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08.13.2006

Wine Worms and Bottled Laser Beams

I love this industry. People are wiling to try anything once. And after a few glasses they seem to be willing to try anything a few more times, just for good measure. This past week has been an especially choice week for news about the cutting edge of high technology us in the wine world. And what does it involve? Worms and laser beams. Two of my favorite things in the world.

When I was eight years old.

But the researchers of the world don't let adolescence get in the way of some really good science. If they did, how would we have ever come up with Silly Putty or Post-It Notes? No, real science involves mucking about with just about anything, including, especially creepy crawly things.

This month researchers announced that they're using the sensory apparatus of a common worm to develop a "cybernose" to help detect wine faults and do other sensory analysis. Wait a minute. Wasn't it just last week that scientists were announcing that they had done this with bug noses? Yep. Well they couldn't leave well enough alone, I guess, and had to take a few steps down the evolutionary chain just for grins and chuckles. As an upside, worms are generally better behaved than your average bumblebee, and I dare say easier to keep track of in the lab.

The only thing cooler than worms to my eight year old self were laser beams, and I'm happy to say that the wine world is finally discovering the benefits of high powered beams of agitated photons.

Not only are some European producers using lasers, but they're also using holograms, invisible ink, and all sorts of other spy-like technology -- all in service of making bottles of wine harder to forge. Yes, that's right, wine forgery is increasingly a problem. Especially with some of the high prices that top Bordeaux and Barolo wines are fetching, people can make a pretty penny pouring grape juice into dark bottles and doctoring them up to look like the good stuff.

So in response, winemakers all over the globe are resorting to all sorts of interesting measures to make sure that the only wines that get sold under their name are genuine. It's all enough to make any adolescent boy swoon.

Comments (5)

brett wrote:
08.14.06 at 8:57 AM

Fascinating links--thanks Alder. THIS is the kind of thing that makes me a dedicated reader.

One comment on the high-tech wine labels. 10 years from now, when these bottles are even more expensive and attractive to forge, won't the "high technology" of today that's incorporated into the labels be fairly easy to reproduce? Wineries need some way to make their product consistently verifiable as the real thing, not just on release.

Alder wrote:
08.14.06 at 11:37 AM

Brett,

Who knows. Maybe in the future, the bottles will have biometric thumbprint scanners, so that not only can we know the wine is genuine, but that the person about to open it is actually authorized to do so!

Rob Cole wrote:
08.14.06 at 12:42 PM

But the real question about the laser technology is how much does a scanner cost for the average consumer to make sure he's not getting a switcheroo bottle?

winewoman wrote:
08.14.06 at 1:10 PM

"The average consumer" is not going to care that much about a "switcharoo."

Alder wrote:
08.14.06 at 1:19 PM

Actually they're not scanning bottles with lasers, they're using them to make hidden and unreproducible marks of authenticity on the bottles to stop forgeries. The bottles that are being treated in such a manner are wines that most average consumers would not have heard of, let alone could afford.

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