When I heard about Vinome, a test that uses your DNA and taste preferences to pair you up with wines you might like, I had to give it a shot.
Within our genome, there are genes that correspond to certain taste and smell preferences. For example, some people are genetically predisposed to hate the taste of cilantro while others love it. Based on those genes and a survey about what foods you like and dislike, Vinome uses its algorithm to find wines from the wineries it partners with that you might enjoy.
Going into the test, I was sceptical about what it could tell me. I knew of only one or two genes related to taste, and I figured that wasn’t enough to tell me whether I liked merlot or pinot noir. Plus, my go-to wine has always been pinot grigio, and I figured a test wouldn’t make me automatically change my mind about it in favour of another wine.
With that in mind, I started the process, and here’s what I learned.
Vinome's genetics test is a part of the recently launched Helix marketplace. In March, I took National Geographic's ancestry test, which is part of the Helix marketplace. That meant this time, Vinome and Helix didn't need to ship me another kit to collect my spit sample; they could just use the data from the sample I'd submitted when I learned about my ancestry.
Instead, I went straight to Helix's website to put in my order for Vinome. After scrolling down, I clicked on the 'Wine Explorer' test.
Going into the test, I was sceptical that DNA could play that big a role in my taste in wine. I scrolled to the science section of the test's description. It informed me that my taste is mostly influenced by factors other than genetics. 'Results are for your entertainment and do not determine or limit your ability to taste or enjoy wines,' it read.
Because I had already done the DNA-testing-kit portion, the test was $29.99 instead of $109.99. An $80 charge is applied to all the tests that run on the Helix platform for first-time users to cover the cost of the sample collection.
After a few clicks, my order was on its way. I was hopeful I'd get my results as soon as possible, since my genes had already been sequenced, and I'd heard that some folks got results for other tests run on the Helix platform in a matter of minutes.
While I waited, I took a quiz about some of my taste and preferences and what my favourite cheeses were. These were questions I had never encountered when taking a genetics test. 'I always tell people that the taste quiz that you took gets us into your neighbourhood and the genetics get us onto your street, in terms of giving us specificity around the flavour profile,' Vinome CEO Ronnie Andrews told Business Insider.
Five days later -- not quite as speedy as I had expected, but certainly shorter than I've waited in the past -- I had my results.
First, the methodology Vinome created to come up with my results.
Sara Riordan, a cofounder of Vinome, told Business Insider that to create the test, Vinome had to conduct its own research.
The group had came up with the idea for Vinome over a glass of wine at a cancer conference.
When it came time to compiling the research that's out there on taste, smell, and our genes, and applying them to wine, it made sense to follow the same rigour.
'We tried to follow the same sort of path that had gotten us plenty of success in the clinical world, and we felt like that was the kind of rigour we were going to have to go through to get to where we are today,' Andrews said.
So Vinome recruited 500 participants and tested their DNA for 40 genetic variants, determined based on existing taste and smell studies.
The participants also had to fill out a long survey -- like the quiz I had taken but hundreds of questions long -- that asked about their preferences for everything from cheese to whether you take milk in your coffee.
Next, the participants tasted 12 wines and rated the wines based on how much they liked them, and recorded the flavours they detected.
Two-thirds of the participants were then used to set up the algorithm Vinome uses, while the other third was used to test to see if the algorithm worked. A manuscript that details the study's process has been submitted for publication, Riordan said.
Once I logged on, my results were waiting for me. My profile told me that I had an affinity for 'Jam Dunk' wines and my secondary flavour profile was toward 'Vibrant Grove' flavours. In total, there are eight flavour profiles one could get.
There were a lot of flavours I enjoyed (both in wines, and I'm certainly a big fan of chocolate and raspberries on their own as well). There weren't any flavours I particularly disliked, Vinome told me.
As I scrolled, I saw a result that surprised me the most. My go-to wine for years has been pinot grigio, and I've never been a big fan of red wine. Apparently, my tastes and genetics disagreed. This result gave me the biggest insight that's stuck with me: 'At a restaurant and don't recognise any of the wines? You are more likely to enjoy an unknown red than a random white,' the test said. The next time I was confronted by a wine list, I went for a red instead of a white and, I actually enjoyed it.
