Bianca Bosker was the technology editor of The Huffington Post when she became obsessed with the World’s Best Sommelier Competition and decided to become a wine expert herself.
She quit her job and worked her way up from the bottom of the barrel over the course of 18 months, and chronicled her way through the wine world in her recent book, Cork Dork.
“The best way to become a thoughtful wine drinker is just to know what you like and what you don’t like, and that begins with knowing something about what grapes the wine was made from and where that came from,” she told Digital Trends. One way to do that is with the plethora of apps that help neophytes and oenophiles sort the plonk from the premier cru.
“These apps can be very helpful in giving you information very, very quickly, and logging it for the future,” she said. “Next time you’re out and about, you can bring that up and show someone, this is what I had recently and what I liked, and that’s a starting point for a very productive conversation about wine.” They’re helpful for keeping a library of wines you’ve tried or want to try all in one place, she said.
“These apps won’t make sommeliers obsolete.”
While they may keep all your ratings in one place and help you track down a bottle of wine, the apps aren’t a perfect replacement for a conversation with an expert. Bosker worries “people will rely on the app instead of talking to the sommelier or wine-store retailer, which is a shame. The best sommeliers are not cork pullers, they are story tellers.”
With that caveat in mind, we asked Bosker to take us through a few of the most popular wine apps available today. To test out the label recognition features, we took photos of five bottles of wine, three very popular and two somewhat obscure, and used them across all the apps with the feature.
Delectable (Free, iOS and Android)
Some apps are a bit like your personal wine journal, letting you add notes and ratings about what you’ve tasted. Delectable combines that with a social-media aspect, letting you see what well-known somms are drinking.
“I particularly enjoy getting to play voyeur and see what those people are drinking and what they think of it,” said Bosker. “I think of Delectable being Instagram for oenophiles.”
These users are “verified,” like on Twitter, but when you search for or snap a picture of the wine, you get ratings from everywhere. It breaks it out into overall ratings and pro ratings. You can also see notes from other users. We found the label recognition to be strong, as did Bosker, who said she’s taken photos of wine in the back of a cab and still had Delectable identify it.
Label recognition: 5/5
Bosker said Vivino is “impressively encyclopedic in terms of what it tells you about the wine. I really like the fact that it gives you not just tasting notes and ratings but also how it stacks up against other wines, where you can buy it, the winemakers’ notes, the grapes that were used.”
You can also find food pairing suggestions; the wine’s ranking within the winery, region, country, and world; and price comparisons for different vintages. This app was her choice for newer wine drinkers. “It’s a very clear and pleasant user interface,” she said. “I think it combines all the best information without being overwhelming.”
If there’s no sommelier to talk to or you’re just picking up wine from the grocery store, Vivino lets you scan several wines at once and give their comparative rankings, and does the same for wine lists. When you look at the similar wines, it gives you similar wines in similar price ranges.
That can be helpful, but might not in the same way an expert is, said Bosker. “You’re not finding the hidden gems,” she cautioned.
Label recognition: 5/5
It seems Wine Ring’s goal is different from Delectable’s or Vivino’s. It wants to serve you up wines you like, the masses and pros be damned. As a result, it doesn’t show you other people’s ratings.
We found it had a lot of trouble with label recognition, meaning we had to type in a lot of our favorite wines to get it to start to build a profile for us. “It’s a little more labor intensive,” said Bosker. For example, we had to rate a lot of rosés before it stopped recommending cabernet.
It’s a cool idea,” said Bosker. “It seems like they haven’t built out all the things they want to do just yet.” The Channels and location-based features didn’t seem to work for us, either.
The pricing was difficult to decipher, as low-cost wines such as Barefoot Bubbly, Korbel, and Cook’s were all listed as two dollar signs (but cost under $10 at BevMo), while Moet & Chandon’s Imperial Brut (closer to $50) had one. And when we clicked on a wine, it didn’t offer an actual price for comparison. This app seems aimed at moderately knowledgeable drinkers, those who know what they like, but want to explore and expand their horizons.
Label recognition: 2/5
Wine Searcher (Free, iOS and Android)
While less serious wine drinkers can certainly use Wine Searcher, where it really shines seems to be in helping collectors track down niche bottles. “Their website is very helpful in terms of directing you to places where you can buy certain bottles and likewise the app is good at taking a broad inventory of where wines are in retailers around the world,” said Bosker.
It has a lot of the same information as Vivino, including grapes used, food suggestions, and critics’ scores. “There’s a lot of information that hardcore oenophiles would find interesting,” said Bosker, including Q&As with winemakers, trends, and news. “There may not be as much hand-holding as you can find with other apps,” she said.
Label recognition: 4/5
Hello Vino (Freemium, iOS and Android)
Let’s get this out of the way: While other apps let you scan bottles for free, Hello Vino charges $1 for five scans or $5 for unlimited scans. After paying a buck, the app only recognized three of our five wines, though it didn’t detract from our credits when it couldn’t find a wine.
If Hello Vino has a target audience, it’s likely new-comers. “The idea seems to be to de-mystify wine,” said Bosker. “They’re recommending a lot of very big producers. There are a lot of people who would probably find this very helpful and a great hand-holder to start navigating wines, but I think the wines are not really imaginative, unusual suggestions.”
Some wines had details and food-pairing suggestions, while others did not. More helpful than the suggestions is the guide, which has a long list of grape types. It gives pronunciation and tasting notes, as well as food pairings and some wines. “It’s just broad enough that you gain a little more insight while you’re drinking without getting lost in an encyclopedia,” said Bosker.
Label recognition: 3/5
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