Swirl, Sniff, Tap

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Wine apps are becoming almost as essential as a corkscrew.

Eric Levine caught the wine-collecting bug on a trip to Tuscany in 1999. This would not be a remarkable development, except that LeVine was an engineer at Microsoft, and while other novices might have been overwhelmed by the endless complexities of the wine world, LeVine simply saw a whole lot of data. His curiosity inspired him to create CellarTracker, an online database for cataloging and recording tasting notes that went on to attract more than 300,000 registered members and revolutionize the entire wine industry. Now CellarTracker is on the verge of going mobile, with the release of new apps that will extend access to its crowd-sourced reviews, up-to-the-minute tasting notes, bar-coding capabilities, and more, to almost everywhere. 

“We’re spending most our time on mobile scenarios now,” LeVine says, “focusing more on how collectors can use CellarTracker as a productivity tool.”

Over the last two years, wine apps have evolved from entertaining gizmos for novices into essential tools for the connoisseur and professional. Along with the burgeoning databases at CellarTracker, there are sophisticated new apps that use facial recognition technology to fully identify a wine with just a snapshot of its label. The beautiful display capabilities of the iPad and other tablets are being tapped as a means to showcase your cellar, with pages that rival a coffee-table book. Other apps streamline the ability to book winery tours and tastings, locate obscure bottles for sale, and much more. In the end, there are very few questions about wine or managing a cellar that cannot be answered instantly on a smartphone.

“There was a time people only went to Wine Spectator and Robert Parker for information,” says Jeff Smith, founder of Carte du Vin, a cellar management service. “But taking nothing away from their reviews, a best-guess 10 years ago isn’t as good as somebody who had it last night with dinner.” 

The database at CellarTracker (www.cellartracker.com) has information on 1.7 million distinct wines from a user collection of about 50 million total bottles. This wine information is enhanced by some 4.1 million tasting notes submitted by members. With all of that information literally at your fingertips—no need for your laptop or desktop computer—you can be sitting in a restaurant and look up a specific vintage offered on the wine list and instantly find notes from someone who enjoyed—or did not enjoy—the same bottle the night before.

Delectable (www.delectable.com) has taken the wine-tech industry by storm by employing fast and accurate image-recognition technology. Snap a photo of the label, and the app will identify the vintage, region, producer, and grape varieties. Users can also see what others think about the wine, and even purchase the bottle and have it shipped to them.

Delectable’s founder, Alex Fishman, launched the iPhone app in 2012 (an Android version is planned by the end of summer), and received $3 million in venture capital funding in March. Like LeVine, he was a techie—a data analyst from Palantir Technologies— with a passion for wine, and he focused on recognition accuracy to differentiate his company from the pack, says Julia Weinberg, the company’s head of partnerships and a winemaker.  

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Photograph courtesy of hotel Matlali
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