Foodie Tuesday: Plonk

Navigating the world of wine can be complicated. Some people (like myself) love to geek out on all the details (grape variety, region, terroir), but most people just want something delicious to drink with dinner tonight. It’s all too easy for many wine apps to get lost in the details, failing to give users a mobile experience that makes selecting a wine easier. The goal is to provide good information that helps users make quick decisions on the go. Plonk promises to keep things simple, helping you find wines you like based on your taste preferences. It’s a great concept, but can Plonk deliver?

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What is Plonk?

Plonk was created by Bibendum, a leading independent wine merchant in the UK whose mission is “to be the most dynamic, captivating and exciting company in the business, making wine as accessible and enjoyable as possible.” More than just a wine merchant, Bibendum is focused on everything from innovative design, marketing and business intelligence. On first glance the app is attractive, smart looking, fun and simple. It’s easy to see and understand what Plonk offers, and the lack of verbosity is refreshing. Plonk uses good design to show rather than tell.

Launch the app and it’s easy to see what Plonk offers: a guide to selecting wines by grape variety according to your taste preferences.

Launch the app and it’s easy to see what Plonk offers: a guide to selecting wines by grape variety according to your taste preferences.

Though Bibendum wants to help you find wines you like, they also want to help retailers sell more bottles. Upon launching the app they ask for information about your age and location. We’re living in an age when better business intelligence means retailers can better serve customers, and it seems this information will only lead to a smarter app that can eventually predict what wines you would like and make useful recommendations. In Bibendum’s words, Plonk provides “added value” to customers in the retail setting, increasing the odds that you’re going to branch out and try something new.

Using the App

Tap Grapes A-Z to find a periodic table of 71 grape varietals. It’s beautifully designed, fun and immediately familiar to everyone. Scan through to find your favorite grape variety (color coded for red and white wine to make things easier). You’ll see a lot of old favorites in the list, and many lesser-known varietals to try. If you love wine but are stuck in a rut of drinking the same thing every night you’ll be inspired by all there is to discover.

Grapes A-Z is a periodic table of 71 grape varieties color-coded for white and red wines. Tap on a grape variety to learn more.

Grapes A-Z is a periodic table of 71 grape varieties color-coded for white and red wines. Tap on a grape variety to learn more.

Tap on a grape variety to read a short, yet colorful description of its character, region and food affinities. It’s great to see the descriptions are familiar and informal, but still packed with useful information and enjoyable to read. Scroll down the page to Did You Know? for concise tips on understanding labels for that particular grape. For example, understanding Riesling labels can seem confusing because of the long German words. Is it a sweet or dry Riesling? Plonk explains Riesling labels in three concise sentences so you never have to stare unknowingly at bottles the Riesling section again.

Tap on a grape varietal to read a short, yet colorful description of its character, region and food affinities, plus a recommendation for something new to try.

Tap on a grape varietal to read a short, yet colorful description of its character, region and food affinities, plus a recommendation for something new to try.

Another barrier to trying new wines is pronouncing foreign words. Each grape has an audio pronunciation so you can ask for it with confidence. Lastly, you’ll see a recommendation for a similar grape variety to try at the bottom of the screen. The question at the bottom of the screen is a bit confusing. Does “Tried It?” refer to the main grape or the grape recommendation? I thought it referred to the recommendation, but after giving the grape a rating I realized this info was attached to the main grape. The designers should consider moving this question above the grape recommendation.

Finding New Grapes To Try

As you rate more wines, the grapes chart is marked with stars to denote higher ratings and boxes are half-filled in with black to denote you’ve tasted the grape but aren’t crazy about it. My immediate concern is that the app doesn’t differentiate between Old World and New World expressions of flavor. For example, I love the mineral acidity of Old World Chardonnay, but I don’t enjoy tropical, oak-flavored Chardonnay from New World areas like California. Plonk only knows that I like Chardonnay.

As you rate grapes the app notes this info on the periodic table (left). Thanks for the suggestion, Plonk, but I’ve already tried Sauvignon Blanc (right).

As you rate grapes the app notes this info on the periodic table (left). Thanks for the suggestion, Plonk, but I’ve already tried Sauvignon Blanc (right).

They do a good job creating an immersive experience by recommending a new grape to try at the bottom of every screen, sending you deeper down the rabbit hole. Like Riesling? Why not try Sylvaner? Now how about Pinot Bianco? The immersive experience is great, but a Home button would be nice too. Plonk was just released in June, so hopefully in the future they will offer smart recommendations that you haven’t tried yet. I found it annoying that the app suggested I try grape varietals that I had already rated.

Find all the grapes you already know in Tried & Tasted to get recommendations based on your old favorites, left. Feeling adventurous? Check out New & Interesting for more unusual recommendations.

Find all the grapes you already know in Tried & Tasted to get recommendations based on your old favorites, left. Feeling adventurous? Check out New & Interesting for more unusual recommendations.

Now go to Tried & Tasted and you’ll find Plonk is grouping all your familiar grape varietals in one area so you can access it quickly for recommendations of similar but different grape varietals to try. Feeling adventurous? Go to the New & Interesting section for more unusual, exotic grape recommendations. It seems odd to find grapes you’ve tried in this area, even though they may be categorized as unusual. I think once you’ve tried a grape it should go in Tried & Tested. Telling users information they already know is boring and loses their attention.

Many Ways to Skin a Cat

Like other apps on the market, Plonk offers several ways to view the same information. You can see the grapes organized By Country or Wine Styles. This is helpful because many Old World regions, like France, Germany and Italy, label wines by region, with no reference to the grape. This is the main reason choosing wine can be so difficult.

You can view grape varietals by style (like Rioja), left, or see all the varietals found in a country (Spain), right.

You can view grape varietals by style (like Rioja), left, or see all the varietals found in a country (Spain), right.

The Wine Styles section is helpful because you can quickly access a common style (like Burgundy) and view the grapes common to that style, plus a profile of the area. Viewing grapes By Country is good for getting a handle on your grape options so you can better communicate your tastes to a wine merchant. Lastly, Wine & Food is a fun section with good, solid recommendations and information to back up the pairings.

Conclusion

Plonk has good bones. It’s beautifully designed and easy to navigate. The content is valuable and helpful to users navigating the wine world on the go. The app is not perfect right now, but for version 1.0 it’s pretty darn good. I will continue to use Plonk and look forward to innovative features that learn from my choices to help predict new wines I might like to try.


Summary

Plonk helps you find the wine styles you like based on your taste preferences.

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