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The Vivino Wine Scanning App - A Handy Tool but Proceed With Caution

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

For those of you who don't know, my "day job" is in Finance. I analyze numbers for a living, so an app that lets me analyze wines is right up my alley. After scanning a wine's label, a score pops up based on crowd-sourced ratings. Pretty cool, eh? Yes...with caveats. Let me explain.

What is Vivino and why should I use it?

Vivino, at its core, is an app that allows its users to take a picture of a wine label, and then rate it on a scale from 1 to 5. Over the years, though, its list of features has grown and evolved. Now I believe it to be the single most useful wine app available. Here are a few of the features:

Wine list scanning

Scan an entire wine list to see how multiple wines rate at once. This works...sometimes. It will really depend on how the wine list is structured visually. Sometimes the vintage will be excluded. Sometimes the wine will be spot on. Sometimes the optical character recognition will only pick up part of the wine's identification and return a wine that is completely off. For the most part, though, I see it as 'gravy.' If it works at all, it is better than having absolutely no information about the wines, as you might otherwise.

Social network

Vivino acts as a social network, just like Facebook or Instagram. You post the wines that you rate and other folks can follow you, or you can choose to follow them.

Historical tracking

If you're looking to remember what special wine you had with your girlfriend last Valentine's Day. Bingo! Now you can. The app remembers all of the wines you've scanned and when you've scanned them which can come in handy.

Wine style profile

One of the coolest features is being able to pull up a pie chart that shows all of the different styles of wine that you've tried and the average rating for each. For example, I have rated 66 "Californian Pinot Noirs," 13 "Italian Brunellos," etc. It's a good way to go back and find wines you've had in the past as well as a good way to encourage you to explore new wine styles you haven't tried yet. In addition, you are given a "Rank in the US" based on how many ratings you do, the comprehensiveness of those ratings, how many followers you have, etc.

Buy wine

At one point, the app's slogan was "Find the Best Wine." Then it changed to "Buy the Best Wine" because you are now able to buy wines directly from the site. Vivino acts like more of an aggregator that pushes you sites where you can buy the wines instead of being able to buy the wines directly through Vivino itself. It can be slightly clunky to have to buy from multiple vendors, but it is amazing that you have a whole world of wine at your fingertips. There are also a lot of great filters to help you find wines based on price, varietal, region, food pairing, user rating, etc.

So what's not to like?

I want to reiterate that I love this app; but please use it with caution. Let me give a few examples on how this app can get you in trouble.

Anyone can write a review

This means your grandma who is drinking White Zin or your 18 year-old nephew who is bonging Boone's Farm is able to scan a bottle of wine and write a review (or even worse, just give the wine a score without giving any justification why). Our palates change over time. The more fruity, generic wines I used to like are not necessarily the wines I like now, but the ratings I gave to wines several years ago are still in Vivino's database, skewing people's opinions on buying the next bottle. This is the Wild Wild West, so be careful out there.

Human beings are swayed by price

There have been a fair amount of studies that have concluded that pricing affects the judgement of a wine. The higher the price, the higher the score, all else being equal. If you paid $350 for a decent bottle of red Burgundy, are you really going to rate it 2 stars? People would think you are an idiot for dropping that much on a crappy wine! Aside from the self-preservation aspect of the situation, the science says that drinking a bottle of wine that you know has a higher price tag gives you greater enjoyment.

Human beings are swayed by labels and packaging

If a wine with a great label gets a high score on very, very skeptical. I've seen very mediocre wines get fantastic scores because they have clever labels. In general, if a wine needs to put a clever label on the bottle, it's because what's in the bottle may not be good enough to attract you on its own merits. I popped over to BevMo and Total Wine & More's website to see what kind of kitschy swill they are selling these days and found a few that fit the bill with names like "Unruly," "The Buccaneer," "Sexy Wine Bomb," and "Dusk to Dawn." MAKE...IT...STOP. In general, they don't have the name of an estate on them because the brand is owned by a large corporation and the grapes are purchased. When a winery grows its own grapes, there is a certain guarantee of quality implied but a brand like "Sexy Wine Bomb" has to buy grapes from bulk wine sources that could potentially change from year to year, or they could decide to use lower quality grapes and the consumer is none the wiser until opening the bottle.

Another clever marketing trick is using hot wax. The most obvious culprit is a "Pinot Noir"that shall remain unnamed that has been doused in wax, similar to a Maker's Mark bottle. Now, I have been lucky enough to try a fair amount of Pinot Noir, and the first time I had this I though the restaurant brought me the wrong wine. It tastes nothing like Pinot Noir (and very likely has a healthy percentage of other cheaper-to-produce varietals mixed in). This is just about the highest rated wine I have ever seen on Vivino. Watch out, Burgundy!

On the flip side, can you guess which wines are always underrated? Kirkland Signature wines from Costco are generally some of the best bang-for-the-buck wines available, but people are ashamed to give them high scores. In general, they are probably 3 to 4 tenths of a star underrated across the board.

Wine gets you drunk

Wine is an intoxicant. If you drink an entire bottle of it and then rate the bottle, there is a decent chance that you might be feeling pretty saucy. Might you end up bumping up the score a little bit inadvertently? Hell yeah! It is very difficult even for professional tasters to taste the same wine, sober, in a controlled environment and give it the same score repeatedly.

Tips for success

  1. Find knowledgeable users with similar wine preferences and follow them on Vivino's social network. See if any of them have reviewed the wine you are looking to buy.

  2. Read the "Summary" section on each wine that shows the varietals that the wine is comprised of, the winery and region it hails from, and what it pairs with.

  3. Look at the "Taste Characteristics" section to get an idea if the wine is light vs. bold, fruity vs. dry, etc. Certain taste descriptors such as "cherry" or "vanilla" are listed. You may be able to discern whether you will like a wine based on these descriptors. You can also read the "Winemaker's Notes" section to get an idea on characteristics.

When used as a tool in your toolbelt, Vivino offers many helpful features. Just remember that it isn't the be-all-end-all. Just because I batted .400 in Little League doesn't make me Ted Williams, and just because someone rated Sexy Wine Bomb 5 stars, you shouldn't run out and buy a case. Context matters!

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