Jay Jacobs took my NYU class this past semester. He’s getting into wine and is a techie so he was interested in the latest wine apps. He ended up downloading a few–including one in beta–and test driving them so I invited him to write up his findings here.
By Jason Jacobs
“Just tell me the app that shows me the best wines and how to buy them.” I hear you. But as you might guess, all apps are unique, and there is usually no one app that’s perfect. So what I’d like to explore is an overview of four of the biggest wine apps on the market today, and why each of them might be worth your time—or not.
A quick bit about me – I work on the mobile team at a startup in NYC as the product manager for our app. And while I live in the world of apps, I am just recently getting into wine. Hopefully this gives me a unique perspective that allows me to work through a series of wine-related apps and figure out which is the right one for you.
What I’m looking for:
1) Easy to Use and Understand
2) Easy to Buy Wines
3) Helps Me Discover New Wines
The four apps I’ve chosen to review here are two dominant ones that help log and select wines, Delectable and Vivino, as well as two new wine apps, Banquet and Wine Ring. The three concepts are what I’ll be keeping in mind as I’m using these apps since I assume these are the major goals for the people downloading them. One of the apps stands out above the rest and earns a “thumbs up” from me. The others are either solid or emergent, and the fourth still has some way to go.
Delectable is the app that people who work in the wine industry care about. It’s the place to go for knowledgeable ratings, a fleshed out social network, and a smooth research experience.
Delectable is a great resource to buy wine with. There’s a fantastic photo identification system that allows you to take a picture of any wine with your phone and it will find the wine’s profile in the app for you. If the wine isn’t identified, it gets sent off to the Delectable team for identification. You can also search for any particular wine by typing its name in Delectable’s search function, which provides an accurate and detailed list of results.
Once you’ve found the wine you’re looking for, the app provides overall user ratings, pro (industry) user ratings, lists where the wine was made, what varietal it is, the price Delectable is selling the wine for, and all written reviews. The most helpful thing I found is that they separate the pro reviews from the regular reviews so I can have an idea of what professionals think about this wine in addition to everyone else who uses the app. It’s also extremely helpful to see the varietal for some of the Old-World wines that I am unfamiliar with. And if you’re not in a shop, the ability to easily buy the wine right from Delectable is a great convenience.
Reason to Download
The absolute best thing about this app is the fact that it is the go-to app for sommeliers, producers, wine journalists, and many others with a professional opinion. You get to follow whomever you want just like Twitter, and you can see all of their recent and past activity. What this means for you is that you get to see what the people you follow are drinking, what they think about it, who they’re drinking with, and their entire backlog of wines they’ve shared. This alone is enough of a reason to get the app because it gives you free access to insider wine knowledge you would have never come across elsewhere. It also acts as helpful photo log to keep track of not only where your wine dollars have been going but also which wines you liked and didn’t.
Ease of Use
While there is definitely a bit of a learning curve, Delectable is an app with tons of depth and many reasons to keep coming back. It couldn’t be easier to use the camera identification, and reviewing a wine is incredibly easy. I love the fact that I can buy almost any wine I see, which is a great bonus considering the wines that the people I’m following are drinking might not be in my local store.
The learning curve comes into play because there are a lot of things crammed into this app, and I don’t think they are organized in the most effective way. For example, if I want to see the taste insights of someone I’m following without relocating them through the search function (which apps should never make you do), I have to navigate to the Profile tab, make sure that I’m on my profile screen (since it stays on whatever screen you were last viewing), know to click the word “following” which is written in the smallest font I saw in the app and looks absolutely nothing like an interactive button, hit their profile, then finally tap on the Taste Insights tab that is located on a nav bar in the middle of the screen. There are lots of examples like this where many of the helpful features are a bit too buried for their own good, but once you learn the paths, nothing is unmanageable.
