Apps Spell Doom For Wine Critics

Stephen-CSW-Header(PORTO, PORTUGAL) – The advice I have given over the years is largely to ignore the wine critic reviews and drink what you like. This may be somewhat idealistic in that not that many people have the time or want to make the time to evaluate the different wines they like. They just find it easier to drink what the highest scores seem to promise as the best wine.

Sounds a bit foolproof, except that with grilled fish a 92 point Shiraz vs a 87 point Vinho Verde the system breaks down, since Shiraz simply does not pair well with grilled fish.

There are several wine apps in the marketplace that promise to make things easier to pick wines based on points, yet they are still point driven. Load them on your phone, scan the bottle at point of purchase to get a rating, and who needs to take the time to read what a critic has to say about it.

However, unless the app also advises on the possible food pairings and essential characteristics, the only plus point is rapidity. But that can easily be misdirected.

At the 2016 Port Wine Day held in Porto, Portugal, on September 9-10, several speakers addressed the growing trend of wine selection apps.

One app Vivino is a clever attempt by its CEO and founder Heini Zachariassen to make the life of a busy person much simpler when purchasing wine.

Zachariassen claims that only “the crowd” rates the wines to come up with an average rating and that Vivino receives over 100,000 ratings a day. Essentially, it’s the crowd that will be picking and rating the wine.

They are regular drinkers who are not critics and are without any professional experience in wine evaluation. Let the masses choose.

Once you download the app, photograph the label, and up comes a rating, average price, and reviews, assuming of course the wine is on the Vivino database.

However, a search of a few Canadian wineries produced scant user reviews or ratings. I even recognized in one case a user being a winery representative of the wine reviewed; self-promotion.

Nonetheless, it’s a smart idea for those into determining a quality of a wine by the points system considering that Vivino claims 75% of the world’s wines are not rated by critics. There are even top reviewers with numbers of followers listed, which sounds a bit like a wine critic blogger.

Vivino even permits you to create your own profile in terms of what you have selected and how you have rated the wine. It also permits you to determine if your reviews can be public, shared by friends, or seen by everyone.

In addition to reviews, there are useful subheadings of information such as Latest, Featured, Trends, Food and Drink, Wine 101, Wine Lists, Entertainment, and Wine Styles.

Vivino claims to have slightly over 19 million users and that its crowd ratings correlated strongly with ratings by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator. Furthermore, they correlated more closely than Robert Parker and Wine Spectator correlated together.

Zachariassen stated that Vivino was created by those not in the wine industry but is a product for normal wine drinkers that quickly want results.

In terms of Port, it is quite interesting that the Vivino system picked up the following descriptive words amongst its users:

  • smooth,
  • fruity,
  • syrupy,
  • oxidative,
  • sugar,
  • fruitcake,
  • pepper,
  • prune,
  • earthy,
  • sweet,
  • chocolate,
  • rich,
  • raisin,
  • nutty,
  • dessert,
  • caramel, and
  • alcohol

Not bad, but there are some key descriptors for Port that are not included which causes me not to rely on Vivino completely. A very useful tool, but I wouldn’t place complete faith in it to present a complete and accurate picture of Port or any other wine for that matter.

Is the consumer so overwhelmed by a wall of wine that it needs to pull out a phone and get immediate information?

Ryan Opaz, co-founder of took the opinion that wine consumers may not be that confused to the extent they need the crutch of a wine selection app. He believes that consumers and producers do not see each other correctly.

The producer seems to be wanting to make wine complicated, yet the consumer just wants to find a pleasing wine.

Opaz felt that wine producers are now thinking social media is some magic to sell wine. He believes it works well if the wine is available in the community of the social media user so, in that way, a discussion on it and its exposure can grow.

The amount of followers is irrelevant unless they are affecting and influencing the purchase of wines. The discussion on social media should continue after the event that sparked the discussion has left.

Phones with aps are wonderful tools, but what about actually meeting and dealing with producers. Put your phone down and talk, is Ryan’s message.

Are we simply relying on our phone to justify our preference instead of letting our own senses decide what we like?

Continuing along the line of Opaz, Janna Rijpma Meppelink, an international wine expert, wine entertainer, and journalist, made the point that she loves her phone more than her husband.

The consumer is interesting in drinking a story. The vision of Port is that of an old man and a cigar. Port has to be opened up to the younger generation. It has to be special. Look to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s purchase of a winery in Provence. It created a stir and demand for rosé from the winery increased.

According to Rijpma Meppelink, unless the younger consumer gets attracted to Port, demand may soon drop as current Port lovers are older and beginning to die off.

Producers need to know who the younger generation is and how they can be influenced to drink Port.

Is it in cocktails? Does it require smaller bottles with new designs?

Something must be done to attract attention of the younger generation to Port. We must never forget that wine is a sensory product and subject to, nose, eyes, mouth, hand, and ear.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen