Let It Pour

Let It Pour: Can't remember wine name? There's an app for that

CorrespondentJune 15, 2013 

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse rolls out ‘Winepad,’ an electronic replacement for the wine list, but you can’t take it with you. Fortunately, there are apps that will help you recall what wines you enjoyed -- or didn’t enjoy.

COURTESY OF EMIL KARA

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    I never thought I’d find myself pining for the searing heat of a North Carolina summer, but this beautiful, cool spring has made it hard to get excited about crisp, light whites. Instead, I found comfort in a warm red, the 2010 Anton Bauer Wagram Cuvee. It’s a sturdy but restrained blend of Austrian reds that follows its sweet fruitiness with a dose of spice and a smooth finish. It pairs well with grilled meat and chicken, so it’s perfect for cookouts, or for sitting on the deck watching the fireflies flash.

Occasionally a wine tasting will bring a revelation, usually involving the personal discovery of a new varietal or region. But recently, a profound universal truth became clear to me as I was test-driving a new iPad application designed for wine lovers. I now know the real reason evolution has led humanity to become addicted to hand-held personal communication devices: to relieve us of the burden of remembering the names of wines we like.

This aha moment occurred last month as I spent an evening fiddling with a Winepad, the sleek new electronic wine menu that Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse has rolled out in all 65 of its restaurants. Winepads are iPads fitted with a custom-made app, developed by the chain’s national wine director and an in-house IT expert, that take the place of hefty, printed wine lists. The restaurant now offers one at every table and at the bar.

The experience of tapping and scrolling through the Winepad’s pictures and descriptive blurbs makes the traditional exercise of sorting through the pages of a traditional print wine list seem as onerous as reading the phone book.

The Winepad is handsomely attired, befitting the decor of Fleming’s, where entrees range from $35 to $45 and the interior of the Crabtree Valley Mall location is so dark and clubby it takes your eyes a moment to adjust after you’ve stepped inside on a sunny day. It wears a dark leather case with a cover that folds open, picture book style, replicating the feel of the traditional, hefty wine list.

You can search for wines by region, varietal or expert opinion, including a feature called Maeve’s Raves, which are the favorites of Maeve Pesquera, Fleming’s national wine director. You can ask the Winepad to pick a wine to go with your appetizer or entree, and it will give you three choices. You can also use a random-pick feature called Spin the Bottle, which seemed like exactly the wrong way to use this technology, since I can close my eyes and land my finger on a name in the list without computer assistance.

But the coolest feature of Winepad is that it allows you to email yourself any wine on the list, along with tasting notes and a picture of the label. And if you’ve ever stared into space trying hopelessly to conjure the name of a wine you liked days or weeks after you’ve had it, this is akin to salvation.

The downside to Winepad is you can’t take it with you, of course. We need tools that help us in the rest of the world, too, as we muddle through wine stores and browse through regular old printed wine lists. Do a quick app search, and you’ll find thousands, and about 10 times that many user reviews. Here are a few that I’ve tested and can recommend, depending on your level of expertise and enthusiasm for wine.

The most heralded is Cor.kz, the app companion to uber popular site CellarTracker, which allows users to log and rate their personal wine inventory, and share tasting notes with others. Cor.kz offers mobile users easy access to sound descriptions of varietals, vocabulary and regions. It’s a very powerful tool that can be highly personalized, but if you don’t have a cellar full of bottles to keep track of, it can be a little overwhelming.

More my speed is Wine Album, where you catalog your tasting notes via a standard form. It’s like completing a survey about every glass of wine you drink. Choose descriptives from the pre-set tags – which range from “accessible” to “luscious” to “velvety.” Score the wine with a sliding scale in categories including aroma, taste and finish. You can fill in as much or as little as you want. The catalog of notes is searchable by useful categories such as tasting location, tasting date and even wine name – in case you can remember them.

And for those just dipping a toe into wine, there’s WineKick. It’s not a catalog for notes, but offers help with selection. It starts with the question “How would you like to choose a wine?” And offers the categories of taste, food pairing, for romance or for a party. The tone is light, not ponderous. The results, which are varietal recommendations but not specific bottles, will disappoint serious drinkers. But it’s fun for those looking for wine training wheels before they take off on their own.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.

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