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  • Richard Hemming MW
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  • Richard Hemming MW
13 Jul 2015

13 July 2015  Several people have suggested that the Cellartracker app should also be mentioned because it uses Vivino's scanning technology in conjunction with its own formidable cellar-management software. 

13 July 2015 I last wrote about label-scanner apps several years ago. A new review is therefore long overdue, but it turns out that developments in this technological niche have been decidedly non-seismic. 

The basic principle remains unchanged: the software allows you to use your phone or tablet to photograph the label of a wine bottle, which is subsequently identified as automatically as possible. They all offer additional functionality, but this is the core proposition around which they are built.

In my original report, there were two apps leading the field: Vivino and Delectable. That is still the case today, although my experience using each was not identical to the previous time.

To test the apps, I assembled five bottles of wine at random, and took photographs of each label. The same photograph was then uploaded into each app, and each app was assessed based on how quickly and accurately the labels were identified.

Seven apps were tested. As before, four of them did not work brilliantly well (and sometimes didn't work at all) and can not be recommended. I've given them the briefest of write-ups, reserving more coverage for the three market leaders. Towards the end of the article I also mention several other wine-related apps worth knowing about. All these apps were tested on an iPhone 5S.

THE ALSO-RANS

Corkbin provided a decidedly underwhelming experience. Label recognition was almost entirely unsuccessful and some areas of content that either didn't load at all or didn't work properly.

Snooth charged me £3.99 to access label scanning, but this feature never actually unlocked itself within the app - a fairly fatal bug.

Drync fared slightly better, identifying one of the five wines instantly, but then taking 45 minutes to identify the other four. It has plenty of rich content, but a cursory glance revealed quite a bit of incorrect information, such as listing Whispering Angel rosé as being made from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also, there is an emphasis on selling the wine, which seemed intrusive.

I tested Hello Vino twice, because the first time my first experience of the app didn't work as expected. On second try, it identified three of the five wines correctly. This seems to work by using text recognition on the label and matching the identified terms with the wine-searcher database. It therefore sometimes offers a list of options which may or may not be the correct match - for instance, the Mirabeau Pure rosé was among a list of other wines by the same producer, whereas in the list of Côte-Rôties it presented, the correct match wasn't present. I had a few issues with the interface too, especially when trying to select wines from the shortlist. The other catch is that  whereas Delectable and Vivino are free, Hello Vino charges a small fee for access to label recognition - £0.79 for five scans or £3.99 for unlimited scans.

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Screengrabs of three apps struggling to identify labels

THE MAIN CONTENDERS

Joining Vivino and Delectable as the best label scanning apps is price listing behemoth Wine-searcher, whose app introduced this function in November 2014. In all three cases, the label recognition software works well enough to justify recommending any of them. Each has a different style and feel, and they also vary in terms of the extra functionality offered, meaning that personal preference may be the most important guide to choosing between them.

This year, there is one that stands out as being the most successful for my review, however: Vivino. Its label recognition software got four out of the five labels immediately correct, by far and away the best performance. It was also quickest to identify the other label.

By contrast, Delectable could manage only one immediate identification, although the others were identified within 30 minutes. This is almost exactly the opposite of my experience of these two apps for my 2013 review. What seems to have happened is that Vivino has considerably upped its game.

My guess is that the efficacy of label recognition relies on a database of user input. As hitherto-unknown labels are scanned and identified, an immediate positive identification becomes more likely. I suspect that Vivino has stolen a march on Delectable and by garnering more users, and therefore label scans, is able to improve its proposition exponentially.

As I mention above, however, this is not necessarily the most important factor in choosing which app is best for particular users.

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Vivino (left, right) and Delectable (centre) both have smart, intuitive interfaces when identifying wines

Winesearcher's strength is its unparalleled database of wine prices around the world. This works best with a Pro membership, costing $43 per year. If price comparison is worth that price to you, then this is going to be your best option. The image recognition functionality is not as impressive as Vivino's – but is presumably bound to improve.

Delectable emphasises the social aspect of wine apps. It has a sleek, uncluttered design which encourages sharing and interaction. Users can follow and be followed, as with Twitter and Instagram, and there are a host of verified Pro users providing expert opinions. It also includes editorial content – for example, curated feeds dedicated to German Riesling and Loire Chenin Blanc.

By comparison, Vivino has a busier, more detailed interface, although it is easily navigable. It has similar social aspects but also includes written content such as articles and regional guides. An additional feature is a wine list scanner, which is an ingenious though limited function. This works by scanning the text of a wine list and providing aggregate scores for the wines it identifies. For straightforward lists such as The Wolseley's, this works remarkably well, though for more detailed lists, such as the one at The Quality Chop House, the result is less useful.

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The wine list reading feature within Vivino

Choosing between Delectable and Vivino is not straightforward. Both are primarily dedicated to label scanning, both are well established, both offer clever functionality and both have compelling features. Thankfully, both are also free, so the best solution is to download and try each one.

However, if I had to choose only one, this time round Vivino would win my vote.

OTHER WINE APPS

Three other wine apps are relatively new to the world, and worth knowing about, each of which offer something original and useful.

Raisinable is a smart piece of engineering that analyses the prices of restaurant wine lists. It does so by comparing restaurant prices with average retail prices as supplied by Winesearcher. The interface presents colour-coded prices, showing which wines have the lowest mark up and therefore offer best value. It's an inexact science, but works pretty well at giving general guidance – and is an intriguing tool for a wine lover to have at their disposal. Currently, it operates only in London and New York and is free to download.

Mr Vine is a new free app designed to make it easier to buy from independent merchants. (Disclosure: I am part of the Mr Vine tasting panel, who make monthly recommendations of the best wines available to buy through the app.) It currently carries selections from 12 different wine shops, giving them a mobile retail platform while offering wine drinkers the sort of choice that goes beyond supermarket shelves, and includes recommendations based on inputting your taste preferences.

The London Wine Guide provides a guide to the best wine destinations in the capital. It has a database of restaurants, shops and bars where wine features prominently. Curated by fellow wine writer Matt Walls, the reviews are concise, informative and up to date. It may not be a comprehensive listing, but it undoubtedly highlights all the wine places worth knowing about. At £2.99 this is a very useful complement to our own London for Wine Lovers guide.