Machine against man in wine tasting competition

Who is best qualified to judge the price of a wine: a wine expert or a student armed with a wine analyser?


Around fifty students from seven European universities were invited to the competition called the FOSS Challenge. They competed against each other to develop a calibration for a FOSS WineScan Flex analyser so that it could be used to decide the price of wine. Normally, WineScan analysers are used at different stages of wine production to measure a number of parameters such as ethanol and organic acids. The winning team, Kim Houng Ngo and Martin Andersen from Aalborg University , Denmark , then used their calibration and the wine analyser to compete against a panel of wine experts in predicting the price level; region and quality for a number of wines.

The wine analyser results came close to the expert's judgement, especially when predicting region and quality level for wine at lower prices. But both the panel and the wine analysers had problems when predicting the price of the more expensive wines. The expert's ability to judge the finer points of the wines allowed them to get closer to the actual price.

One of the wine experts, wine writer, Michael Poulsen said: "It is very interesting that it is the more expensive wines that are more difficult to judge. All sorts of factors play a part."

An area where the students and the wine analyser were clear winners was in the speed of results. The results for all the wines were delivered long before the experts had finished deliberating about terroir, complexity and bouquet. Kim Houng Ngo from the winning student team said: "For us it is all about mathematics and data. It was fun taking part and competing against others to see how far we could get."

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