Whether you’re looking for a specific bottle or wanting to find the best price, there’s an app for you
WHEN I FIRST STARTED working in wine retail in the late 1990s, if someone asked for a producer we didn’t stock, we had to go through the long and sometimes laborious process of looking up their details in a large import directory. Even then it would often require at least two phone calls to locate the correct stockist-and that was before we got to the exact wine and vintage. Looking back, the whole thing feels like something out of the 1950s, even though it was just 15 years ago.
Today, thanks to tablets and smartphones, we have our very own portable sommelier, wine encyclopedia, tasting-note database and price-comparison chart in our pockets. When it comes to hard wine information, we really are living through a golden age. There are literally hundreds of apps you can download, from individual importers and critics to educational apps and price-comparison versions like the soon-to-be-released Wine Owners ( wineowners.com ), which will allow you to value your wine cellar on its database.
For those just getting into wine, this can serve as a very useful beginner’s course. For the wine-loving restaurant-goer, it means you have everything you could possibly need to navigate your way around a wine list. Take, for example, the recently launched Raisinable (free; raisinable.com ), which compares the price of a wine on a restaurant list to its retail price, or Plonk (free; plonk-app.co.uk ), which, as well as many other features, tells you how to pronounce your favorite wine correctly.
So which are the best? Taking a look at the choices, my first observation is that this is a crowded marketplace. Sometimes it seems as if there are almost as many wine apps as there are wines. Though I know that’s not true, the bounty of options is no less overwhelming. Second, wine knowledge is essentially all about the database. If you have a tasting-note comparison app that is as slick and user friendly as possible but its database isn’t well-stocked, it won’t do you much good.
Leading the pack are two San Francisco-based companies: Vivino and Delectable. In both, the user snaps a photo of a wine label and instantly gets information about the wine, including ratings and descriptions. You can also add your own notes and descriptions. In this sense, they feel a bit like a TripAdvisor for wine, with databases made up of users. Their follow features, which allow you to peek at (and like and comment on) the bottles other users are drinking, have an Instagram ease. Vivino Wine Scanner (free; vivino.com ) claims to have more than seven million users; Delectable (free; delectable.com ) wouldn’t release its user figures but does boast a number of winemaker and sommelier users.
I like both apps; I enjoyed snapping bottles and finding out how much they cost and a little bit more about the region and grape variety. Where I felt they both fell down was on their reviews, which can be erratic. Wine is so subjective-perhaps even more so than travel-that it’s difficult to gauge the quality of a particular wine from various differing views. What I’m looking for is consistency, which is why I can see how an individual critic giving a rating would be useful-but then you could argue that I would say that, wouldn’t I?
FIVE WINE APPS WORTH SEEKING OUT
Delectable // Take this slick, easy-to-use label-recognition app to your local wine store and spend hours snapping bottles and finding user reviews, prices and ratings. The quality of the reviews is erratic, so compensate by following critics to find out what they’re drinking. Free; delectable.com
Vivino // With almost 7.5 million users and over 13 million wine ratings in 2014, this is clearly a popular tool. Users can quickly scan the label of a wine and Vivino will provide the price, average rating and reviews, as well as a little info on the wine. I didn’t find all reviews that helpful. Free; vivino.com
Cor.kz // Linked to CellarTracker’s large database, this wine review app’s tasting notes (they claim to have more than 2 million) are helpful and reliable. Just tap your wine into the search or scan the bar code and you’re good to go. £1.49; cor.kz
Plonk // Aimed at the complete beginner, this app includes an overview of grape varieties, wine styles, food pairings and country guides. I particularly liked the audio function, which teaches you how to pronounce the names of wines correctly. Free; plonk-app.co.uk
Wine-Searcher // This app takes wine price-comparison website Wine-Searcher and translates it into an easy-to-use app. By tracking the lists of thousands of wine merchants, it provides a reliable database for buying wine. But where it really excels is in price comparison and helping you navigate the best places to buy a particular bottle. Free; wine-searcher.com