Trying to select a wine for that oh-so-important business dinner? Overwhelmed by vast wine lists at the trendiest restaurants? Contemplating what dish to serve with that bottle you've been saving for just the right occasion? Or perhaps you'd like to create an inventory of your wine cellar.
Time to power up a smart phone.
Now, with a few taps on your iPhone, BlackBerry or Google Android, such dilemmas can be conquered in mere minutes. Yes, technology has pervaded yet another aspect of our daily lives.
Wine applications, or "apps," as they are better known, have flooded the market, and choices abound, depending on what attributes suit your fancy.
"They give wine lovers a complete dinner solution at their fingertips," says Natalie MacLean, editor of Nat Decants, one of the largest wine sites on the Web (www.nataliemaclean.com). "Start with a pairing, get a couple of tasty wine recommendations and a recipe, and you're all set for the evening."
Novice wine drinkers may be satisfied with the free apps, which generally provide just the basics. Aficionados may be compelled to climb to the next level to have access to advanced features, including:
--Vintage chart: This is a helpful tool if a restaurant runs out of a particular vintage and offers a substitute.
--Regularly updated catalog: If an app's inventory is limited, so is its usefulness.
--Search function: This is the key to efficiently narrowing options.
--A diary component: An option that allows the user to add personal notes a la an old-fashioned journal can be very handy.
--Bar code scanner: Glitches are
not uncommon with this technology. Its cool factor may be offset by an occasional inability to scan or recognize the wine being scanned.
If you haven't splurged for Apple's new iPhone or Sprint's Evo, no worries. Wine podcasts have their own advantages and only require access to an MP3 player, originally for simply listening to music. Besides being tremendously educational, they can be as entertaining as a Keith Olbermann or Glenn Beck tirade but considerably easier on the ears.
And podcasts can be enjoyed while you're cooking, working out or simply playing couch potato at the end of a long day. Researching vintages in a restaurant or scrutinizing Wine Spectator or Robert Parker ratings may not be in the cards, but you still should be able to impersonate a venerable wine authority at the dinner table.
Gary Vaynerchuk has become quite the rock star in the wine world. From "Ellen DeGeneres" to "Mad Money With Jim Cramer" and even GQ, he has cultivated a serious following. And his irreverent, off-the-wall style has succeeded in demystifying the snobbery that long has been associated with the consumption of fine wine.
You can watch Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV (tv.winelibrary.com) on your iPod or computer. Each episode, which focuses on a different wine region or a particular wine, fosters a better understanding of and appreciation for the vast array of liquid grapes on the market. His main message is to drink what you like.
"If a wine appeals to your palate, then it's a good choice," Vaynerchuk says. In other words, don't merely buy wines that receive high ratings or are recommended by self-anointed experts.
GrapeRadio (www.graperadio.com), which can be downloaded or watched online, is a James Beard Award-winner. It tackles the juiciest wine-related topics, including industry trends and insights from top vineyard owners, restaurateurs and sommeliers.
And 3 Wine Guys (www.3wineguys.com) is consistently rated No. 1 on PodcastAlley.com in the food and drink category. It also makes the top 20 list for food category podcasts on iTunes. The threesome clearly are passionate about drinking and dishing wine, and they have become adept at both. Each weekly podcast covers up to five wines of the same varietal, with the guys rendering a verdict as they sip. Beware: It's R-rated for language.
Wireless wine lists
So what's the latest technological breakthrough in the virtual wine world? Wireless wine lists. Diners use a tablet-size computer to scan a restaurant's inventory.
Imagine simply tapping on a screen to unearth the perfect bottle, based on color, varietal, region, vintage and price. Based on your personal preferences, the software makes a list.
But there's much more. Besides a basic profile, the tiny computer offers links to wineries, expert reviews and specific food and wine pairing suggestions.
These iPad-type devices are being uncorked around the country, with restaurateur Charlie Palmer leading the charge. He has introduced eWinebooks at some of his eateries and wine shops. Restaurants SD26 in New York and Delicias in Southern California use similar gadgets.
As with any new technology, a hefty investment in hardware and software is obligatory and has been an impediment to widespread adoption. But as costs ease, restaurants may be hard-pressed to resist the lure.
Patrons can view a restaurant's electronic wine list online in advance from home, affording them an opportunity to make decisions at their leisure rather than ignoring a companion or losing out on conversation at the dinner table.
The computer hasn't replaced the sommelier, who is still available to answer questions, make recommendations and, of course, compile the restaurant's wine list. But it does make his job easier. For one thing, the automated system keeps track of inventory and simplifies reordering.
Food & wine matches
Natalie MacLean's top 10 "green" wine and food matches:
Six more wine apps
--Swirl (Android): For the novice drinker. Gives descriptions of varietals, sample pairings. Has a catalog of 100,000 wines, including price and rating. Data provided by Snooth. Unique "under $20" section.
--Wine by the Bar (iPhone, Android): Scan the bar code of a wine bottle, and the app will store it for future reference.
--Wine Snob (iPhone): Track and rate favorite wines, search for wines based on criteria user inputs, back up and store data.
--Wine Pad 2 (iPhone): Similar to a traditional wine journal. No recommendations, no pairings. User inputs personal data on vintage, clarity, aroma, taste, price and winery.
--DrinkFit (iPhone): The app for those counting calories. Provides nutritional information for wine varietals as well as juices and cocktails.
--R-Vintage Lookup (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry): Strictly for checking on a wine's rating, including "Drink, Hold or Declining" by vintage.