As if we needed any more reasons to adore dogs, they are now saving us from one of the worst things that can happen to a night in: bad wine. That’s right, dogs are now being trained to ensure that your wine stays free of undesirable compounds such as trichloroanisole (TCA) and tribromoanisole (TBA), which, according to Wine Spectator, are “harmful compounds that make wine unpleasant or even undrinkable.” Think aromas of moldy basements and damp cardboard.
Have you ever been in awe of the bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs in very crowded places like airports or subway systems? These highly trained canines, along with all dogs, actually possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. For comparison’s sake, we humans have around 6 million. Moreover, there’s a part of every dog’s brain that’s actually devoted to analyzing what various smells are.
Well, TN Coopers, a Chilean wine barrel maker, has trained a group of Labrador retrievers — named Ambrosia, Odysé, Moro, Mamba and Zamba — to “detect contaminants such as TCA and TBA,” according to an Instagram post from the company. “Every day they do the control inside our wood park, plant and checked every container that arrives and leaves TN Coopers.”
Compounds like TCA and TBA ruin wine and cause cork taint, which is an issue that creates bad aromas and flavors originating from the tainted cork. These same compounds can also infiltrate entire barrels, which negatively affects the wine at even earlier stages than bottling. It makes sense that TN Coopers is now using dogs to pinpoint where these compounds are hiding. It’s very difficult to find them without an expert nose.
“The underlying principle is that dogs have a much wider olfactory threshold than humans, and thus can detect very small concentrations of specific compounds just by their sense of smell,” Guillermo Calderón, TN’s marketing manager, was quoted as saying to Wine Spectator.
According to Calderón, one winery was having issues with wine contaminated by TCA, and one of the dogs successfully found the source of the problem: a small rubber ring located where the hose, which is what the humans thought the issue was, was plugged.
“The interesting thing is that the dogs were not wrong; it was a human mistake in terms of interpreting what the dog was trying to say,” Calderón said. “Their sense of smell is extremely reliable and rarely ever misses.”
TN Coopers is hoping to bring “the Natinga Project,” which is what the dog program is called, to other wine-centric regions such as California. His goal is to continue to train “a new generation of puppies that will be able to carry on with this initiative for many years to come.”