A ‘Smart’ Wine Bottle Could Solve China’s Fake Alcohol Problem

A printed electronics company has developed what it claims is the world’s first “smart" wine bottle. The bottle detects whether factory seals have been broken and can communicate wirelessly with smartphones.

Phoebe Hurst

Phoebe Hurst

Photo courtesy Thinfilm.

If bottles of wine could talk, what would they say? Maybe that Riesling would recall how lovingly it was cradled home from the off-license last Friday. Perhaps the Sauvignon Blanc you picked up on your way to your friend Megan's house would tell us how enthusiastically it was welcomed onto the coffee table … before being aggressively brandished around the neck and subjected to several hours of slurred discussion on how Taylor Swift just, like, a symbol for post-millenial despondency and disfranchisement, y'know?

On second thoughts, maybe it's a good thing that we can't engage in lucid conversation with vessels designed to hold alcoholic substances.

READ MORE: The UK Is Drinking Counterfeit Vodka Made of Paint Thinner

Whether we like it or not, though, a Norwegian company may have just brought us a step closer to wine bottles that can talk—or at least communicate with our smartphones (who needs IRL chat, anyway? It's 2015).

This week, printed electronics specialist Thinfilm unveiled what it claims is the world's first "smart wine bottle."

Using a type of printed electronic tag, the bottle is able to detect whether it has been opened and wirelessly communicate this information to a smartphone. The tag's thin electronic sensors also contain unique identifiers that can be used by wine producers to track bottles. Unlike barcodes, the information in the tags cannot be copied and is readable even when broken.

Officially unveiled tomorrow at Shanghai's Mobile World Congress event, the invention is similar to the "smart bottle" whiskey giants Johnnie Walker released earlier this year, which sent tailored messages to drinkers when scanned with a phone.

Thinfilm's invention may sound like a pretty overblown way of finding out whether your housemate has been helping herself to that Pinot you had chilling in the fridge, but the smart wine bottle could prove to be a useful tool in Chinese authorities' fight against counterfeit alcohol.

Along with Russia, China is estimated to have the biggest black market for alcohol, and demand for cheap spirits prompts increasing numbers of fraudsters to fill empty bottles with industrial spirits, before inserting them back into the distribution line. As the fifth-largest wine consumer in the world, China's fake wine market is similarly active, with counterfeiters benefiting from both high demand and profit margins.

It's not the only country battling fake booze. "Vodka" containing paint thinner was seized by UK police last year, and earlier this month Kenyan officials destroyed ten tons of bootlegged liquor after a string of deaths caused by alcohol containing lethal methanol.

READ MORE: A Wine Scammer Just Got Ten Years in Prison for Duping the Rich

Using Thinfilm's printed electronics technology, drinks producers would be able to track individual bottles as they leave the processing unit, ensuring they are packaged, shipped, and eventually gulped down in their factory-sealed state.

"Winemakers and retailers currently are in need of a cost-effective and scalable means to track and confirm the authenticity of individual wine bottles across the supply chain. This gap in the current solution set gives counterfeiters an upper hand," Thinfilm chief commercial officer Kai Leppänen explained in a statement.

The company is currently working with a Chinese-owned Australian wine company to trial the smart wine bottle. No word yet on whether the printed electronic tags will include the ability to communicate with our smartphones via emoji.