Other Things I Like
Taste Insights is how Delectable has chosen to chronicle your taste profile. There are 4 sections to each person’s Taste Insights. The first is whom you drink with and whom you tag when you write about the wines you drink. The next is a list of your Top Styles, which shows you your most-reviewed varietals and regions. After that is a list of your most popular regions, giving you a geographical overview of the places you drank the most from. And last is a list of all the ratings you have left along with what you wrote for each wine. I love this feature because it really helps me think about the things I’ve been drinking and gives me a way to visually categorize and easily remember my past wines.
Delectable gave me an expert-based opinion on anything I wanted to drink, a good way to chronicle and rate the wines I tried, and an unmatched network of high-quality users I could follow and learn from. Out of all the apps here, this one also has the best form of discovery since you can follow experts with similar taste profiles to yours and trying the wines they are posting about.
Banquet is a new app from the same people that made Delectable, and I think it’s a convenient new way to buy wine from a wine store. The only catch is that it’s in beta right now, and only available in a very (very) select number of stores. This will certainly change, but this is a review of the app as it stands.
Here’s the gist — you open the app, choose your favorite retail store, choose a wine, then buy it and pick it up in the store. The app is incredibly simple and gets to the goal of you drinking wine much better than the others here. It also leverages the ratings from Delectable to give you context, reviews, and pictures for that bottle. You can save bottles that you love or that you want to try so they’re a breeze to order next time. There are also great staff picks and written descriptions for several of the wines from each store.
The process of buying and picking up the wines was incredibly easy. I entered my payment info in the app, selected a free in-store pickup (ground shipping was $12), then waited for an email from my retail shop saying that the bottle was ready. From purchase to store pickup confirmation was one day, and I can see that being sped up as the app is further into development. Once I received my confirmation, I walked into the store, approached the first employee I saw, told them I ordered from Banquet, and they gave me my wine as soon as I showed them my confirmation. No waiting in lines, no hassle.
If you’re looking to buy a bottle and don’t want to go to the store to pick it up, you can have it shipped to you. This process doesn’t make as much sense to me since I can order my wines from anywhere online instead of this. The slight benefit here is that you might trust the wines curated by particular retailers and feel better about buying a wine you’ve never tried as opposed to buying from a random website. One downside about this process is that there’s no search feature that allows you search all stores simultaneously, so you have to search each individual store if you’re looking for something specific.
Reason to Download
Banquet provided an extremely smooth virtual-retail buying process. I was able to comfortably browse my local wine shop’s huge selection from my couch and easily pick out a bottle of wine that the store’s staff recommended or that Delectable verified. The huge benefit is that you can search the inventory of your favorite store when you have a few free minutes, then buy what you want and get it later. You don’t have to linger in the store, and you don’t have to hope that you’ll have enough service on your phone to send off a picture of a bottle and grab its reviews and ratings. If you can wait a day or so to go to a store to get your bottle and don’t have a complicated question only a staff member can solve, this is a very easy way to buy wine.
Ease of Use
There are only three tabs, and you’ll spend 99% of your time in the Shop tab. It’s extremely easy in every way since your assumed objective is buying a bottle of wine.
What I Like
Banquet has a great search feature to look through wines within your store. It uses a tagging system that can get really specific about what you’re looking for. For example, I can start out by typing “France”, then tap one of the auto-filled tags that appear to choose a varietal such as Chenin Blanc, then select a region like the Loire Valley, then an area like Anjou Saumur, and even an appellation such as Coteaux du Layon. It gets very detailed. The key is that all of this is fluid so you can start large then get an idea for what you want by experimenting with different tags and seeing what you find. And the icing on the cake…all of this can be filtered by price.
Assuming that Banquet can get more shops on board and make the purchase handoff to the shops to be as efficient as possible and ready within an hour, I can see this app becoming big. So if you want a bottle of wine from your local shop, this is a great way to save time and buy it with ease.
Vivino is the other big player in the wine app world, and that’s not a fluke. It has tons of functionality and information with more wine reviews submitted than any other app.
