Social networking has hit the wine world, with significant (perhaps revolutionary) impact.
For years, many people assumed that the Internet would have a dramatic effect on wine buying habits, but most of the speculation centered on direct shipping. While the freedom to buy wine through the mail opened numerous possibilities for consumers, one thing was missing—information. How would people know if the small, previously unknown winery was actually any good? The mainstream wine media has not been much help in this respect. For many years, the major sources of wine reviews were either glossy magazines dominated by advertisers, or individual critics who catered to a relatively small group of upscale collectors.
Enter sites like Snooth (www.snooth.com), which claims to reach an audience of 5 million users each month. Snooth is a Trip Advisor for wine, a place where consumers can post user reviews of wines they have tasted and tried. It offers forums for user interface, and will customize your browsing experience by linking wine recommendations to specific stores in your local area. Recently, Snooth released the first iPhone app for wine that employs image recognition technology. Snap a picture of a wine label, post it to the site, and it will be matched with a database of more than one million wines; reviews, prices and store locations will follow.
Other wine networking sites include Cork’d (www.corkd.com), headed by the charismatic Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV; Vinivino (www.vinivino.com), which also includes forums and reviews; Winelog (www.winelog.net), which helps consumers maintain records and evaluations of wines they’ve tried. It’s likely that these sites will continue to proliferate, since they offer an interactive experience that traditional wine magazines lack.
While social networking sites for wine are inherently more democratic, there’s also a built-in weakness—you don’t know most of the posters personally, and thus have no idea of their biases. For this reason, the best way to expand your wine knowledge is probably still the tasting group. Assemble a bunch of friends and like-minded people, meet once a week or once each month, and set a theme. Everyone brings a bottle and some food, and you can taste wine in a comfortable setting. At the end of one year, you’ll be amazed at the number of wines you’ve tried, and how much your knowledge base has expanded.