iPhone Wine Apps - A British Perspective
Written by Leo Fiorentino   
Thursday, 13 May 2010 22:02

My eight and six-year-old sons are more technically advanced than I am. I was given an iPod – or was it an iPlayer? – for my birthday and within moments my boys had mastered it while I soon gave up. The damn thing never seems to play what I want to hear. As for iPhones, until recently they were a complete mystery.

But then I discovered that wine applications were all the rage. Apparently they have the potential to transform the experience of buying wine. All you have to do is take a photograph of the bottle in question and the "app" will tell you what you need to know: the price, who sells it and even what it tastes like.

But does this miracle gadget actually work? Determined to find out, I dragoon my friend Tim Harrison into tutoring me. As a serious wine buff and founder of the Mobile Consultancy, an apps advisory business, he's well-placed to whip me into shape.

"Ever since cameras had phones, I've been snapping the labels of bottles I've enjoyed before going home and Googling them," he says. "Wine apps go even further, appealing to two types: the hard-core enthusiasts who love the idea of collecting and logging everything they've had and the mainstream consumers who want to find the wine that suits them best, at a price they can afford."

Tim gives me a brief iPhone masterclass, after which I head off with my borrowed gadget to test-drive five wine apps. Sadly, I must report that this wasn't a wholly satisfactory experience. Not just because I'm baffled by technology, but because I didn't find the apps as helpful as I'd hoped (see my reviews, below).

Some didn't work without a phone signal (not much use if in a cellar), others were badly cross-referenced, out of date, overly convoluted (or overly basic) or simply too US-focused. For the moment I see little reason to get excited so l'd advise iPhone users to stick to Google.

Cellar (£2.99)

Fun rather than useful, this app allows you to build a virtual cellar. With a database designed to store info rather than dispense advice, this is one for wine-loving trainspotters. You can design your own bottle, its colour, shape and cork, and photograph a label and stick it on. So what? 2/5

Pair It (£1.79)

The app for food and wine matching. The trouble is that it's US-based – key in beef casserole and you get beef carpaccio.

I enjoyed the random matches, although I'm not sure how often I'm likely to serve meritage with coffee-rubbed beef with farro.

The recommendations are general rather than specific – medium or powerful reds with beef for example, such as claret or super Tuscans. But there are no producer names, prices or stockists. I felt rather marooned. 2/5

Wine Findr (£2.99)

This drove me mad. I snapped away until blue in the face, only to find my choices "unrecognised" (even though I chose well-known wines) or prices incorrectly given.

Equally annoying, a stockist would be found, only for the wine to be no longer listed. Even more frustrating, you're taken to the main website of the supermarket, rather than to the wine itself, so you have to start all over again. The food and wine pairing section was fun but general. 2/5

Tesco (free)

Efficient and easy to use. You take the photo of a wine label and the app searches the 1,000 wines stocked by Tesco, finds it for you, gives a brief tasting note and price and allows you to order it there and then for delivery. It also features a half-price wine of the week, and food and wine pairings.

I took a snap of my current favourite rioja (2005 Viña Pomal, stocked by Majestic, see panel, right) and it came up "unrecognised". They're missing a trick here and should have directed me to whatever riojas they do stock. 3/5

Wine Guide (£2.99)

Another infuriating application. At first sight it seems exhaustive. I found its search facility and cross-referencing seriously cockeyed.

Type in "Lafite" and you get "Lafazanis" from Greece; type in "Latour" and you get "Latour Chardonnay" from Napa. Try Pommard in Burgundy and you get Pomar Vinedos (Spain), Pomelo (US), Pommery (France) and Pomum (US).