The holiday season is a time for stocking your cellar and brushing up on your wine stats for ordering off restaurant wine lists. This is the Olympics for wine lovers. Experts need an app to keep track of good vintages, while novices need a cheat sheet to give them a competitive edge. I’m a big fan of wine apps — it’s just so useful to have varietal information and wine reviews at your fingertips when you’re in the wine shop wading through bottles for your next party. When I think of Wine Enthusiast, I think of their encyclopedic website. They do it all: distribute wine, sell all the accessories like glassware and storage, as well as publishing Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I’ve always appreciated how, unlike Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast puts a ton of wine education articles on their website for free. Could the free Wine Enthusiast Tasting Guide be your new go-to resource for all things wine?
Keep reading to find out.
Wine Enthusiast has been around a long time, since 1979. My initial impression of the app was that it’s got that same familiar branding, with a clean, straightforward interface. The app intro does a great job of explaining its functionality succinctly. The first thing I had to do was set up an account, but it was nice that the app gave me the option to do it later.
Setting up an account is worth the trouble so you can create reviews and save wines. The process was quick and I appreciated not having to type a lot of text. If you already have a Buying Guide account login for Wine Enthusiast, you’ll appreciate the convenience of being able to use it for the app.
Next I landed on the home screen, a simple search tool for finding wines, beers and spirits. A highly functional search tool is an essential feature of this app, and I’m happy to report they’ve succeeded. Type in winery, varietal or vintage and the app provides a list of results. It’s nice to be able to filter the wines (or other beverage) by price, rating, vintage or alphabetical according to producer.
I also had the option to use the advanced search and fill in specific filter fields like rating, style, varietal and country. I like how it’s not necessary to enter text into the search box. All I had to do was select my terms (French Chardonnay rated 90+ and labeled Editor’s Choice) and the app displayed a list of wines. At a glance it’s easy to scan the list for rating and price. I find the general search is good for when I’m in a hurry and the advanced search best for when I have more time to explore. The app is quick and snappy in loading search results, but does require an Internet connection to function.
The app features a database of thousands of wine, beer and spirits reviews and ratings from Wine Enthusiast Magazine editors and promises 2,000 new reviews every month. If you don’t drink wine, you’ll get good use out of the beers section, which can be filtered by Brewery, Cellar Selection and Best Buy. The spirits section is also quite impressive, featuring everything from the cult favorite, absinthe, to classic brandy.
When I selected a wine, beer or spirit from the search results it was easy to see the region, price and points, plus the short and sweet beverage review by a Wine Enthusiast editor. I like how the reviews include tips for buying, like Michael Schachner’s suggestion to shop around for Veuve Clicquot to find the best price since it’s such a heavily marketed champagne. Some beverages are accompanied by multiple reviews from several editors, which is helpful.
I could also add my own notes and rating to the beverage, which were saved in the My Notes section of the app. This is where I encountered what I consider a big problem with the app user experience. The app offers users the ability to create reviews in the My Finds section. To create a review, I had to type in all the information: wine name, varietal, vintage, country, appellation, notes, etc. It would be nice to be able to select a wine from the database and add my review to it, where they’ve already got all the information.
It’s great to have the option to customize wine, beer and spirit entries, but the whole point of a mobile app is to make life more convenient for users and provide functionality that utilizes the mobile experience. Other wine apps out there are doing a better job making data entry easier with menu selection tabs and importing information from the database.
The strength of this app comes from a database of thousands of wine, beer and spirit reviews, but it offers a few additional features that are also useful. If you’re cellaring wine or looking to splurge on a special bottle for Christmas dinner, the Vintage Chart is a good tool for finding out if the wine is ready to drink or should be held a bit longer. Search by country or style and appellation.
The app’s UPC scanner is especially helpful if you’re shopping for wine in a store. I tested it on a few bottles at home, and it’s only as good as the Wine Enthusiast database, so obscure wines won’t be identified. It’s more useful for widely distributed, well-known bottles. Just scan the wine label and the app finds the review for you.
Earning badges by creating reviews and saving wines is a good idea, and the app rewards users with discounts to their online store. (After taking all the trouble to enter reviews, I felt like I deserved a reward.) The app also offers all the latest articles from Wine Enthusiast magazine, which are full of great tips and timely wine information. Articles are short and easy to read on the iPhone, but sometimes the photos are distorted on the small screen. Lastly, the restaurant guide is a list of the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Wine Restaurants. Good to have if you’re traveling.
Wine Enthusiast Tasting Guide lives up to the experience of the website by offering users mobile access to thousands of wine, beer and spirit reviews. The app features several tools that users will find helpful, especially the search, vintage chart and UPC scanner. It lags behind other wine apps in the area of user reviews, with a process that’s cumbersome and poorly organized. I wouldn’t recommend using it to manage your favorite wines, but if you love wine or want to learn more about the subject, this free app is a handy tool to have on the go.