New wine app powers the meal pairings of the future

In the future you will always have the perfect meal with the right wine to go along with it. The power of Semantic Web technology will make this easier for sommeliers than ever before.

According to a press release, Internet scientist and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Tetherless World Research Constellation Professor Deborah McGuinness has been working on a family of applications for the technology minded wine connoisseur since was a graduate student in the 1980s, before the “Interwebs” had even been invented.


These days, McGuinness is known as one of the world’s most respected experts in Web ontology languages. These languages are used to make coded meanings in a language that computers (and robots!) can understand.

The newest version of her wine application is an excellent example of what the future of the World Wide Web, usually called Web 3.0, could look like. It is also an extremely useful tool for teaching future Web Scientists about ontologies.

“The wine agent came about because I had to demonstrate the new technology that I was developing,” McGuinness said. “I had sophisticated applications that used cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology in domains, such as telecommunications equipment, that were difficult for anyone other than well-trained engineers to understand.”

McGuinness applied the technology in the domain of wines and foods to make a program that she utilizes as a semantic tutorial, an “Ontologies 101” if you will. Her students throughout the years have tried many things with the wine agent including, recently, experimenting with social media and mobile phone applications.

Now, the semantic sommelier is set to provide even the most inexperienced of food lovers some amazing new tools to expand their wine literacy and food-pairing skills on their home computer and their smart phone. A graduate student in computer science at Rensselaer, Evan Patton, has recently tinkered with the wine agent and is working with McGuinness to bring it to the mobile domain on both the iPhone and Droid.

The wine agent uses the Web Ontology Language (OWL), the formal language of the Semantic Web. Similar to the English language, which uses a chosen alphabet to construct words and sentences that all English-speaking people can understand, OWL uses a formal set of symbols to make a code or language that a large amount of applications can “read.” This allows computers to operate better and more intelligently with your smart phone or your Facebook page, or any other web application or device. These semantics will also create a brand new generation of smart search technologies.

Because of its semantic technology, the sommelier is augmented with basic knowledge about wine and food. For wine, this includes its body, color (red versus white or blush), sweetness, and flavor. For food, it includes the course (e.g. appetizer versus entrée), ingredient type (e.g. fish versus meat), and its heat (mild versus spicy). The semantic technologies under the application then code that knowledge and use reasoning to find and share that information.

These types of semantic functions can now be used for an assortment of culinary taks, all of which McGuinness, a fine wine enthusiast, and Patton are working on together.

Are you eating a spicy fish dish for dinner? Search the system and it will give a good wine pairing for the meal. Besides basic pairings, the program has strong potential for use in individual restaurants, according to McGuinness, who pictures teaming up with restaurant owners to enter their specific menus and wine lists.

Theoretically, a diner could check menus and wines on hand before going out for dinner or they could walk into a restaurant, pull out their phone, and instantly know what is in the wine cellar and goes best with that chef’s specialty.

 It could do more than pairings too; diners could rate different wines, giving fellow diners personal reviews and the restaurant owner valuable information on supplies to buy next week. Is it a lame alcohol free restaurant? The program can also be filled up with the inventory within the liquor store down the street. It could also be used to share food and wine notes with people via social networking.

“Today we have 10 gadgets with us at any given time,” McGuinness said. “We live and breathe social media. With semantic technologies, we can offload more of the searching and reasoning required to locate and share information to the computer while still maintaining personal control over our information and how we use it. We also increase the ability of our technologies to interact with each other and decrease the need for as many gadgets or as many interactions with them since the applications do more work for us.”