Tag Archives: wine rants

Artificial intelligence and wine recommendations

cooper's hawk
Drinky is embarrassed that his AI brethren think the WC likes buttery California chardonnays.

Wine marketers are betting millions that algorithms will help us find wine we like

Most computer-generated wine recommendations have traditionally been pretty much worthless. There’s this, which we’ve noted before on the blog. But there’s also this, from wine.com, which arrived last month: The email said I would like a $64 bottle of Veuve Clicquot (I think not), as well as a $20 Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc (I think not, again), as well as a $12 California pinot noir and a $12 sweet red blend (I really, really think not).

That’s because the formulas used to put these recommendations together depend on things that aren’t necessarily related to wine – like income, age, and gender — and use past purchase information probably more than they should. Just because I bought wine A doesn’t mean I’m going to like it enough to buy wine B. And AI-generated recommendations have been notoriously lousy at using price to determine what we’ll like.

In addition, most algorithms have not been able to effectively process the wine-related criteria that do matter, like style, alcohol levels, and so forth. And I’m not sure that marketers understand the challenge. One highly-touted AI effort in 2021 said the the goal was “to personalize wine recommendations based on individual preferences, for example: Is the subscriber a red wine or do they prefer white (or maybe a little of both)?” Which seems more of a 1990s approach than something in 2021.

Another, the BottleBird app, asks a series of questions to find out what we like, including “How do you feel about the smell of flowers?” How we answer, says its publicity, will make sure we “never buy a bad bottle of wine again.” So, of course, when I tried the app, I got a 97 percent match with two Fre non-alcoholic reds and two buttery California chardonnays. Hardly the WC’s kind of wines, are they?

The process is so difficult, in fact, that a friend of mine who has written extensively about the subject once told me the only way AI wine recommendations could be successful is if they included information from human tasting panels. Which hardly sounds very AI.

So why have wine marketers spent millions of dollars trying to find a way to teach machines to make wine recommendations? My hunch is that it’s not so much about helping us find wine we like as it is selling us wine. Which, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing – if they work. But when they recommend wines I wouldn’t buy even if they were free, what’s the point?

A few words about “healthy” wine

healthy wine
“So what kind of ‘healthy’ wine can I pair with this?”

No, wine is not healthy, and any attempt to make it so does a disservice to wine and to health

How do we know something bizarre is going on in wine? Because “healthy wine” is all the rage. Or, as a wine marketing friend told me recently: “I’m receiving an insane amount of press requests (and coverage) about low-calorie / keto / sugar per content wines from lifestyle media. And I am quite confused, to be honest.”

Never fear. The Wine Curmudgeon is here to make sense out of the nonsensical.

Diets and diet fads are like fashion – someone is always reinventing the hemline, and what was au courant 20 or 30 years ago is au courant again. Keto, for instance, bears more than a passing resemblance to the infamous Atkins diet, and Atkins may well have its roots in something especially nasty – the so-called diet plate of cottage cheese, canned fruit, and hamburger patty that was the rage from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

And who can forget when pizza and beer were diet food?

So no, it’s not surprising that lifestyle writers – whose knowledge of trends is much more detailed than their knowledge of wine – are agog over “healthy wine.” After all, lifestyle writers gave us “Mommy wine,” as well as the neo-Prohibitionist terror that alcoholic mommies, zombie-like, are walking among us.

In this respect, “healthy” wine makes sense. Why not tell people that they can drink wine and still maintain a healthy lifestyle? It’s what they want to hear, for one thing, and it sort of, maybe, kind of, has a little medical validity. Everyone should consume fewer calories and less sugar, and the idea behind “healthy” wine is that it has fewer calories and less sugar – mostly because it has less alcohol.

That wine is not healthy – that it can be addictive and kill you — is just a minor inconvenience that the lifestyle writers will be sure to mention in a sentence or two about three-quarters of the way down the story.

A friend of mine, who writes about this subject with the same passion and crankiness that I bring to wine scores and ingredient labels, has said that the entire idea of “healthy” wine is not just a fraud, but a disservice to wine. If you want to drink wine and be healthy, then drink wine in moderation. Why buy special wine that almost certainly won’t taste as good (low- and no-alcohol wines are notoriously noxious) and will cost as much as traditional wine?

Because, as I learned as a young newspaperman, there’s only one way to lose weight and to be healthy: Eat less and exercise more. Everything else is just lifestyle writing.

Photo: Restaurant-ing through history