Wine expert Ben Malouf has enlisted teams of Australian scientists and statisticians to determine the chemical characteristics of a good drop.
The data will inform a wine recommendation engine in a mobile app. It could identify cheaper alternatives to luxury wines and “ruffle a few feathers”, Malough says.
What everyone will want to know is: what’s the closest chemical match to Australia’s famous Penfold’s Grange?
In the next 12 months, Sydney University chemists will identify 1000 “flavour markers” in each of 2000 wines to build up a proprietary database for Malouf’s start-up, Wine Cue.
The scientists are analysing gaseous compounds that give each wine its aroma, as well as the chemical composition of the liquid.
Chemical data will be combined with product ratings from Malouf and business partner Attila Balogh’s year-old retailer, First Vintage, and studied by a team of statisticians from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Malouf hopes to inject some objectivity into the traditionally subjective art of wine-tasting, taking a bit of the “snob factor” out of recommendations.
“The wine industry has had this air of arrogance around it for some time,” he tells Business Insider.
“We want to be able to cross-reference chemical compositions with customer ratings. We’re looking at basic elements of wine that seem to resonate well with people and starting to see very distinct patterns as we attempt to build up a database.
“Will a $1000 wine taste like a $12 wine? Probably not. But in my retail experience, I’ve recommended wines that cost significantly less than what [the customers] were looking for.”
Personal recommendations at scale
While Wine Cue is a data intensive project, neither of its founders have technical backgrounds.
The project was conceived to support First Vintage’s growth. Malouf had been personally recommending wines to customers at tasting sessions but realised he could not do it at scale.
“If I were to tell you about Saperavi, 99% of people haven’t heard of it,” says Malouf, who has spent 10 years in the liquor industry. “It’s a grape variety used in bone dry reds. 9 out of 10 people I recommend it to enjoy it.
“What we’re trying to build is a scalable way of taking that knowledge to our customers.”
Malouf hopes to have a million customer-submitted wine ratings before launch. First Vintage has just 500 customers currently but Malouf expects this to grow, with a website relaunch imminent.
Commercialisation and affiliate programs
Wine Cue completed its first round of capital raising two weeks ago, securing about $200,000 in total from three private investors and “access to another couple of hundred thousand” in total from two others.
The duo had hoped to raise $600,000 from that round to fund warehousing, stock, app and website development, and customer service centres. Malouf says the business will likely need a total of $1 million to “do what we want to do”.
First Vintage – an online retailer that specialises in $15 to $25 wines – is an obvious commercialisation vehicle for Wine Cue, but Malouf says the businesses are separate with the latter analysing wines that the former doesn’t necessarily sell.
Wine Cue will embark on affiliate programs with various retailers, and is likely to reach the market as an app that tells users what to buy and where to buy it.
Malouf insists that Wine Cue will not skew recommendations towards higher margin products: “It’s far more important to hold true to data, otherwise in the long term, you’re going to lose out.”