general food preferences on its head.

"But it's better than nothing," some people will claim. I completely disagree. People are better off just learning what they like by trial and error, or by asking someone knowledgeable for help.

End of rant. Read the full story.

Comments (9)

Neil wrote:
01.22.06 at 5:49 PM

More from the instant-gratification desk; this story is off-topic, but you may find it interesting.


Terry Hughes wrote:
01.22.06 at 6:08 PM

Taste profiles are as subject to msrketing exploitstion as anything else. Not a terrible idea if executed right...

Terry Hughes wrote:
01.22.06 at 6:09 PM

EXPLOITATION. I can't type while I'm watching Desperate Housewives, obviously.

Tana wrote:
01.22.06 at 8:53 PM

I'd puke, too. What are the chances that there is some crossover contamination, and the recommended wines are from a select list of paying (mass-marketed, bad) wineries? If not now, soon. They'll sell spots in their little roster.

That's how cynical I am.

allan wrote:
01.22.06 at 8:59 PM

Not to mention that this level of specificity could lead to abuse. I mean, if I ran a winery and I knew thse kiosks were in the local supermarkets, I would pay a premium to make sure my wines were listed.

So, then you have to count on the integrity of the company to value their research over the potential profit from selling spots.

Jerry Hall wrote:
01.23.06 at 8:16 AM

What's next? Google will make wine suggestions based on our search histories.

Mithrandir wrote:
01.25.06 at 11:47 AM

I have no trouble believing that this works better than random. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it gives better personalized results on average than a recommendation from the wine buyer.

Individual wines can be described. We all know this. Wines with similar descriptions can be categorized together. Often, these categories can be best described using concepts like "body", "extraction", and "smoothness".

What this system is doing (I'm guessing here, but this is how I would engineer it) is determining preferences for body and extraction based on questions that are easy for most consumers to answer. Once it has the consumer settled into a category, it can recommend wines that fit that category. For Joe Sixpack looking to buy a bottle that doesn't say Coors on the side, this is probably great.

With the small addition of a display at the end describing the conclusions the system has reached, it could even be a useful education tool.

St.Vini wrote:
01.25.06 at 2:43 PM

This is an extension of a survey that was on the web for a while created by a Wine Marketing Association that has now, I believe, become defunct.

You can see a similar application here:


I have a friend who hates coffee, yet drinks mostly dry tannic red wine. Obviously, the survey is meant to work generally, not specifically....


St.Vini wrote:
01.26.06 at 5:00 PM

This is basically the same thinking as a taste survey that used to be on an industry promo site (I think its now defunct). It assumes that if you like black coffee, you'll like dry, tannic reds. I don't get it as I, for one, like wines of all types.....

YumYuck has basically the same thing, a guide for entry-level wine drinkers.



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