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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Finer Wine

Spotting fake wine with an atom smasher, and growing perfect grapes

Vintage Vino: Particle accelerators and electronic tongues ensure that your rare wine is the real thing Grant V. Faint/Getty Images

Robot Sommelier

Is your $30,000 bottle of Chateau Petrus Bordeaux truly a rare vintage, or is it just $30 merlot? Counterfeits plague rare-wine auctions, but researchers in Spain have built a handheld "electronic tongue" that detects them instantly. It measures the signature chemicals, acidity and sugar content in a drop of wine (typically one bottle from a case) and runs those against a database of certified vintage wines to catch fakes that might fool human tasters.

Wine = MC2

Forget finding the 11th dimension -- how old is that wine? Scientists at Arcane, a nonprofit technology group in France, can confirm a wine's age using a particle accelerator. Analysis of the x-rays created as the protons hit the bottle reveals what type of furnace the glass was fired in, and thus where and when the bottle was made. The process costs $500, so the Antique Wine Company in London, which owns the rights to the test, uses it to validate only extremely valuable bottles of 19th-century Bordeaux.

Irrigating vines is a game of chance. Too much water drowns the grapes; too little, and they become raisins. A new system by the biotech start-up Fruition Sciences monitors water flow through plants with vine-mounted thermal sensors. A computer considers these readings, the variety's demands and climatic conditions, and determines irrigation settings so that grapes get their optimal daily water. The company, which is busy making less-expensive sensors, has rolled out the tech in California and is looking to bring the tech to France.