In Japan even robots celebrate new Beaujolais

16th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

TOKYO, Nov 15, 2006 (AFP) - Japan is set to crack open another record batch of Beaujolais Nouveau this year as even robots take part in the country's growing love affair with wine.

TOKYO, Nov 15, 2006 (AFP) - Japan is set to crack open another record batch of Beaujolais Nouveau this year as even robots take part in the country's growing love affair with wine.

Wine still accounts for only a fraction of the alcohol in hard-drinking Japan but consumption has more than doubled in the past decade, spurred by heavy marketing.

And no wine fad is bigger here than for Beaujolais Nouveau.

Japan — the first to get a taste because of its time zone — will again be the biggest importer of the fruity light red wine that hits the market Thursday, ahead of Germany and the United States.

Some 11 million bottles of wine were ordered from vineyards in France to be on shelves in liquor stores, department stores and 24-hour convenience stores, importers said.

The Japanese consumed 8.8 million liters of the wine in 2005, compared with only 590,000 liters 10 years ago, according to Sopexa, the French board promoting food and farm produce in Japan.

"This is a market in progression and the festive and seasonal aspects of the wine have made a strong impact on the Japanese who like to party, especially at the start of a new season," said Sopexa's commercial director Charles Durand.

The fruitiness of Beaujolais Nouveau has found a particular niche among Japanese women who prefer light wine to the beer or sake often guzzled by men.

Because the wine is light, it can also go with a range of dishes at everywhere from high-end sushi restaurants to laid-back barbecue picnics.

The fondness for the wine has even stretched into the electronics field, with the creation this year of a robotic sommelier capable of "tasting" wine.

Researchers at NEC System Technology and Mie University have designed a "Sommelier Robot" capable of "tasting" different wine and giving advice as to what dish would taste the best with it.

The egg-headed robot, wearing a green suit, has two hands capable of analyzing the ingredients and chemical composition of food and wine through the use of infrared sensors.

"After analyzing the wine's composition, the robot searches its database to find the correct food to match with it, and then gives advice," said Kaori Kobayashi, who headed the research team at NEC System Technology laboratory.

The robot swivels its head and lights up its mouth when it "talks" to the person seeking advice.

The robot's database currently has the "fingerprints" of up to 20 different wine, including Beaujolais Nouveau 2004.

The robot can be customized depending on its owner's tastes for food and wine.

For example, if a cheese-loving owner feeds the robot information on various brands of cheese, and then offers it a glass of young red Beaujolais, the robot will propose soft-cheese such as brie or camembert.

The robot boasts a 90-percent success rate of its analytical capability.

Although researchers have only developed two prototypes, more might be on the horizon.

"I can't tell when, but we might even develop as far as a portable robot sommelier — which would be helpful to wine-lovers when they go on wine-tasting trips," said Kobayashi.

Having a portable robot sommelier might spare the wine-tourist hangovers and headaches. But drinking and appreciating wine remain a very human activity.

"Of course a robot can never replace a sommelier," puffed Durand of the French industry group.

"A sommelier has so many things to consider apart from tasting wine and giving directions on the right food to accompany," he said.

"The sommelier's role is very difficult because he needs to not only consider the wine itself, the food to go along, but also the person — his personality, his likes and dislikes, his financial budget, his mood of the day — all at the same time. A robot can never do that."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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