Smartphone Apps to Improve Your Wine Smarts

hello-vino-resultIn this age of smartphones, tablets and instant access to information, it’s no surprise that the adage of “there’s an app for that” has made its way to the wine world.

Whether you’re a seasoned oenophile or a novice wine drinker, a little knowledge can go a long way towards choosing the perfect bottle. In researching this article, a few apps appeared repeatedly as favorites and I’ve summarized them for you here:

Hello Vino (hellovino.com) is a robust wine pairing and suggestion app for the iPhone and Android. It can recommend wines with popular picks, value options and accolades. It lets you browse categories and subcategories of wines based on occasions, taste preferences, and wine varieties. You can take pictures of wine labels and use the app to get ratings, food pairings and tasting notes among others. It has a photographic memory which will help you remember your favorite wines. It also provides audio reviews. Cost: Free

Snooth Wine Pro (snooth.com/iphone-app) for iPhone lets you snap a picture of a wine label and the app automatically matches it to Snooth’s database of over one million wines. Once a match is found, the app gives you plenty of data to help you locate it near you or find an appropriate substitute if it’s not available close by. With this app, you can also add the wine to your Wishlist or Virtual Cellar; purchase the wine online through the Snooth retail network; read expert and user reviews and post your own; and browse for similar wines by winery, region, or varietal. Cost: $4.99. Note: A free version of this app is available as well, but the image recognition capability is not available and ads are displayed.

For Android users, check out Swirl Pro. It has a lookup function that accesses the Snooth database for similar details, but you have to type in the name of a wine rather than taking a picture. Cost: $2.99. Note: There’s also a free version that allows all of the browsing and tagging, but only lets you add a couple of wines.

Wine Events (localwineevents.com) is a simple, yet useful iPhone and Android app to have if you like to attend tastings, festivals, auctions and other wine-related activities and want to stay current on events in your area. It offers a plethora of choices for wine lovers, plus it gives you the option of posting the event to Facebook. Cost: Free

Cor.kz (http://cor.kz) is an all-purpose iPhone app touted as “like having a sommelier in your pocket.” Its most popular feature is its CellarTracker, which lets you access information on over one million wines. Use the search tab to find wines by name, region or varietal. There’s even a barcode scanner that identifies your bottle and delivers thousands of user ratings, tasting notes and other general information about the wine. Keep track of wines you like or want to try by rating them and adding them to your virtual cellar. Cost: $1.99

Wine Ratings Guide (nirvino.com) is another app for iPhone and Android that’s likened to having a personal sommelier with you at all times. This highly rated, user-friendly app connects to a database of over a million wines to provide reviews, tasting notes, pairing suggestions and price points. It offers room to add your own ratings and the ability to view customized lists from other users. Cost: $3.99

A few other apps worth checking out are Corkbin (corkbin.com), the Approach Guides Wine App (agwine.com), Drync Wine Pro (drync.com), and Vivino (vivino.com).

Have another favorite wine-related app? I’d love for you to share your recommendations with me.

Ugni blanc shows possibilities

UgniBlancSign1This post, written by Amber Nimocks, appeared in the September 15, 2013 edition of The News & Observer. While I haven’t been to Mandolin restaurant, I look forward to trying it soon and especially sampling some of their wines-by-the-glass! Enjoy.

My recent discovery of ugni blanc made it clear just how much I have left to learn about wine, which is almost everything.

Since the discovery coincided roughly with the occasion of my birthday, I have decided to view it as a harbinger of possibility. That may seem outsized, but 40-something birthdays are the sorts of inauspicious milestones that spur one to seek meaning from what’s close at hand, so I’m happy to take my hopeful signs where I can get them.

Actually, I’ve been drinking ugni blanc (oo-nee blank) for a while, I’m sure. I just didn’t know its name. Abundant in Gascony in southwest France, its’ most often distilled to make cognac and armagnac, but that’s not why I know it. Ugni blanc is a social type, kind of a popular-girl varietal that mixes well and never goes anywhere alone, so it winds up blended, often with colombard and gros monsenge as white table wine. The same varietal is similarly used in Italy, where it’s known as trebbiano. As I’m a huge fan of the $10-per-bottle French table white, I’ve had plenty of ugni blanc.

But on a recent evening when my husband and I found ourselves at dinner without our child, the entry of an ugni blanc-cassagnoles blend on the by-the-glass wine list at Mandolin seemed exotic. We were, of course, in a hurry, because we’d left ourselves too little time to eat before our movie started, so we opted for a table in the bar area. It was our first visit to the restaurant, and its reputation had primed my imagination. That combined with the casual magic of the setting — sleek armless chairs, low lights, and the view of the cooks at work through the long, wide kitchen window — made me feel like a tourist in my own town. I was eager for a discovery.

The ugni blanc was several shades more golden than the summer whites I’d been drinking, and the nose was dank and earthy. It surprised me with a mouthful of Granny Smith apple, almost as tart as good, hard cider. The acid helped it stand up to the charcuterie plate I was nibbling, proving especially good with the chicken liver paté and head cheese. This, I thought, is the perfect wine for fall.

Charles Kirkwood, the thoughtful curator of Mandolin’s wine list, puts a lot of emphasis on the by-the-glass offerings. The cassagnoles is a mainstay on that list because it’s a good value and readily available. “One of the big, stand-out characteristics that I look for in by-the-glass is that it has high acid, because the acidity is very important in pairing with food,” he said. “That wine, I find it has exceptionally balanced acidity and has minerality as well.”

Mandolin’s by-the-glass list is ripe for exploration with an orange wine, eight to 10 whites and reds, four sparkling wines, a rosé, four sherries and 14 dessert wines. Kirkwood changes the list monthly or weekly.

When I called to chat with him about the ugni blanc, I was at first a bit disappointed to learn that it was a varietal I’d had before. It’s kind of like seeing a name you don’t recognize on a guest list, and wondering who the exotic stranger might be, then finding out it’s an acquaintance you’ve always know by her nickname, which prompts you to greet her with “Oh, it’s you.”

But because it is my birthday as I am writing this, I pause to consider the possibilities of “meeting” an acquaintance under a new name or “discovering” a wine you’ve already known about. And those are vast.

So I’m taking my encounter with ugni blanc as a sign that the universe wants me to look more closely, to be more open to the wonders of everything I think I already know.

Can’t remember wine name? Now there’s an app for that

Flemings-SteakhouseThis article, written by Amber Nimocks, appeared in the June 16 edition of The News & Observer. I hope you find it to be as informative as I did. Enjoy!

Occasionally a wine tasting will bring a revelation, usually involving the personal discovery of a new varietal or region. But recently, a profound universal truth became clear to me as I was test-driving a new iPad application designed for wine lovers. I now know the real reason evolution has led humanity to become addicted to hand-held personal communication devices: to relieve us of the burden of remembering the names of wines we like.

This aha moment occurred last month as I spent an evening fiddling with a Winepad, the sleek new electronic wine menu that Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse has rolled out in all 65 of its restaurants. Winepads are iPads fitted with a custom-made app, developed by the chain’s national wine director and an in-house IT expert, that take the place of hefty, printed wine lists. The restaurant now offers one at every table and at the bar.

The experience of tapping and scrolling through the Winepad’s pictures and descriptive blurbs makes the traditional exercise of sorting through the pages of a traditional print wine list seem as onerous as reading the phone book.