Friday, June 18, 2021
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Which bottle to buy? Just ask your phone.

🕐 4 min read

Our smartphones keep getting smarter. Not only do they help us talk to each other, they also help us avoid talking to each other. They alert us to breaking news and notify us when it’s time to leave for appointments. They know how long it will take to drive to work and which routes will get us there faster.

And our phones have figured out whether we will like a wine before we even try it.

At least, so claim the creators of Wine Ring, a new smartphone app joining an already crowded folder of apps allowing us to record, rate and share our wine experiences with the world. Wine Ring uses patented algorithms to develop a preference profile from the information you feed it; the more wines you rate, the more detailed your profile becomes. Then, when you’re in a store standing before a shelf full of unfamiliar bottles, just scan a label into the app and it will tell you whether the wine fits your preference profile.

“Every time you rate a wine or change a rating, we reevaluate your preferences,” says Andrew Sussman, co-creator with Pam Dillon of Wine Ring.

Rating wines on Wine Ring is easy. It give you four choices: heart, thumbs up, so-so and nope (symbolized by a circle with a line through it). No stars or rating scales to make you distinguish the quality difference between 89 and 90 points.

“You and I can talk about a wine, its acidity, structure, residual sugar, all those attributes,” Dillon says. “But in the end it’s love, like, so-so or dislike.”

Wine Ring is still developing its social media tie-in. The app shows connectivity with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as “coming soon.” With connections and followers, you will be able to ask Wine Ring to recommend a wine for a group, using each member’s preference profile.

If you sense marketing gold in the data gathered from consumers, you’d be right. Dillon says the patents on Wine Ring’s algorithms could be applied to any consumer product involving taste, smell and feel, and the data gathered during the two-year beta phase (Wine Ring was released to the broader public this year) show trends in consumers’ habits and preferences.

“No sommelier knows what a guest is drinking 365 days of the year, but we do,” Dillon says. (Assuming, of course, the guests enter every wine they drink into the app.)

And what are people drinking?

“Fruit wines, local wines, wines from Texas or Colorado – it gives us a glimpse into what people are actually drinking” says Sheri Sauter Morano, one of five masters of wine on Wine Ring’s high-powered team of consultants. (Five master sommeliers also helped develop the database, which as of June included approximately 300,000 labels.)

“It’s not just the unicorn wines,” Morano adds, referring to the rare and desirable bottles that users of other wine apps, such as Delectable, like to brag about drinking.

“You’re watching the evolution of a product, but also the evolution of popular taste,” Dillon says. “And yeah, they drink pineapple wine.”

I found Wine Ring easy and enjoyable to use over a several-week trial. It quickly identified my love of Oregon pinot noir and Austrian Riesling, and it warned me away from some oaky chardonnays. (Those wines turned out to be just “so-so.”)

There was one glaring problem, though: The app failed to identify most of the labels I scanned into it. That could be because the database is still small (and I have eclectic tastes). Once you rate a wine the app doesn’t recognize, you can enter the data yourself or wait for one of Wine Ring’s consultants to verify the information. The wine later (typically) shows up in your “journal” within the app.

Other apps compete with Wine Ring for screen space on our phones.

Vivino and Delectable are favored by the wine-enthusiast crowd. Vivino’s label recognition speed and accuracy beat Delectable’s, but the latter app has a glamour quotient, with famous sommeliers and winemakers posting frequently.

CellarTracker is the app for collectors, with excellent label and bar-code scanning and a feature for inventorying your cellar. Because it was a popular website long before smartphones, CellarTracker has an extensive database of wines, tasting notes and ratings.

Our smartphones can tell us a lot about wine, but there’s one thing they can’t do: They still need us to drink it.

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