Now coming to a computer screen near you – an Artificial Intelligence-powered, personal tasting guide to the sort of beer, wine or spirits you most like to drink.
Called Flavour Wheel, it's the brainchild of leading online wine purveyors, *Fine Wine Delivery, enabling customers to find, for example, the type of wine they like to drink – and to become expert at identifying what they like, even if they have never tasted it before.
It works by aligning customers' preferred tastes to the thousands upon thousands of tasting notes that the company's experts have built up over the 23 years of operation. All customers have to do is click on the taste profiles they enjoy – and the system matches them up with wines (and beers and spirits) that meet those taste parameters.
Anyone who has ever browsed wine, for example, knows that the sheer scale of what's available can be bewildering. In the Fine Wine Delivery stores (at Constellation Drive and Mt Wellington) alone, there are over 2000 products – and some people struggle with choices.
Even those well versed in wine can stumble. General Manager Tracey Hawes says award-winning wines are often popular and are snapped up: "But is it the right wine for you? You might like a big, rich style of wine but the world-class wine you've been drawn to might be more of a mineral style.
"It can be the best wine in the world – but is it the best wine in the world for you? So the Flavour Wheel helps people identify what they like and will reduce the risk of anyone being disappointed by buying what they thought was a nice wine but which didn't suit them.
"We also talk to a lot of people who have enjoyed a bottle of wine but struggle to express anything more about it. We ask them what they liked about it and they say, 'I don't know; it was just…nice."
Anyone who has read or heard some of the complicated and more florid expressions of wine-tasting from experts and the industry in general will sympathise – and Hawes also makes the point that craft beer and even spirits have moved into many more and varied flavours these days.
"We trademarked a phrase – 'Making you the expert' – and that's what we are aiming at here with our latest technology development to help people."
So here's how it works: A customer brings up the Flavour Wheel online. Using chardonnay as an example, they click on a taste profile. It could be "peach and vanilla" or "citrus and mineral" and could also move into other areas like "creamy and buttery" or "oaked or unoaked".
Once the customer has entered their taste preferences, the AI takes over – bringing up a page of 20 products which fall within the customer's taste preferences.
"It's not an algorithm and it's not a case of us or anyone else telling you what you should like," says Hawes. "It's using our tasting notes to help you find what you do like."
The online Flavour Wheel is the latest advance in the Fine Wine Delivery's technological armoury – which started in 1998 with what they say was the industry's first inter-active website.
That website is now in its 13th iteration and the company's idea of using AI to help customers began with a Smart Search engine for the website which used the many volumes of tasting notes. Next came a chat bot which, says Hawes, is designed to help people "not quite sure what they like".
After that, the company launched Flavour Wheel in their two stores – a touch screen experience where customers enter their taste preferences and pages of three products at a time show up. Now Flavour Wheel has gone online – providing an even more widespread, accurate device to empower customers to grow their own knowledge of wine and, in particular, what they like.
"It's a way of helping people to find what they really like as opposed to what they have been told to like," says Hawes.
The next, yet-to-be-introduced phase will be to personalise the Flavour Wheel experience even more: "It will tell you that you might have purchased 60 per cent pinot noir, 20 per cent chardonnay, 10 per cent gin and 10 per cent beer – and it will give you a breakdown of the type and taste of wine you are drinking, for example."
Hawes says the company's emphasis on technology has seen its business grow to an industry-leading online presence: "The industry average of online sales is 5 per cent," she says. "We achieved 42 per cent before introducing AI and now it is at 60 per cent."
For more information: www.finewinedelivery.co.nz/flavour-wheel
* Fine Wine Delivery is a 100 per cent New Zealand family-owned NZ and operated company dedicated to helping you find your perfect drop.