Vivino is another app that has a great camera upload feature that identifies your wine based only on a photo of the label. When you ID a wine, it will show you the wine’s average user rating, winery, varietal, region, average price, a bit about the general style of the wine, reviews people have left, links to buy online and in local stores, and how the wine ranks within its winery, wine region, country, and the world. Yes, that’s quite a bit of information. And if you subscribe to their service, you can see ratings from the subscription wine publications too.
If you’re buying wine when you aren’t in a retail store, there is an extra step involved. You’ll be forwarded to a non-Vivino online wine merchant, which is fine but involves re-entry of your information on another site, different shipping policies, etc. This is therefore an app that’s great to help you buy wine in a store you’re already in, but I would use a different service to buy wines directly from the app if possible.
Reason to Download
This app sets itself apart with its features and seemingly limitless information. The coolest thing about Vivino is its camera functionality, which has three different options. The first is the industry standard where you take a picture of the bottle’s label and it identifies it for you. There’s also a process in place to identify wines it couldn’t immediately recognize. That’s great, but it’s the other two features that are worth getting excited about.
The second camera feature is the ability to take several photos in a row and compare overviews of multiple wines at the same time. This is a huge help because you don’t have to flip back and forth in the app between the different wines you’re thinking about buying and can very easily compare them at once on the same screen. I’m sure we’ll see this in other wine apps soon.
The last camera feature allows you to take a picture of a restaurant’s menu and have the app scan the text to pull in their wine ratings for you. It will then overlay the ratings for each wine and provide links to their individual info pages. The big caveat is that this feature doesn’t identify 100% of the wines all the time, but when it works, it is really incredible to see—if you’re into their wine ratings. Protip: if you’re having trouble with the photo due to low lighting, have a friend turn on their phone’s “flashlight” and shine it on the menu while you take the picture or turn on your flash.
Ease of Use
The issue with much of Vivino is that it’s hard to find the things you want, and there are so many features and so much information that it not only feels overwhelming but often unnecessary at times.
Vivino has a newsfeed, but there aren’t as many wine professionals in the network to follow and there are a bunch of Vivino-created posts mixed in there, which you may or may not like. There are also large parts of the app that I find useless, like the ability to search for wines in nearby places. In theory this would be great, but since almost every place shown had 0 wines listed and the stores that actually had wines never really topped 5, I can’t figure out why it’s even in the app, let alone a pillar on the main nav bar. Another thing I’m confused about is how this app can have so much information about so many wines, yet when I search for wines with their main search bar, they only list the name and choose to omit the prices and ratings. This makes discovering wines through search a very difficult task.
What I Like
Aside from the really cool camera options Vivino has, there are a couple of personal flavor profile features that are really helpful. If you check out My Wines, you can see your regional styles which call out the varietals and regions you reviewed most and it allows you to tap through for more information about each individual style. First there’s an overview of the general style where they go on to describe the grape and it’s features, how many vineyards are currently using that style, what some of the tasting notes might be, and how the wines within that region vary. Then you can see the wines of this style you’ve rated, the top wines of this style, which foods these wines pair with, more information about the grape itself, and several similar wine styles you might want to try. All of this was very interesting to me since I am somewhat new to wine.
Vivino is a great app with tons of cool features. It’s the one that’s the most fun to use in a store or in a restaurant even if I don’t hold the reviews in the highest esteem. There’s lots of interesting information in here that I wish was more accessible, but the fact that it’s even gathered and in the app is an accomplishment. If you can overlook the lack of community and professional adoption and the limited options for buying when not in a store, this app still has a ton going for it.
Wine Ring (iTunes)
Of all the wine apps I tried, this one was the most ambitious. It sets out not only to identify wines, but also to predict the wines that you will like and dislike.
This is not a good app to buy wine with. While it does come with camera identification, I found that this app was unable to identify the bottles I photographed more than any of the other apps I tried. And unlike Vivino and Delectable, there is no function that auto-sends any unidentified photos to the app’s team to identify it and send it back to you, which is a huge letdown, rendering lots of unidentifiable bottles. If the app does recognize the bottle though, whether through text search or a successful camera identification, it tells you if it thinks you’ll like the wine, if it’s not sure about what you might think, or if it thinks you won’t like the wine. But in any case, you are left to actually find a bottle to purchase yourself since there is no link to buy wines through the app, and it doesn’t tell you which retailers around you carry them.
