In Review

Wine Spectator App for iPad

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
Price: 4.99
Review by Clinton Stark

Wine Spectator App for iPad

Travel guides and the iPad go hand-in-hand. In the pre-gesture world you needed to carry stacks of maps and books on your getaway. Now all you need is a smartphone or tablet. Case in point is our app of the day: Wine Spectator for iPad (“Wine Spectator’s Guide to Napa Valley”). It promises to give you all you need on your next Napa adventure. Yes, it has wine reviews — and it dotes over all things Cab, a good thing in my books — but what else can this app do, and is it worth a $4.99 download? Read on dear oenophile…

WS for iPad is a bit of a mix, really. Call it a blend. A 2011 Cupertino: 30% reference guide, 30% travel directory, 39% wine tasting notes, and 1% good old wine establishment.

Navigation is simple. Three panels are presented when the app is launched: Where Cabernet is King, Visiting Napa, Inside Information (which contains the wine reviews).

The first section is a backgrounder on the Napa Valley and includes a well-rounded assortment of articles, photos and tips. Particularly helpful for those wanting to dig into the terroir are the AVA maps and information, especially the appellations slideshow. It’s handy to have these on call as you make your way up and down Highway 29. Know your soils, young Jedi!

Visiting Napa is essentially a travel directory containing standard address and contact information for wineries, dining, hotels, and attractions. If you want to splurge, pamper yourself and your significant other (or groupie, whatever the case may be) and pull up hotels over $400. According to WS there are 6 pretty sweet options: Auberge du Soleil, Bardessono Napa Valley, Calistoga Ranch, Carneros Inn, Meadowood and Poetry Inn. All fine choices. I’d say go with Meadowood. Live a little, no?! The directory includes the new 50-room Avia hotel in downtown Napa. I’ve stayed there a few times and it’s a good spot if you want to be in walking distance to tasting rooms, theaters (the Uptown and Napa Opera House) and some of the cooler new restaurants like Morimoto.

Last — but certainly not least! — are the wine reviews themselves. “Great Napa Cabernets” features 240 top-scoring wines from five recent vintages. I’m guessing if you subscribe to WS that this will be repeat info, but to have it summarized and readily available on your iPad could come in handy. You can filter the list by price, score, and vintage. These are the standard tasting notes you’ve likely seen many times before. I was pleased to see the ’04 Harlan Napa Valley Cab get a 98… not that I’ll be allowed to touch the ones tucked somewhere deep in the bowels of our cellar, forever locked away; the obsessed collector in our household would likely bring on her Charlie’s Angels routine dare I even glance at the beautiful, wooden box.

Caymus Vineyards - WS App

Cabs are the focus with this app, but you can also scroll through other varietals including Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel. There are also 7 short videos in this section on terroir (To Kalon, Mountain vs. Valley) and profiles on some of the valley’s star winemakers.

Those looking for hardcore nextgen wine reviews, especially those of the crowd-sourced variety, will do better elsewhere – comes to mind (note to Eric: CellarTracker app. Bring it! … pretty please). And if you’re a wine country veteran then the articles on Napa’s history, geography and appellations may come across as lightweight re-runs. However, this is a travel guide, not a wine geek’s exploratorium.

What’s missing?

Social – From what i can tell during my test run, this app is devoid of social manners. There is nary a button anywhere to share information on Twitter or Facebook (or G+). Want to add a tip or make a suggestion. Fuggedaboutit. On the upside: think of how much more time you’ll have to focus on tasting fine wines and exploring Napa.

Wine review updates – It’s unclear to me whether the app includes wine review updates. I suspect it will, otherwise the 2004-2008 top Cabs section could get stale rather quickly.

Journaling – Again, this speaks to this apps’ lack of interactivity. I have an old wine guide (The Best of Wine Country by Don and Betty Martin) I bought a long, long time ago in a bookstore far, far away; it’s purple cover, well tattered now. I scribbled in notes each place I visited. Peju … watch out for that singing guy, tasting room way crowded. Artesa… Carneros Cabs and Chards ****. Caymus… (unreadable, smudged) ROCKS. Mustard’s… yeah, the rabbit. I’d timestamp each entry. Had I invented Foursquare before its time? In the words of Maxwell Smart, “missed it by this much.” All of that to say: WS for iPad should have this kind of capability.

Dynamic web content – I like when apps include fresh web content in addition to the packaged, static information. For example, WS could include Twitter streams from its top reviewers, and also RSS feeds and news updates. If you’re in wine country, wouldn’t it be good to know about that Crush party over in Healdsburg, Sonoma… uh… I mean Calistoga, Napa!

Bottling it Up

I came away impressed with Wine Spectator for iPad. True, it’s not envelope-pushing (the integrated Google Maps and interface menus are all standard fare these days), but don’t suspect it needs to be. It is, however, a glossy, easy-to-use, pleasant enough compendium of information. As far as I know it’s the only app out there that combines all this information together in one neat package. No doubt it will benefit those looking for some G2 on their next Napa adventure. But will it age well?

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear