The Best Wine Apps for Smartphones
The most useful iPhone apps for wine lovers
It used to be that when someone mentioned an app, they were ordering something to nibble on before the main course at a local bar and grill. These days, most talk of apps involves someone with their face buried in their smartphone, swiping or scrolling their way through some sort of game or program.
Yes, “app” is now most commonly associated with being shorthand for “application,” downloadable programs for mobile/smartphone devices. While there are apps out there that are little more than brainless (but highly addictive) time-wasting games, there are also more than a few that are incredibly useful.
Wine apps are plentiful and diverse, ranging from trivial to extensive to just plain silly. Wine and food pairing, cellar charts, community ratings, availability and more are available in varying degrees in many of the more useful wine-related apps.
Wine Access decided to review some of the most-common and functional wine apps in an effort to weed through the thousands that are out there. You’ll note the abundance of iPhone-related apps — given Apple’s huge success with its proprietary touch-screen smartphone, it’s no surprise most of the app developers are gravitating toward that particular phone.
The iPad and iPod Touch will run pretty much any iPhone app; however, some users may experience issues with resolution, screen size and general functionality. Check each app’s technical specs on their respective pages in the Apple App Store (apple.com) or contact the developer before downloading/buying the app if you have concerns.
Typically, on any smartphone, the apps that perform the best are the simplest and do the fewest tasks — they focus on one or two functions and do them well. In the end, there’s still no replacing real human interaction — picking the brain of a wine store employee, sommelier, etc. — but it’s nice to know there’s help in your pocket whenever you need it.
What follows are thoughts on the layout, ingenuity, functionality and value-for-money of some of these apps.
In a nutshell: A visual/image-based app that lets you build a cellar in your iPhone and features easy tracking and updating.
Pros: Attractive, fun and easy-to-use app to document your cellar.
Cons: Relatively hefty price tag. Labour-intensive. Your phone needs a camera to photograph labels.
Overall impression: This is a fun app that takes a few minutes per bottle: taking a picture of the wine’s label, choosing a bottle shape, foil and glass colour, typing in the description, etc. Most of these steps are required, even for wines you’d like to own but don’t (on your wish list). Once you’ve drunk a wine from the Cellar, the empty bottle is moved from the Cellar to the Garage (to be bought again) or the Trash (not up your alley).
In a nutshell: Browse reviews by region or varietal from Cellartracker.com, the world’s largest collection of user-generated reviews, or scan a bottle’s barcode to find reviews.
Pros: Barcode scanning. Pulls numerous reviews from CellarTracker.com and displays prices as found by wine-searcher.com.
Cons: Somewhat unattractive design (this shouldn’t come as a surprise to CellarTracker users) and barcode scanner isn’t always accurate. Slightly confusing home screen. Your smartphone needs a built-in camera to use scanner.
Overall Impression: Recommended — an app that’s functional will trump aesthetics every time, and this app is extremely functional. The barcode scanning is a nice touch, although at times it was tough to get the phone to scan the code. Overall, it’s my favourite app of the bunch.
Platform: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, mobile site for all other phones
In a nutshell: Renowned Canadian wine scribe Natalie MacLean’s proprietary wine app, featuring extensive options for pairing wine with food and vice versa, as well as her reviews (some require a subscription).
Pros: Canadian. Available on a wide variety of platforms. Doesn’t cost anything.
Cons: Pairing information too overarching; some navigation buttons are too small.
Overall impression: This is a good app if you’re looking for wine to go with a specific dish. However, the app doesn’t do as well when looking for food options for a certain wine. Hundreds of results are returned for each wine, some of which don’t make sense; for example, the app says a full-bodied cabernet franc would pair with rosemary, but who eats rosemary on its own?
Price: Free (Pro version $4.99)
In a nutshell: The app for this wine-related social networking site features image recognition and the ability to post reviews to your Snooth account.
Pros: Can snap pictures of labels to search the database, can easily add search results to your “cellar,” making for easy cellar management.
Cons: Little Canadian support re: nearby stores. Image recognition works inconsistently. Search results are poor (country filters are limited) and it's sluggish on older iPhones.
Overall impression: The image recognition feature (which works reasonably well) is only available in the Pro version. It’s recommended for those who like to impress with new technology and/or who are already signed up to the Snooth website. It’s a fun and fairly useful app that focuses on social networking via the Snooth site.
Platform: iPhone, Android
Price: Free (with ads and 10-bottle limit in virtual cellar), professional version ($4.99, ad-free and unlimited virtual cellar).
In a nutshell: Build a virtual cellar, rate/review wines tasted even when offline, search for existing reviews from a number of websites.
Pros: Breadth of review sources. Ability to share info via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Photos of labels can be added to wines in your cellar.
Cons: Navigation is somewhat confusing. Not many reviews generated.
Overall impression: This app isn’t nearly as intuitive as some others, and I found myself accidentally backing right out of the app more than once. It looks nice, but it’s a bit confusing.
In a nutshell: This location-based app can help you find wines in LCBO, SAQ or BCLDB outlets quickly and easily.
Pros: Locates by store, Canadian-based, barcode scanning, pulls in reviews when available.
Cons: Not as useful for wine drinkers outside of those three provinces, aesthetically underwhelming.
Overall impression: This app is a good one for the price, as its main focus is on functionality — not eye candy. Barcode scanning not available on older iPhones.
In a nutshell: With the tagline “pick a great wine every time,” the AG (Approach Guides) Wine app offers users extensive information about styles of wine, grapes, regions and food pairings.
Pros: Exhaustive descriptions of currently included regions, grapes, etc. Links to Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare. Integration of regional maps.
Cons: Lacking some winemaking regions/countries. Runs a bit sluggish on older iPhones.
Overall impression: This app shows great promise, but is still missing some key regions (Bordeaux, Portugal, Canada, etc.) and has some search issues (i.e. you can search by grape or region, but searching by grape still brings up the regions). Once fully fleshed out, it should be a great resource for wine geeks with mid-level (or more) wine knowledge. New countries and areas are gradually being added, and the iPad app looks really sharp.
Platform: iPhone, Android, with mobile web app for BlackBerry, Windows Phone
In a nutshell: “Helping you choose the perfect wine,” Hello Vino is a free app that helps you pick a wine for a meal, a special occasion, by taste preference, country and more.
Pros: Free. Runs smoothly. Good flow of information. Can share on Facebook/Twitter.
Cons: No fancy graphics.
Overall impression: This is a great app for the wine novice or those that are apprehensive about asking for help in a wine shop, especially when it comes to pairing wine and food; it literally will ask you how much you know about wine, how often you consume and how much you spend on average. It doesn’t take itself too seriously while posing logical questions to the user in order to help it help you find a wine. It’s functional, understandable and free.
Platform: iPhone, iPad
In a nutshell: We at Wine Access magazine will launch our very own wine app this spring; check it out for wine reviews and information about wineries across Canada.
Some wineries and wine-producing regions have their own mobile apps, available for download from their sites or “app stores.”
Here are a few to consider:
Cono Sur (iPhone/iPod Touch, free)
Benziger Family Winery (iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, free)
Penfolds, Rewards of Patience (download on iTunes; iPhone/iPod Touch, free)
Ridge Vineyards (iPhone/iPod Touch, free)
Santa Cruz Mountain Winery (iPhone/iPod Touch, free)
Wine Tripper (iPhone/iPod Touch, $2.99 for each region-specific app – B.C. Washington State, Ontario)
* Note: Apps listed as being available for the iPhone will typically work on the iPod touch and iPad as well, although they may not scale properly on the latter.