Vinome also told me what varietals, or the kind of grapes used to make a type of wine, I might like the best. That came with the caveat, Riordan said, that Vinome isn't varietal-specific. 'We really want to home in on flavours that people would prefer,' she said. 'So a particular varietal would fit into a couple bins based on flavours in the wine.'
There are 10 genetic variants that Vinome tests for. I was curious to see my results. I don't love cilantro (to me it tastes soapy) and I don't think I have a strong opinion about tonic, which I'm apparently predisposed to find too bitter. But the test did tell me I had a higher preference for sweet foods and drink, which I could definitely understand.
Since many of the genes associated with taste have been established for a while, this wasn't the first time I'd encountered some of those genes. I checked my 23andMe Bitter Taste result and found that it came to the same conclusion as Vinome did: I'm predisposed to taste the bitterness in Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Once I was done perusing my results, I decided to shop around for some wine. While there were a few that caught my eye, Vinome technically doesn't ship to New York just yet. Right now, there are about 30 states where Vinome can ship. Andrews said the hope is to be able to ship to all states by the holiday season.
Vinome's business model has an extra component that most consumer DNA tests don't: It can sell you a product after you get your results. You can either buy individual bottles or enroll in a membership program (three bottles per quarter for $US150, up to 12 bottles for $US600).
That model could be a huge benefit to small wineries on the West Coast.
'There are thousands of boutique wineries that will never see the light of day in a wine list in Atlanta,' Andrews said. 'But those wines might have a better chance of being found and enjoyed if they're linked up by genetics. Plus, say you do end up loving a wine informed by your genetics; you're more likely to reorder the bottle. It's a little bit more precise than a traditional wine club that sends out shipments at random.
'The science just facilitates the marketplace,' Andrews added.
For the purposes of this article, however, Vinome sent a few bottles so I could put them to the test. Vinome sent me three bottles, two red, one white, and I got to testing.
First I tried an 'Old Vine Zinfandel' from Hawley Winery. The bottle goes for $42 online. Zinfandel had been one of the varietals Vinome said I was genetically predisposed to like.
While I had hoped it might be the wine of my dreams, I was disappointed when I took a sip and made a face. It wasn't the wine for me. My coworkers who participated in the tasting agreed that they weren't fans.
The second one I tried was a 2012 'Pick' from Terry Hoage Vineyards, which goes for about $60 via the vineyard's website. This one contained a mix of grenache, Syrah, mourvedre, and Cinsaut. While I enjoyed it more than the zinfandel, the tannins in the wine dried out my mouth, a sensation that hasn't grown on me just yet.
Finally, I tried the white wine that came in the box, a sauvignon blanc from Capture Wines that matched my 'Vibrant Grove' flavour profile. While it wasn't the most amazing glass of white wine I'd tasted, I still thoroughly enjoyed a glass with dinner.
Taking the test was a lot of fun, and I got results I wasn't necessarily expecting that have made me more adventurous in trying new wines, especially reds. But I'm not going to take my results too seriously.
Vinome has faced criticism in the past over how much information they can actually provide, drawing comparisons to less-than-scientific horoscopes. But Erica Ramos, a genetic counselor at Illumina and incoming president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, is optimistic about more light-hearted tests like Vinome.
'I am a fan of anything that gets people thinking about their genetics,' she told Business Insider. 'It gets people engaged. If we can start getting people in a nonthreatening way, it's a great opportunity.'
But that comes with an important caveat: I shouldn't necessarily hold my results from Vinome to the same standard I would a test that looks at my hereditary risk of cancer. The tests, while both based on my genes, have vastly different effects on my health.
Generally, I plan to stick to some of the wines I've enjoyed in the past -- I'm not over my pinot-grigio phase just yet. But after taking this test, I'm excited to try new wines I've avoided. If anything, the test empowered me to become more adventurous with reds.
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