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Review: Wine Enthusiast Guide for iPhone

by Tim Elliott on March 2, 2009

Wine SearchBack when the iPhone App Store launched last July I did a search for wine applications. At the time there were just a handful of choices, most of them for taking notes which I wrote up as a first look post. A search today turns up about 30 wine apps with an array of choices for wine loving iPhone and iPod Touch users to take on the road.

One of these is the Wine Enthusiast Guide from Mobile Age who provided the app for me to review. It sells in the iTunes App Store for $4.99, at the high end of the wine apps available there. Like last year, I do not have an iPhone, but since my kids each have an iPod Touch I was able to install and spend about an hour checking out this application. I have some experience using earlier versions of the Wine Enthusiast Guide as developed for Palm OS by LandWare and will do some comparisons between the versions in my review.

Wine Review DetailWhen you first startup the iPhone version you are taken right to the wine guide. The database is licensed from Wine Enthusiast magazine and seems to be fairly up-to-date with over 65,000 total reviews (25,000 of which are less than 5 years old). Users can search on winery name to find producers making this screen handy in a wine store or restaurant. Like the Palm version, I found the “search” function to be the most useful, entering price, rating, style, varietal and appellation to find matching wines from the database. One of the issues with such a large database is that search results often return wines no longer available in the marketplace. So it would be nice to have a date range option here similar to how this problem is dealt with on online wine review databases. Once you have found a wine, you can view the Wine Enthusiast review and add this wine to your personal “wish list” for purchase later.

Other features include a handy wine vintage chart and a reference guide complete with wine terms and a “wine 101” section. Missing from the iPhone version is the wine notes and cellar management functions that were in the Palm version. This was a feature I used most when I had a Palm Treo and wish was a part of the feature set here. I understand there is only so much screen real estate available on the iPhone but these missing features would be a nod to more advanced wine lovers and would make this a complete package worth the asking price. Perhaps they are working on a follow-up notes and cellar management application.

Overall I found the Wine Enthusiast Guide for iPhone to be a handy tool for mainline wine consumers to use as a reference on the go. I would not recommend this app for more advanced users as they don’t have the tasting notes or cellar management features that would be of interest to this audience. But if you are looking for a mobile wine review tool on your iPhone and don’t subscribe to Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator online editions, the Wine Enthusiast Guide is a solid choice.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆
Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Disclosure: Mobile Age provided a review copy for me to try.

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The Trouble With “Wine Films”

by Tim Elliott on February 20, 2009

Bottle Shock

Image via Wikipedia

Since the movie “Sideways” in 2004, filmmakers have been trying to create movies that would evoke a similar response with audiences. “Sideways” became an independent film sensation that also intensified demand for Pinot Noir, and the opposite for Merlot, in the U.S. market. Most reviews, including my own, were positive for the film particularly in how wine was depicted. 

Time passed and other projects were put into production with the first “wine film” being Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year” in 2006. Since early reviews were terrible for the film, I passed watching it until it was on HBO. And I was somewhat surprised to find not the disaster expected but a flawed film with some decent performances. But it failed as a wine film since the filmmakers didn’t understand what “Sideways” got right.

They made wine a central character in the story.

Wine in “Sideways” was something that affected and transformed the central characters of the story. It took on a significance of being something more than just a prop, as wine had been in every film before “Sideways.” And wine continued in this subordinate role in “A Good Year” that couldn’t save a predicable retelling of “Under the Tuscan Sun” from a male perspective but set in Provence.

I thought the same thing while watching “Bottle Shock” last weekend. Like “A Good Year,” I waited until I could watch it as a part of my Netflix subscription and it was not as bad as I expected. But it wasn’t that good either despite the filmmakers attempts to make wine central to the story.

Very loosely inspired by George Taber’s “Judgement of Paris” the film tells the story of the Jim and Bo Barrett who’s Chardonnay beat the best white Burgundies in the 1976 blind tasting organized by Steven Spurrier. I can see why Taber and Spurrier have said bad things about “Bottle Shock” since they both come off as eccentrics if not buffoons (Taber especially). But it’s the film’s suspension of belief and compression of the story that really sink its chances of becoming another “Sideways.”

