Is there more sensitive activity than wine tasting? Fragrance, texture, length of mouth, everything is a matter of sensation felt by the person drinking the precious nectar. But in 2022, the famous artificial intelligence algorithm is getting involved. And one of the most prestigious and serious wine tasting competitions in the world is betting that everyone is going to win.
With the doors of the Rেnde Sports Palace open in the small town of Calabria in southern Italy, Quentin Havax can’t hide his excitement and nervousness for the next few minutes which will be exposed before his eyes. For this young Belgian who manages with his father, Boudoin, the organization of the Concours Mondial de Brooksells, sees the arrival of more than 300 flavors from all over the planet, giving him a belly butterfly every year.
This is obviously not the first time that the Havax has hosted a version of this great competition that has awarded quality medals to wines from around the world. We will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of this competition in Croatia next year, after Grandpa Luis Havax, retired, but still alive in his native Belgium.
It’s a matter of algorithms
But this year, the family group from Plain Country has decided to add an extra dimension to these expert palettes of wine tasting: writing tasting comments that will be added to the normal rating of 100 points that lets them decide between them. Wine
These comments will not only be added to the menu, but will be analyzed above all by an algorithm which will then collect data from all the taste buds and then “translate” the taste buds into a short summary of the good and less good points given by them.
“In competition, everyone does more or less the same thing,” explained Quentin Havax, director of Binopress. We think there is competition that is no longer reliable, so data is most important to us.
Thus, in addition to the mark out of 100, each tester had to type on his or her small tablet, summarizing his or her comments. An exercise that was a little more complicated than usual for some but overall, with the exception of a few small faulty keyboards, the first day went by without much hindrance.
Julien Leithier, president of the French start-up WineSpace, who, along with his partners Sylvain Thibaud and Antoine Gerrard, has been monitoring the smooth running of the process, explained the concept of artificial intelligence in wine testing. “We teach the computer everything it needs to do, a bunch of words, a syntactic construct so that it can understand, like your brain, the concept of acidity. Then, we teach him the word acid and the word “too” and he will make a connection. We manage to get him to assimilate thousands of words and then he himself will be able to connect these ideas. A
Technically, therefore, the algorithm must constantly learn sensitive concepts that are far from binary. “For example, in the comments of the tasters, we read a crisp and refreshing wine,” added Civine Thibaud, managing director of Wine Space. This means there is a strong acidity concept. When the tester writes that there is a note instead of the aroma of the stone fruit, it means that we reduce the intensity of this fruit a bit in the final notes.
Millions? Getting a great summary of what has been written about wine and standardizing it: “Being able to take all possible and conceivable parameters and translate them into computer language,” adds Lethier.
A process of continuous improvement
It is still necessary to educate the algorithm somewhat in certain cases. Heather Aromas (a fairly specific taste note, it must be said) has not yet been identified and assimilated by artificial intelligence.
These extra scores should in any case add subtlety and some fairness to the final rating that will be used by the testers to award the medals to the wines that separate themselves in front of the palm.
“Ideally, ratings should be close to written comments, Sylvain Thebwood explains, but sometimes there are discrepancies. Sometimes tasters write that the wine has a lot of flaws, but he gives it 88 points.”
The choice to start the experiment in collaboration with Concours Mondial de Brooksells was self-evident, says Julien Lethier. They first started with about twenty testers in Mexico, then with 50 testers at the Concours Mondial du Rose in Spain and recently with 75 experts at the Concours Mondial du Sovignon.
“The number of comments collected does not complicate the process, it adds processing time,” said the president of WineSpace. In the case of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, more than 300 testers produced 1.5 million characters for the first day alone. A whole lot of analytical work for algorithms.
Furthermore, a Belgian, French or North American sommelier has its own references when it comes time to analyze and appreciate a wine. And there again, we must educate artificial intelligence.
“Some flavors in Mexico, for example, didn’t have the same way of understanding the vegetable side. Julien Lethier, President of Wine Space
A marketing tool for producers
The great advantage of this intrusion of artificial intelligence is, according to Quentin Havax, a considerable resource for the brewer or the owner of an estate that has accumulated judgment in its wine flavor buds. “With this synthesis of tasteful comments from professionals with different profiles, producers will get honest and blind response (which is very rare in the world of wine). He can then use it as a marketing tool such as with a perfume wheel. A
For testers who take part in blind practice, at the end of the exercise there is a chance to get the list of flavored wines, their overall rating from the testers’ table and their own wine review.
A final experience
At the end of this first new type of CMB, Quentin Havaux can breathe a sigh of relief: “At first, everyone thought it would take them longer, but on the second day, it was much more fluid and the third, everyone had already finished.”
The wine space team can express its satisfaction at the end of the experience in any case. “The main fear was that the jury would not play the game. Adding comments would not be annoying for some tasters who are more accustomed to giving only one wine rating on the scale? Beyond what we expect. “
All competitions hosted by CMB will now use the same model. Quentin Havaux thinks his competitors will probably take the same path of artificial intelligence. Who would have thought that the sensitive experience of wine tasting would one day merge with this virtual robot? Welcome to 2022 …