Wine Technology of the Future: System and Method for Pairing Food with Wine

“Wine Technology of the Future” is a series on The Academic Wino that features new inventions and patents that attempt to make your wine experience easier and more enjoyable. Previously on this series, we’ve introduced the “self aerating wine bottle”; the “corkscrew with integral intelligent thermometer”; “wine dispensing and preservation device”; “multi-stream wine aerating device”; and most recently the “wine bag carrier”. Today’s invention is the “system and method for pairing food with wine”, invented by Eric S. Arsenault from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The patent was filed on May 24th, 2011, and was published on January 29th, 2013.

There has been a sort of tradition in the past few decades that certain wines must be paired with certain types of foods. For example: it is often said that one should serve red wine with red meat and white wine with fish. Of course, these “traditions” are relatively new with respect to the entire history of wine, as up until the most recent past all styles of wines were served during every course of the meal, and were chosen by a diner based upon the type of wine they wanted to drink, and not what someone told them they should drink based on the dish. As an aside: Tim Hanni has done a lot of research as well as published a book discussing the very concept of pairing wine “to the diner and not the dinner”, which is highly recommended reading for everyone (even if you’re a staunch critic of the concept!). Click here to read my review of that book.

…but I digress!…

Yours and my opinion of the concept of wine and food pairings aside, this “system and method for pairing food with wine” device is basically a computer system that lets you input the type of food you are planning to each, and presents to the user a recommendation of the type of wine they should consume with that dish based on an extensive database with wine information, as well as food information based on a menu from a restaurant.

Figure 3 from US Patent 8364545

Figure 3 from US Patent 8364545

Basically, what happens is that the customer sits down at a table in a restaurant and is given a tablet with the menu choices listed. The customer then selects what he/she would like to eat, and then the tablet “talks” to the main computer database via a wireless system (located someplace else inside the restaurant) and it comes back with a wine with the best “Pairing Compatibility Score”. It is assumed that the customer will then go ahead and order that particular wine, since according to the computer, it is the best wine to pair with that particular dish on the menu.

I have a couple of problems with the device: 1) what happens when the customer doesn’t like the kind of wine the computer recommends? Maybe they try it again and they get another unsatisfactory answer. What are they supposed to do now? Give up and drink cocktails? This goes back to the pairing to the “diner and not the dinner” idea that Tim Hanni has frequently preached, which stresses that one should really pick the wine that they like and not what someone tells them is the appropriate choice. Everyone has different tastes and sensitivities, so a device catering to only one type of taster is anything but efficient and an otherwise good idea.

Now, if this device were to determine the type of taster that was choosing their meals BEFORE calculating a “Pairing Compatiblity Score” and selecting the appropriate wine, that could potentially be much more effective and less likely to alienate those people who have different taste preferences that the designer of the machine. In fact, the author did mention later on in the patent that this could be an option programmed into the device, which I think should be first and foremost an absolute requirement, and not simply an afterthought that “maybe this could be an option” (of course, now I’m just being picky…).

My second problem with this device is that it’s kind of pointless and a waste of money. OK, maybe that’s a little too harsh, but really: the patent author talks about how wine is so complicated and that basically NO ONE is qualified to select the appropriate wine unless they are a certified sommelier (I’m serious: that’s how it reads). The author says that since paying a sommelier can be expensive, investing in this machine is the only option a restaurant has in order to select an appropriate bottle of wine for every diner. Whatever happened to basic wine training? Seriously, sure, wine can be complicated, but choosing wine for dinner doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t have to be for that matter. Just give the waiters and waitresses a basic training and wine and maybe not spend a small fortune to make the wine novice feel even more like a failure when it comes to their own ability to choose wine.

In regards to technology, this “system and method for pairing food with wine” is a neat little computer program that can calculate the “perfect” wine and food pairing based on very detailed information about the selection from the menu and the wines in the cellar. For gadgets sake, it is kind of cool and would be fun to play with. However, if I were a restaurant owner, I don’t think I would spend my money on something like this when some basic wine training for the staff could be just as effective.

What do you all think of this device? Am I crazy to think it’s kind of unnecessary? Have I gone off the deep end? Would you invest in this type of device if you owned a restaurant? What if they made an at-home version? Would you buy it? Please feel free to comment!

Source: United States Patent 8364545: “System and method for pairing food with wine”. Accessed online 3/19/13

6 comments for “Wine Technology of the Future: System and Method for Pairing Food with Wine

  1. March 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I don’t see how it saves the restaurant any money. Someone still has to go through the dishes and the wines and input the pairings to the computer, no? Otherwise it would just be another app. And who is going to identify the primary flavors in the specific dishes and suggest the specific wines if not a wine professional in concert with the chef?

    • Becca
      March 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Great points! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this thing isn’t a good idea!

  2. Ignacio Rodriguez
    February 6, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Pairing also depends on if you are from the orient or the west. Our concept of a well paired meal is when the food has flavor compounds in common and in the orient it’s just the opposite. I still haven’t looked in depth at this application, but it seems very complete and well structured. The full version has a huge variety foods in all categories and cultures. There was also another very good article about flavor compounds ….I’ll find it if anyone is interested.
    Restaurants should also cook for the wines they have. The restaurant Noma made a special dish for the delicious, complex, white wine Julian Ruiz is making in La Mancha. Restaurants are much at fault for not promoting this idea- one dish, one wine. Everything doesn’t have to be interchangeable in the same way you cannot drink sauternes with many foods… Babbette’s Feast!

    • Becca
      February 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      All great points, Ignacio! There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to food and wine pairings!

  3. Ignacio Rodriguez
    February 6, 2014 at 4:47 am

    And thanks for all the wonderful articles you have!

    • Becca
      February 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      My pleasure 🙂 Thank you so much for being a part of the discussion!

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