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The holiday season is coming upon us soon and with it invitations to parties. "What should I bring?" you ask your hosts. "Just a couple bottles of wine," they say. You walk into the wine store and -- whoa -- hundreds and hundreds of bottles. Sure, you can buy based on price, you can read the description on the bottle (if there is one), and you can judge by the label. But how do you know you're getting a good wine and not just some overpriced grape juice?
Wine Spectator should be a name familiar to you if you've been to a wine shop. One of the two biggies in wine rankings, their review scores are regularly used in wine shops to draw attention to certain bottles. A higher score means a better wine, though that can often translate to higher prices. M. Shanken Communications, Inc., has put together the official app for the Wine Spectator magazine, VintageChart+.
Firing up the app in our hypothetical wine shop, you are first presented with a list of wine regions from Argentina to the United States. At the top is also a magnifying glass for searches. From this Quick View page you can also opt for a map view to see where on Google Maps certain wines come from.
Find a geographical region for your wine
Tap a region to move on. Some, like France, have sub-regions to get you deeper into places like Alsace where the soil and the climate is quite distinct from Bordeaux or Burgundy. Tap Bordeaux and you are given different types of wines grown in those regions. Tap, for instance, Left Bank Reds and you get a list of vintages going back to 1995.
Smaller regions get even more specific
Wait, you're saying, I want to know exactly what bottle of wine I should be purchasing. Why doesn't the app give me Wine Spectator reviews and rankings and access? Subscribe to the magazine if you're after specific suggestions. The VintageChart+, free as it is, can only provide you with vintage generalities.
Know when to hold 'em, know when to get sauced
So tap on Sauternes and you can tell if you should drink this wine now or if you should hold on to it in your cellar, letting it age and mellow. It will also let you know if a wine is past its prime and you've missed out on the best drinking experience. Tap on the year's listing and the screen expands to give a short description of the wines in this broad category.
That's a bit helpful
So should you be in a wine shop and you find a Sauterne from the Bordeaux region, choose a 2004 if they have one that old. Anything newer and you should really let it age. Hopefully you guess and pick a decent vintner because Wine Spectator is giving you no help here with specifics.
This is more like it, you say, firing up Nirvino's Wine Ratings Guide. Considerably more expensive than VintageChart+, but this is the kind of search you're after. The app opens to the Search page where you can type the wine's full name or just the keywords (you could even type in what food will be on the menu and Wine Ratings will list out some good pairings). We typed "frei" and "2009" and the app brought up a list of all the wines that had Frei as part of their name and were bottled in 2009.
Find the wines you want with a quick search
Quick and responsive, the app listed wines with star ratings, average price per bottle, and a very brief description, such as "buttery" or "citrus, peach." Tap a wine from the list and you are taken to its page. How many stars did it get from how many people, what type is it, what's its average price? You can read more flavor descriptions as well as see some good pairings with food. Tap the obligatory sharing button to send an email to friends with all the wine's details.
Quick details to find your wines
So who does the rankings for the app? Ah, there's a good question. Anonymous purchasers of this app crowdsource out the star system. Are these people any good? Can they recognize a Thunderbird from a Two Buck Chuck, let alone a Pahlmeyer Merlot? We can't answer that, nor do we suspect Nirvino could either.
Three more buttons run across the app's bottom, giving you access to a list of Quick Picks, such as "Top 100 Widely Available Store Wines Under $35" and "Ten Best Wines Under $20 at Rite Aid." This last list doesn't necessarily fill us with a sense that our critics are the cream of the crop, but that's all right. Sometimes, Rite Aid is your only option.
Target and Rite Aid, fine wine destinations?
Okay, you find a wine that sounds good in your price range, you take it to the party, it's a hit. Great. Navigate back to that wine's page in the app, tap the + sign in the upper right corner and you can get in the ratings game. Or you can add it to your Wishlist to buy again or your Cellar. To rate, pick from 1 to five stars with half steps and add your own tasting notes.
Unfortunately, very short descriptives and a star system is all that Nirvino's app will give you about the wines, but you're far closer to making that purchase.
Now we're talking. Applied Ambiguities, LLC has harnessed CellarTracker's database of over one million wines and almost double those reviews for Cor.kz Wine Info. From the Home page, type in the wine's name to get your search results. A list appears sorted by the drink by date. Tap sort to rearrange your list by name, rating, or vintage.
All this typing taking too long? Tap the blue barcode button at the far right of the search bar and if you've got Red Laser on your phone, scan the barcode to go directly to your wine. A picture of the label accompanies an informational page about the wine including its region, varietal, comparison with other vintages, typical price, and ratings with notes from multiple members of CellarTracker.
The little blue barcode makes it easy
Without a CellarTracker account, each wine page only has two buttons at the top of each description. Email, to share a wine description with someone, and Compare which allows you to stack up different wines against each other in a, uh, grape showdown, if you will. Tap the Compare button on the app's bottom to see how the rankings go.
App Showdown features grape showdown
But sign up for a CellarTracker account and suddenly buttons galore arrive. Tap drink to rate your experience quaffing this specific vino. Tap Add to include this wine on your Cellar list of what you're storing and aging. Want adds the wine to your wishlist. These wine lists are accessible by tapping the My Cellar button at the app's bottom. From here you can browse all your wines or just the ones you should drink soon, go back and check your wishlist, see a list of your wines arranged by varietal or region, and check back to see what you recently drank.
Organize, rate, tell us all about it
The Pedia button next to Compare gives you info on snooty wine terms like "back blending" and "demi-sec," a list of varietals and their description, and a breakdown of wine regions. Never not know about Alabama's place in wine culture again.
Learn about wines while you're at it
Like Nirvino's app, this too is crowdsourced, though enough additional information is provided to give you more of a feel for the wine's quality. Rather than stars and single flavor terms in a list, you get full descriptions of flavor, aroma, mouth-feel, and how much tannins are present.
We must admit our shock how hard it was to find an app that answered the basic question: Should I buy this wine? We downloaded around ten and only two really fit the bill.
Wine Spectator caters to a rather high income bracket kind of reader, so they've clearly not had to come to terms with the freemium market that exists outside the gated communities. We expected so much more from Wine Ratings Guide based on how much it cost. Though it was quite good and quite fast at finding our wine selections, the information given seemed insufficient to really make an educated decision. Cor.kz simply popped ours. The best search of the lot, tons of details, a hugely customizable way of keeping track of wines we drank, wines we want, and wines we're saving for a rainy day. With the holiday season fast approaching, put this app in your pocket and you'll be the toast of all the parties you attend.