Pocket Sommelier: Making Sense of Wine Apps

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Hello Vino app interface
Hello Vino

Wow, how times have changed. It wasn't that long ago when 'wine and apps' meant a glass of dry rose and brie before dinner. Now there are over 450 wine applications to check out for the iPhone. That's six times as many wine apps as were available for the iPhone last year. There are apps for wine reviews, food pairing, wine journaling, games, interacting with other vinophiles, apps to buy a drink for a friend or to find a winery. There are a lot of choices unless you have an Android or a Blackberry, then you already know you are much more limited.

My first download was Hello Vino, a good choice for the wine app newbie. This very popular, free application, is available for the iPhone and Android. Hello Vino bills itself as an app for the wine aisle, offering pairings, reviews and more.

The next thing I knew, I had downloaded a dozen apps but my excitement fizzled fast. Some of the apps got buggy on me and I often couldn't find the information I wanted. For example, I searched for a dry, zingy Verdicchio that I had recently at a nearby restaurant. Drync could tell me the price but not where I could get the wine. Snooth's free version came back with four stores, including one in New York and one in Amsterdam. Thinking I might be missing something I called on a guy who knows a lot about wine apps -- Paul Mabray, founder of Vintank. Vintank is a digital think tank for the wine industry. I asked Mabray why am I having such a hard time searching for a bottle of wine?

"The best app for finding wine accurately is Wine-Locator. Unfortunately, they don't have a large amount of brands supporting their platform. The problem is very simple, imagine synchronizing all the inventory of all the stores that carry wine with their myriad of different inventory systems as well as how they enter wine into those systems (calling it everything from RMCS2008 to Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008). The problem has too much inertia."

If you are trying to navigate your way through the dizzying array of wine apps, you should know, Vintank has done the hard work for us. They have tested, rated, and even categorized, 452 wine apps for the iPhone. Check out this super cool wheel chart with Vintank's top 26 apps. If 26 is still too much, then maybe it's enough to just know what's on Mabray's phone. I pinned him down to his top picks.



corkbin interfaceCORKBIN

Mabray: "This is an easy journaling concept. I will never write a tasting note, it's just not in me but I do want to know what I had with dinner last night."
Editor's note: This 99-cent application is available for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android.

Daily Grape InterfaceDAILY GRAPE

Mabry: "Gary Vaynerchuk's daily reviews are very educational and everybody loves Gary."
Editor's note: This free app is only available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Drync InterfaceDRYNC

Mabry: "With the $4.99 version, you can have access to ten databases including WineZap and Snooth."
Editor's note: The New York Times, Vintank and Mashable all rate Drync one of the top wine apps. It's also available for Android and as a free version.

Social Grapes interfaceSOCIAL GRAPES

Mabry: "I am just starting to check this one out. It has the best interface I've seen."
Editor's note: Social grapes is free and compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

NatDecants InterfaceNATDECANTS

Mabry: "Nat Decants is one of Vintank's favorites. She has a good database for her barcode reader and she is on several different platforms."
Editor's note: Canadian wine sommelier, Natalie Maclean wins the multi-platform award. It is free and available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Blackberry and Android.

The holy grail of wine apps is image recognition. Think of being able to take a picture of a wine bottle and instantly find stores where the wine can be purchased. Snooth Pro and Tesco Wine Finder have image recognition built in. It just doesn't work that well. Mabray says, "The technology is probably 3 to 5 years off." In the meantime, barcodes are the most successful right now. Retailers use them to manage inventory. But consumers can use their iPhone 3GS or 4, with certain wine apps, to scan the barcode and use it to get more information, like reviews. "The downside is that barcodes don't distinguish vintage to vintage and they sometimes are skewed by the curvature of the bottle," says Mabray.

QR Code photo
Photo by: rKrov

And then there are QR codes (Quick Response), several Bay Area Bites readers have written in about these. They are those funky squares with little dots on some wine bottles. QR codes are two dimensional bar codes. Consumers can use a smart phone with a QR app to scan the code and find out more details, maybe even see a video, about the bottle of wine they are considering. They are endemic in Japan and I've seen then on wine bottles from Portugal and Spain. But, to be honest, I went to three local wine stores and could not find one bottle with a QR code. There are just not many wineries using them. According to Mabray, "Major suppliers tend to use them on the neckers. The biggest challenge is not the app technology, it's again, about the data on the back end. We have a huge problem in the wine industry with data. We are working on it. It's the biggest obstacle to wine succeeding digitally."