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E-tongue could rival human wine-tasters

An electronic tongue that can identify different wines has just been unveiled by scientists at Barcelona's Institute for Microelectronics and may be used as a new weapon in the battle against wine fraud.

The device is based on similar principles to the human tongue, and is sensitive to five different tastes - sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savoury). The technology uses a silicon chip called a microsensor with tiny synthetic membranes attached. Each membrane detects a different chemical component of the liquid that when combined make up the distinct characteristics of each grape varietal. So far the device can only distinguish between four: Chardonnay, and the Spanish grapes Airen, Malvasia and Macabeo. It can also distinguish between a 2005 vintage and a 2004.

The commercial value of the e-tongue could lie in weeding out fraudulent fine wines at auction houses by verifying the vintage but also in helping to enforce quality standards in winemaking by verifying that a wine has been made from the proper grapes. In Rioja, for example, although there are only five authorized grapes some winemakers use Cabernet in the blend.

Its unlikely the device will make the human tongue redundant when it comes to tasting wine though because unlike the human palate it can’t tell you whether your wine is worth drinking.