Adapting “Judgement of Paris” would prove to be a difficult challenge since the book is only interesting in the middle telling the stories of the people behind the winning wines. Both Warren Winiarski and Mike Grgich figure prominently in the book documenting the back story of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay but are nowhere to be found in “Bottle Shock.” Since the movie is about Chateau Montelena and Steven Spurrier, Winiarski’s lack of screen time is understandable but Grgich made the winning wine and is only evoked by a guy with a barret in the background of a couple scenes. This probably had more to do with the bad blood between Jim Barrett and Mike Grgich than the choices of the screenwriters, but these sorts of deviations from the facts ultimately prove too much and the result is a mildly entertaining tale that will bother wine lovers to no end with its loose ends (we are supposed to believe a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc is available at a dive bar in Calistoga? the temporary discoloring of the Montelena Chardonnay happened to the 1972 vintage and not the ’73 as depicted in the film).

But documentaries don’t have these sorts of issues since the viewer doesn’t have to read between the lines. And I’m happy to report that the new wine documentary “Merlove” is worth a look for anyone into wine. A full review and interview with filmmaker Rudy McClain on my next podcast posted this weekend.


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Corkscrewed: Mostly Screwed

by Tim Elliott on March 13, 2007

One of the benefits of the new Amazon unboxed for TiVo is I can rent programs my local cable company does not deliver such as Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes. If this effort is any indication, I don’t want the type of programing offered on Fox Reality. I’ve just wasted 44 minutes of my life on what might be the most contrived television program in history… and that’s a complement.

Basically, the concept is that the Brit expat producers of American Idol have just purchased a Paso Robles vineyard because they, “…like red wine.” Not the best reason for getting into the wine trade. All sort of mayhem ensue with the spurning of money from Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson (great calls, guys!) to the cancellation of contracts with wineries due to changing of ownership. From the 2 shows I saw (and investment of $3.98 in hard-earned funds) this venture is corked. Even if I could get this for free, my time is worth more here.


WineQ: Wine Club 2.0?

by Tim Elliott on December 11, 2006

WineQ - kinda like Netflix for wine

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about several Wine 2.0 sites here but really haven’t covered what might make for the most successful business model: the wine club. There are some wine social networking sites that include online stores but there is nothing like WineQ, which launches their public beta today.

I’ve been using the site for about a week while it was in private beta and am impressed by it’s performance and ease of use. A familiar tabbed user interface makes it easy to navigate the site to find wines and share them with friends, but it’s the Queue that is really their unique proposition to wine lovers. Just like Netflix revolutionized the DVD rental business with with a personal movie queue, WineQ does this for wine clubs. But they take this concept one step further by giving users the ability to choose their own mix of wines for regular shipment. This might appear on the surface to be a minor point but this has been a deal breaker for me after joining some wine clubs and not being 100% satisfied with the selection mailed to me.

WineQ Queue (say that 3 times fast)

Other interesting features include filtering selections by states so I don’t put wines in my queue that can’t be legally shipped to me and a wine recommendation engine that promises to be somewhat like a similar feature in both Netflix and Amazon. These recommendations will improve once more people buy and rate the wines they receive. But it’s the queue that is really where the most benefits are found. Not only can I determine when the shipments are sent (always on Monday, so I get the wines by the end of the week), how many bottles are sent in each shipment and the order of wines selected. That last feature is implemented in Ajax which provides an easy to use drag and drop interface.

WineQ’s business model is based upon a $9.95 monthly service fee (or $99.95 annually) that entitles the customer to free shipping on orders over $35. This is a huge benefit, as many times shipping 2 or 3 bottles will cost you over $20; I’d rather pay for more wine than shipping any day. I know why the folks at WineQ have chosen this monthly fee model, from my previous experience at a dot-com start-up a few years back, but as a customer I’d rather have it be a free membership and perhaps a slightly higher minimum order for free shipping, but this is not a deal-breaker by any means. Should you not reach that $35 order size, you will be charged a very reasonable $5 per shipment.

Currently, there are only nine wineries in their portfolio with each offering an average of 2 or 3 wines (the exception being Peterson Winery with 5 wines but not my personal favorite Bradford Mountain Syrah). I’m sure this selection will continue to grow as time goes on. All the current wineries are limited production, artisan producers that are somewhat difficult to find outside of California, another benefit for those of us living out of state.

I’m really glad to see WineQ startup and hope they carve out a successful niche in the Wine 2.0 community. As part of their launch, they have offered a special coupon code for Winecast readers and listeners good for $10 off your first order. Just enter the coupon code “WINECAST” when you sign up. Think of it as a one month risk-free trial of this unique service.

I’ll blog some more after receiving my first shipment later this month. Check it out here.