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Published: Friday, 9/10/2010

Happy Hour: Wine apps help navigate a sea of information

BY MARY BLOCH
KANSAS CITY STAR

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 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 require only 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 should still 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 has long 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.

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 are clearly 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.



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