One can hardly watch TV without noticing commercials for Ancestry.com. If you are perhaps laboring under the impression that you are Italian because you like spaghetti and your first name is Leonardo, Ancestry.com can, through DNA analysis, dispel those myths, determining that you are not Italian at all but are in fact Polish and Native American.
To determine your ethnicity, Ancestry and similar companies offer a kit and a cotton swab for collecting a sample of saliva from the interior of one’s jaw to submit for DNA sequencing using various algorithms.
DNA sequencing is a wonderful thing. The benefits of determining one’s propensity for certain illnesses and the resulting advances in the medical field are undeniable.
Now comes word that Vinome, a wine club, has entered into an agreement with Helix, a DNA sequencing platform, to determine wine preferences for their customers using DNA samples and customer-completed questionnaires.
The word “Vinome” is an amalgam of “vino” and “genome.” Once Vinome determines your preferences, this data will be used to supply wines that are compatible with the individual’s DNA.
According to company propaganda, “Vinome takes the guesswork out of buying wine by harnessing the science of taste by analyzing your DNA and the nuances of your taste preferences to match you with wines uniquely tailored to your palate.” After completing their questionnaire and paying an $80 swabbing fee, they obligingly supply suitable wines direct to your front door.
What is missing here? After DNA is mapped and taste preferences determined, who or what determines the wines selected to match your taste profile? In other words, how does Vinome know what is in the bottle? Are they reading the winemakers’ tasting notes, critics’ reviews and back labels? If not, why pay $80 for Vinome’s scheme?
Yes, as Vinome says, selecting wines can be intimidating, but is DNA mapping going to make it any less intimidating?
While such mapping might be a good conversation starter, beyond that there are many unanswered questions.
If you are a novice and your personal taste in wine is yet to be determined, should you blindly accept the wines that match your DNA?
What happens if you are dining out and the wines to which you have been matched are not available?
Even worse, if dining with a large group whose members have all had their DNA mapped to certain wines, does each group member order an individual bottle?
What about bottle variance? Wine is a living thing, and though bottles may be made by the same winemaker from the same blend and handled identically, wine does vary from bottle to bottle and vintage to vintage.
I suppose if one wants to just drink wine rather than learn about it, Vinome might be the ticket. But Vinome is first and foremost a wine club. They will make selections to send each month based on your genetics, or you can select from wines they recommend from their online wine store.
Spoiler alert: You could also try an array of wines made from different varietals from different regions over a period of time, and know pretty quickly which wines are compatible with your personal taste — and all without having to swab your cheek for a DNA sample.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.