Culture

App claims to know what wine or beer you'll like before you taste it

The Next Glass app claims to have isolated the tastes of alcoholic beverages and will tell you how much you'll like them -- or not.

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There is someone who gives that bottle of Kendall Jackson such a high score? Hmm. Next Glass/Vimeo screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You know the moment.

You're at dinner with someone you actually like. The server or sommelier suggests a wine.

"Oh, that sounds nice," you say with the confidence of ignorance. So what if it's $150?

The wine is opened. You're offered a taste. And you've just spent $150 on something that, to you, tastes like socks after a day's skiing. But you don't send it back, do you?

How can you prevent this waste of money, coupled with embarrassment? Well, along comes a free app called Next Glass, which launched this week for iOS and Android.

This is a cheeky little thing, with a tinge of intellectual dark cherry, a hidden layer of populist strawberry and the giddiness of a young, nerdy grape.

Its creators claim that it can assess your tastes and compare that to the "DNA" of a vast array of wines and beers. When you sign up, the app shows you wines and beers. You rate the ones you know. From this, your initial taste profile is created.

Then, every time you see a wine or beer bottle before you, you scan the label and the app estimates how much you're going to like it.

I confess to being partial to a glass of wine or two -- I actually just became a wine ambassador for a Napa winery -- so I decided to test out the app.

I'll admit I was skeptical. The idea of technology telling me what I'm going to think and feel is Google's dream and my weekend with Kathy Bates and an ax.

The app thoroughly annoyed me. When I scanned several wine bottles that were unknown to me, it offered me a sickeningly accurate score of how much I liked them when I later tasted them.

Kurt Taylor, CEO and founder of Next Glass, said he sees the app as a tool that any beer or wine drinker can use, regardless of their expertise or lack thereof. (And, yes, he's 25, of course. Aren't all startup founders?)

"It's Pandora for alcohol, if you will," he said. Now there's a concept -- and, to think, you're used to alcohol for Pandora.

As for his own expertise? "My wine background is just like that of the 80 million Americans who drink wine regularly but have no clue what a 'hint of lingonberry' means."

It actually means the speaker is drunk.

Taylor said, though, that he did involve experts in this enterprise.

"We do have incredible advisers who are very knowledgeable in the wine space -- owners of wineries, retail wine experts, etc.," he said. "We lean on them regularly to help understand how the industry works and how we can improve it."

Surely, though, wine and beer taste different at different times, in different moods, with different foods. Taylor insists that "no meal...whether it be from McDonald's or a 3-star Michelin restaurant...rendered a wine someone enjoyed on its own bad" -- or vice versa.

Taylor, who readily labels himself a nerd, claims that he has patent-pending tech that collects the DNA of wines and beers in a so-called "genome cellar."

Are you ready for the mad science?

A contract lab ran 100 bottles of wine through every instrument that can be used for wine testing -- more than a dozen.

"We got that data, layered it underneath a machine-learning layer, and held taste trials to determine efficacy of the data from each instrument. As it turns out, one instrument really works," he said. "The rest help, but pale in comparison."

The winning instrument is a "high-resolution accurate mass spectrometer with a liquid chromatography pump," or LC-MS," he said. "Ours is from Thermo Fisher and called an Orbitrap," which, he acknowledges, "sounds like some drone in the new Star Wars film." (A video of the lab can be seen here.)

Naturally, the more ratings you enter into the app, the more accurate your recommendations are likely to be.

However, Taylor insists that his app beats humanity.

"There are some environments where the physical world will always have a leg-up on the digital world. We don't think wine/beer selection is one of them," he said.

He very specifically claims that when a bottle rates a personal score above 85 out of 100, the person will like that wine -- giving it a 3- or 4-star rating -- a whopping 96 percent of the time.

The full test for me, though, came with wines I already know. The app got some of them right -- or at least vaguely right, though it wouldn't give one bottle a personal score above 71. But one of my favorite wines apparently shouldn't be. It only reached a personal score of 54.5.

Of course, the most positive thing about Next Glass -- other than it's amusing to see what it will predict for you -- is that you don't need to read windbag wine or beer reviewers anymore. While some may well be geniuses, others have palates so refined that those palates tend only to echo in places the sun has never witnessed.

In the end, Next Glass is entertaining. If you're wandering around the grocery store and wondering whether your lover will like cheap plonk that he or she will never know is cheap, this app just might help.

At the very least, you'll have an excuse if your lover actually doesn't like it: "But the app was convinced, darling."