About Me

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Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Steven is co-author of Exploring Wine, which has sold more than 125,000 copies, and was nominated as Best Wine and Spirits Book by the James Beard Foundation. Steven is also co-author of WineWise, a consumer-friendly guide to the wines of the world, which won both the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Award for Best Wine Book of the Year. He is also the author of A Sense of Place, a history of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola / Rubicon Winery (foreword by Francis Ford Coppola) that received the prestigious Versailles Award for Best American Wine Book in 2000. He is a contributing editor and the wine columnist for The Valley Table and Salon.com. In 2007, Steven Kolpan was named Wine Educator of the Year by the European Wine Council. He has been a member of Slow Food International for 20 years. Steven Kolpan lives just outside of Woodstock, New York.

Wine Apps

I have spent much of my adult life working closely with chefs, whose abbreviation for "appetizer" is - almost always - "app." Well now, in my old age, I have to make an adjustment in my thinking, my communication skills. At age 63, which is "The New 93" when it comes to understanding technology, I must recognize that when people, chefs included, speak of "apps" they are talking about "applications" that live in The Cloud, The Smart Phone, or The Tablet (in my case, the iPad, the tablet that I am typing or "keyboarding" right now. I could be dictating it via built-in voice recognition, but the halting "ughs," "umms," and "hmms" would populate the screen to such an embarrassing and annoying degree that Siri might decide to go on strike).

As everyone by now knows, apps abound, and are easily downloaded to a host of computer-based and increasingly miniaturized devices that act very much like digital personal assistants, reminding us of appointments, locking and unlocking doors, turning lights off and on, finding obscure recipes or the nearest Thai restaurant, sending and receiving emails, sending and depositing checks, taking photos and producing sophisticated videos, and of course assembling killer playlists from the entire universe of recorded music. There are tens of thousands of specialized apps covering business, the arts, science, mathematics, highly specialized knowledge, and thousands dedicated to food and wine.

Lately, I have been exploring wine apps. The reason I bought an iPad in the first place was to keep up with the virtual explosion of wine apps, so that I could speak near-intelligently with my wine students at The Culinary Institute of America, almost all of whom have never known a world without the internet, and are as comfortable downloading and utilizing apps as I was dialing a phone or telling time without a digital assist when I was in my 20s. I have asked my students for assistance in navigating this new world of apps, and they have been open and generous in sharing their knowledge without smirking or sarcasm, even if they were shocked by my lack of digital literacy. They must be thinking, "Just how old is this guy?" And of course they're right; I really am that old.

Although I am a relic of a previous era - or several previous eras - I have been enthusiastically delving into the world of wine apps. When I "go" to the App Store and search for "wine," about a thousand apps appear; roughly half are free and the other half are mostly priced anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99. Some of the apps are very specific, dealing with a single wine region, some are promotional vehicles for wineries, wine tourism, or restaurants. Many wine apps, both free and not, are vehicles for selling wine. I want to focus on the free apps that focus on enhancing wine knowledge, because I am really excited about how useful they can be. Most of these apps are available for Apple, Android and other phones and various tablets. Based on my experience, the apps that are meant to travel with you - to wine shops and restaurants, where just by taking a photo of the wine label or alternately the UPC bar code or QR code on the back label, are better utilized using a smart phone; a tablet - at least my iPad - is awkward for taking photos on the fly.

Some of the free wine apps worth checking out include:

Pocket Wine: This really is an excellent, simple to navigate program, making very effective presentations of wine styles, wine grapes A-Z, extensive wine and food pairing, where in the world grapes grow (alas, no maps), a good basic glossary of wine terms, and a unique feature that allows you to create your own taste profile by answering some easy questions about your overall taste preferences; in my case, it was surprisingly accurate. Really fun, really helpful, especially for those who are just beginning to dive head first into wine as a subject they'd like to learn more about.

Wine Terms: More than a hundred basic wine terms, both practical and technical, concisely and accurately defined. Did you know that "fiasco" is the name of the wicker basket that surrounds the old-style Chianti bottle? I did, but more people should.

Hello Vino: This app allows you to choose a wine by taste preference, food pairing, brand name, and by label recognition. You can get dozens of specific wine recommendations for each dish, complete with approximate prices, and tasting notes geared to fit your meal. You can also enter a wine you already own to get pairing notes. A note on the label recognition: you receive a limited number of free photo scans with the app, and you can purchase an unlimited amount of scans for $4.99.

Vivino: I really like this app. Take a photo of the label (as far as I can tell, there's no charge and no limit), and get quite a bit of info about the wine, including its grape or grapes, basic food matching, and tasting notes, which you can add to and share via Facebook or Twitter, as well as read the tasting notes of others. This really is for smart phones, although you can make it work with your tablet once you get the hang of the camera frame.

WS Wine Ratings: The Wine Spectator App. Forget the Wine Ratings part of this app ($2.99 per month) and focus on the free stuff. There are some very easy-to-access vintage charts covering both the Old and New World, as well as some good videos on wine basics. There's also WS360, a constantly updated collection of articles from the Wine Spectator, some of which you might find interesting (such as an excellent article on the impact of fracking on wine, and another on whether it's really necessary to age wine).

Find Local Wineries: I live exactly 22.46 miles from Whitecliff winery. Who knew? On this app I can get driving directions, phone number, website address, etc. for far more than a thousand wineries in the United States, and the automatic home page is our own Hudson Valley. You can add a winery that does not appear on this app (Hey, Millbrook and Cereghino Smith! You're among the very few missing local wineries). A perfect basic app for wine travel on the local or national level.

Finger Lakes Destination &Wine Card and Long Island Wine Country: Very good apps about the wineries and related travel and dining opportunities. (Note: the Finger Lakes app shows up as “NY Wine Trail on my iPad desktop). Bravo to these wine regions. Here's a good idea: a Hudson River Region wine app, with wineries, restaurants, lodging, CSAs and farms, cider, cheeses, etc. The time is now.

Finally, a useful and witty app that wine drinkers will appreciate is My Stain (produced by Clorox). Among the remedies for stains caused by vomit, urine, blood, and armpits, there is an excellent on-the-go antidote for red wine stains. According to the app: “Blot with a paper towel or clean cloth to remove excess wine. Pour club soda on the stain from back to front and blot again. This will help prevent the stain from permanently setting.” I tried it and it works. “Back to front” is the move that eluded me in the past.

Once you start exploring the world of wine apps, you'll find apps that are just about Italian wines, Bordeaux, California and on and on. You'll marvel at some of the free apps and probably buy an inexpensive but useful app or two (such as Cor.kz for $2.99). Admittedly, as someone who has gotten his wine knowledge from tasting, travel, reading and writing books and articles, the wine app world is new to me. Many of you who are used to the digital wine world may be harrumphing "What's the big deal?" But to those of us brought up on the written word and books with consecutive chapters, this is a big change, and it's one that I think I'm going to embrace, not as the only source of wine knowledge, but as fun and effective adjuncts to enhance my own knowledge and to share it with others.