Reason to Download
Their major addition to the field is the fact that they claim they are able to predict whether or not you’ll like a particular wine. It’s important to note here how difficult it is to build a recommendation engine that works. No company–not Netflix , Apple or Pandora, to name a few—has gotten it right, even with massive investment and time. Recommendations are discovery’s biggest problem right now, and the folks at Wine Ring haven’t cracked it. I have over 20 wines rated in this app, and it was still not providing anything meaningful for me. I understand 20 ratings might not be a robust sample set, but I think that’s enough to show me more than the one suggested style of red and one suggested style of white in their Recommendations section, which is exactly what I was served up. More helpful than the Recommendations section seems to be the Will I Like It feature that allows you to search for any wine in their database and be shown if Wine Ring thinks you’ll like it or not (Yes/Maybe/No).
Ease of Use
Wine Ring is not well designed in almost any way. I mention this not because this article is a design review, but because it actually inhibits your ability to understand and use the app. It’s the only app in this selection that is still buggy and crashed on me multiple times But beyond that, the ways in which you interact with the app could all use a major redesign. For example, there are many screens in the app that appear blank, possibly until you have enough ratings entered for something meaningful to be generated by their system. The issue is that blank screens give me no insight into what actions I can take to help fill them, so I’m left wondering why 30% of my screens (like my Preference Profile) are empty and given no clues on how to change it.
What I Like
By far the best part of this app is it’s simplified rating system. There are only 4 options: Love, Like, So-So, and No. While it might not be as dynamic as a numeric rating system, I think it does a great job of focusing on what’s important when you’re drinking your wine — how it makes you feel. When I recall wines I’ve enjoyed, I am much more likely to think about them in these terms rather than a numeric representation. I also believe that thinking about your wines like this makes the whole tasting process more enjoyable since it’s a more fun and natural way of evaluating something rather than quibbling over decimals. In the other wine apps, I frequently found myself debating over 0.1 point in the rating for a surprisingly long time due to the fear that I will have recorded my tastes incorrectly. Wine Ring gets the ratings down to what matters, and I love that about it.
One of the more interesting features in the app is the ability to use your taste preferences to highlight the wines you would like most on a particular restaurant’s wine list and the ability to combine the profiles of a group of your friends to pick a bottle of wine that everyone will like. For the restaurant lists, there are several restaurants that have uploaded a wine selection to the app for you to choose from, so it is not like Vivino’s feature where you take a picture of the menu. This is great in theory, but unless every restaurant is motivated to upload their entire wine list to this app and keep it current (there are currently only a handful), this feature won’t be of much practical use. In terms of the group feature, Wine Ring analyzes everyone’s taste profiles and finds the wines that overlap with positive results for everyone. I didn’t get the chance to try this out, but it would be interesting for a dinner party or at a restaurant assuming everybody has their preferences stored in the app.
Overall, this is an app that means extremely well and attempts to take on an incredible task with its recommendation engine. Unless you’re willing to upload and rate a very high number of wines so Wine Ring can uncover your tastes, this might not be the app for you. I can’t even say if the recommendations will be good if you do since I was unable to input enough wines to allow their recommendations to be properly made, so the verdict is still out on this.
If I had to pick just one app from this bunch, it would be Delectable. While both Delectable and Vivino have great capacities to identify wines I find in the wild, Delectable has the pro reviews I love, as well as a social component with a very active set of industry experts for me to base my discovery on. And that’s the real key here. I don’t necessarily need an app to buy wine, even though Delectable does a great job of it. What Delectable provides that I can’t get anywhere else is a window into the minds of people who devote their entire lives to wine — it just so happens to get most of the rest right too.