The mythical chalice of wine technology–wine tech’s Holy Grail–is to have software that will tell you which wine to drink. For years, I’ve heard companies aiming to be the “Pandora of wine” (later updated to the “Spotify for wine”) that seek to give you wine recommendations based on previous wines you’ve given a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
The latest aspirant for the Grail is an app called Wine Ring, launched last week in the iTunes app store. Founded in 2011, the company has raised $4 million in private equity funding. Over that time, and with the help of a bouquet of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, the company has assiduously compiled tasting characteristics of over 100,000 wines on a total of 400 attributes.
As with apps Delectable and Vivino, Wine Ring users snap pictures of wines they are drinking and, through optical recognition software, easily build a useful journal of wines you’ve tasted. Similarly, users here rate wines though this time on a four-point scale (Love it, Like it, So So, or Dislike). Whereas Delectable and Vivino prioritize sharing, Wine Ring uses the wines a user enters to build a profile of a user’s palate. From there, the algorithm claims to predict wines that a user would like.
Really, this is not hard for a human wine geek. If you tell me that you like a burly zinfandel and a jammy Australian shiraz, I can tell you with 99.9% certainty whether you will like an amarone. Pam Dillon, CEO and co-founder of Wine Ring, admits as much. “Our algorithm behaves like a wine expert would,” she told me in a phone interview.
“The wine industry had not been ‘figured out’ by the tech,” she said. “The product is pushed to consumers who have not been able to articulate what they want. This app changes all of that.” The USPTO has granted the company three patents in the are of sensory products.
The app is free to consumers but wine stores and restaurants that license it pay a fee. Dillon says having revenue on their launch day makes them stand out among tech start-ups. Though declining to mention her current-round valuation, Dillon thinks a billion dollar valuation is not a stretch for her company: she points to the fact that OpenTable provided backend support for 31,000 restaurants at a few thousand dollars apiece when it was taken over by Priceline last year for $2.6 billion. So far, Wine Ring has 20 licensing partners including the retailer Wine House in LA and Jean Georges restaurants.
There’s no denying that a wine expert is not always with you but your smartphone is. Can machine learning replace humans? Will wine critics and sommeliers be put out to pasture? We shall see. App developers will have to avoid the killer rabbits (and bottle variation) as they seek their Holy Grail.
Hit the comments with your experiences if you have tried Wine Ring.