Fingerprinting Wine: How Chemical Sensors Can Analyze What’s in Your Glass

Chemical sensors can tell a wine’s:

  • Grape varietal
  • Hang-time on the vine
  • Year of harvest

How it Works

Each well in a sensor’s array has a different engineered molecule that interacts with various chemical components of wine. Changes in color and brightness indicate different properties. Dozens of wells in an array yield thousands of possible patterns. By comparing them with those of known standard samples, a computer reveals the wine’s chemical makeup.

Applications: Catch fraud, Improve wine

In 2012, a wine seller fraudulently labeled spirits and lost a class action suit. The offender’s settlement included a payout of $165,000 toward future related UT Austin research, including the “Supramolecular Sensors” stream of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI).

One day, winemakers will know more about when to harvest and how long to age their wine. The chemists plan to develop an “electronic tongue,” combining a range of different sensors on one small, cheap chip. That would replace rooms full of costly equipment and (gulp) maybe even human wine tasters.

Meet the Scientist

Eric Anslyn
Professor of Chemistry