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Friday Fishwrap
Experts? We Don’t Need No Stinking Experts

By Stephen Eliot

...nor do we any longer need to be burdened with oh-so-messy human interaction when it comes to picking the right wine for any occasion. Sommeliers? Degree-toting specialists? Knowledgeable retailers? Who needs them. Just download the newly updated Hello Vino app ( on your smart phone and freedom is yours. Hey, it’s free; how bad can it be? Stay tuned.

OK, I will freely admit that I generally ignore the latest computer and smart-phone applications that have to do with wine and I am far from conversant with their latest incarnations. That they are inherently simplistic and provide the “right” answers with absolute digital authority is bothersome enough, but I have found very few that exhibited the least bit of real expertise, and I have always wondered just who came up with the answers and why. My unease with them is less that they contribute to the populist dumbing down of wine and more that they are dangerous detours on the path to real education and lead to too many dead ends.

I am well aware that not everyone wants to spend time in learning about wine, but I believe good, well-reasoned advice can open exciting new doors and leave folks wanting a bit more. Admittedly, I spent too many years in a classroom to believe that everyone really wants to learn, but that never stopped me from assuming they did, and I recall the enormous satisfaction of watching the brightening eyes of those whose lights began as a bare flicker.

Still, when prodded to investigation by a press release for the newly updated Hello Vino, I found my dismay a bit hard to contain.

With astonishingly detailed, many-layered menus that aid in selecting wines by any number of criteria ranging from what goes with various foods from sushi to salads to candy bars (with or without nuts and then further broken down into specific categories such as Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar and Snickers!) to what is appropriate for occasions ranging from “big sporting events” to “a wine to impress someone”, this little app leaves no base untouched. And, not only does it provide answers such as Cabernet Sauvignon with a cheese pizza, an oaky, full-bodied Chardonnay with green salads, and several Zinfandels that pair perfectly with Guacamole, it goes further to make very specific recommendations as to individual labels, the descriptions of which are apparently provided by the selected wineries themselves.

No, I am not making this up.

And whether I agree or disagree with those or any of HelloVino recommendations is beside the point. I do wonder, however, by whom and what process are these choices made.

The good news and bad, I suppose, is that the app costs nothing to download. There is clearly enormous work in its creation, but, in the end, nothing is really free. I am too much of a skeptic to believe that this is an endeavor driven by singular altruism. I find myself asking questions as to who benefits most. And, as is almost always true, in the end, you get what you pay for.


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Wither and die on the vine
by Pamela Heiligenthal
Posted on:12/7/2012 11:50:43 PM

I’ve often wondered the same when it comes to food and wine pairings. I’ve spent the better half of my life pursuing perfect pairings only to realize I’ve failed more times than I have succeeded.
I’m not picking on the Hello Vino app, rather all venues that seem to have an authoritative opinion on the topic. But regardless of platform (mobile vs web) we do what we love in the hopes it will transform into a lucrative business illustrating that altruism is alive and well. We seem to be slaves of giving away content until someone recognizes real talent and the venture capital starts rolling in and expansion begins (or we wither and die on the vine).

Free App--Is Anything Ever Really Free?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/8/2012 1:16:29 AM

Hi Pam--

I have not seen the app in question, but listening to Steve  and his stories about digging it through it until he came to individual candy bars by name and wines that would go with them, it became clear that this was not an intellectual work.

It is some kind of commercial effort. Our best guess, as we discussed it today, over Zinfandels tasted blind, was that it might either be directly or indirectly winery sponsored. In any event, this one may seem free, but it comes with commercials rather than carefully researched recommendations.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/8/2012 8:12:56 PM

Unlike Pamela I have not failed more often than not but I think the difference might be that I gave up on "perfect" years ago. I know strive for harmony and balance and so long as both things taste as good, or better then I kinda see that as success. This app sounds like a joke to me and for the reason you mention, who the hell wrote the suggestions?! Would you take dating advice from from the person next to you in line at the Ralphs?! I mean come on people.....this is just depressing. Candy bar pairings?! That right there should let people know how serious that app is....kind of like Gary V. pairing wine and breakfast cereal. Ugh.

Magic 8 ball
by Kurt Burris
Posted on:12/10/2012 11:41:49 AM

You get what you pay for.  If you are the sort of consumer that is looking for advice on "a wine to impress somebody" you need help in more things than just wine.  Just go out and buy a Magic 8 Ball and all wil be better, and you can use it's advice to select the perfect wine, person to impress and big sporting event to attend.

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