Smartphones have made it easier than ever to learn about wine. Instantly, we can rate, record and share wines, translate terms or pull up maps of distant regions. Phones are used increasingly to analyze, educate and advertise in ways that have changed how we interact with what’s in our glass. Here are a few ways that producers have harnessed the power of phones to change the way people drink wine.
1. QR codes
QR codes, the square stamps often found on retail packaging, have made their way into the wine world. A quick scan can offer information and features that the producer couldn’t fit on the label, and more.
The codes are a way to nurture customer curiosity. Many people already shop with a phone in hand, whether to look up vintage or text about what’s for dinner. They’re useful in grocery stores and places where a wine expert may not be present, and they allow the producer to be part of the conversation.
Some see QR codes as the tech version of “shelf talkers,” the short descriptions found alongside price information in stores. Winemakers also offer special deals or other incentives through the codes.
Buyer beware, however: Since the information embedded in QR codes is provided by the winery, they’re more likely to include only accolades. If you’re seeking critical reviews, look elsewhere.
2. Counterfeit detection
QR codes can serve another function on higher-end bottles. As counterfeiting techniques become more sophisticated, serialization (the numbering of bottles) and holograms are less reliable than ever to prevent fraud.
While some may associate counterfeiting with high-profile wine auctions and rare bottles, the risk is actually highest in brands that produce more than 10,000 cases per year of bottles ranging from $50 to $250.
Thomas Weiss is the chief executive officer and founder of Authentic Vision, a company that produces secure tags for wine labels. He says serialization, or the numbering of bottles, relies too heavily on the security of the supply chain. Weiss says his company’s high-tech labels are akin to fingerprinting. The company aims to create an end-to-end system that guarantees authenticity. Smartphones can allow consumers to authenticate wines on-site, before purchase.
It’s worth noting that a consumer’s information from QR codes, whether for security or education, is trackable. “The data is owned by the brand,” says Weiss. While that information could simply be used to inform marketing decisions, it may be enough to dissuade some privacy-minded wine lovers from participating.
3. Augmented reality labels
An Australian wine brand, 19 Crimes, employs augmented reality in its labels. Through its app, you can scan labels, each decorated with a different historical convicts exiled to Australia for at least one of 19 crimes that bore such punishment. Hover your smartphone over the image and the convict’s portrait comes to life to recount their tale of banishment.
Unlike QR-coded tech sheets, don’t expect notes on growing seasons or farming practices here. These enhanced bottles seek to entice casual consumers. The project has been so far been wildly successful, with marketing firm J. Walter Thompson, claiming the 19 Crimes AR labels have had 153 million views to date.
Treasury Wine Estates, the global wine producer and distributor behind 19 Crimes, promotes a few other brands with these interactive labels, all accessible from the Living Wine Labels app. Among them are Napa and Sonoma bottlings from Chateau St. Jean, as well as a range of wines created for the TV show The Walking Dead.
Aerators are a popular device aimed to enhance wine. But Aveine, which claims to be the first “smart” aerator, touts that its product will tailor itself to the specific needs of your bottle. Scan the label via its app, and artificial intelligence will identify the bottle, and use information like grape, color and vintage to calibrate the right amount of air to incorporate into your pour.
While still in the prototype stage (the company is currently accepting pre-orders through their IndieGogo page), the app also aims to integrate social media as well as tips from sommeliers and grape growers, which can be used with or without the actual aerator.
“Not all wine drinkers are connoisseurs, and yet they all want to get the best of what they drink,” said Orna Bembaron, a company representative. “There are indeed apps to help us in every aspect of our lives. This technical revolution allows the wine lovers, expert or young novice to stay informed at any time.”
An alternative to the bottle aerator is the iSommelier, a smart decanter system that filters air through the base of its carafe to oxygenate wine. Much like the Aveine, iSommelier allows you to scan your bottle with your phone and offers information about the optimal intensity and duration of the decanting process. It claims to accomplish in minutes what could take hours of conventional decanting. That can make a huge difference with certain wines like full-bodied reds, aged expressions or reductive styles.
Starting at $500 (and $800 for the Pro model that incorporates additional smartphone features), the iSommelier is best suited to someone already in the habit of decanting, or people who don’t want to make guests wait for the perfect pour.