Get smart with vintage charts

Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine.

Was 2010 a good year for cabernets? Or where in the world is the Haspengouw Region? Find those answers and more with a wine application (app) for your smartphone.

Last month, Saluté looked at wine books that can help you buy wines with more confidence. Rarely, however, does anyone take a book on a wine shopping expedition. What can you do when you want quick answers about a bottle of wine you are about to purchase in a store or order in a restaurant?

Wine-related apps for smartphones are extremely helpful when you need information quickly. Here are a few that I use when I’m shopping for wine or when I want a quick review about a wine I am drinking.

Cellar Rat is a very simple app that uses emoticons to rate vintages and was one of the first apps I ever downloaded to my smartphone. Knowing how weather affects grapes is important, and vintage charts help. A vintage — the year grapes were harvested — may have been excellent in France but not so much in California. A higher rating on a vintage chart indicates the wine will taste better and will probably age well if it is held for a few years. Some people have a knack for remembering the best vintages for their favorite wines. Unfortunately, I am not one of them, so Cellar Rat makes it easy for me to take a quick peek at the vintage rating before I buy a bottle of wine.

Cellar Rat’s tag line, “Bringing Smiles and Frowns to Wine Drinking Experiences” is certainly true. The “can’t miss” bright yellow smiley face has a full set of teeth gleaming at you; “go for it” is an orange face with a slightly less exuberant expression. Other ratings are “odds are good,” “questionable” and “buyer beware.” Cellar Rat also categorizes Old World (European) and New World (American and Australian) wines. To illustrate how vintages can vary, grapes harvested in 2010 in California’s Monterey region received a gray “questionable” emoticon. But you “can’t miss” if you choose an Old World Sicilian wine from 2010. Cellar Rat is a free app for iPhones and Androids.

If “smiley faces” are too simplistic for you, try the Wine Spectator Vintage Chart, which is also a free app available for both iPhones and Androids. This app summarizes the qualities and characteristics of wines from 50 regions around the world. Wine Spectator editors rate vintages and recommend whether to drink now or hold the wines. The app offers quite a few details about a growing season’s impact on wines. You can also tap on a world map to see a country’s wine regions. Oenophiles who clip the annual vintage chart from the magazine’s print edition will love this more elaborate version.

The online wine retailer,, launched a free iPhone and iPad app a couple of years ago that lets users scroll through thousands of wine labels in a comprehensive dashboard view. Searches can be customized by availability, varietal, and price. My favorite category is the “wines rated 90+ for under $20.” The listed wines include both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast ratings. “My cellar” lets you create an inventory of your wines or add wines to your own wish list. Although I don’t buy many wines online, I do like this app’s “search” function to find a particular type of wine and to see how much it generally costs.

My latest app is, which Fast Company named one of the top 25 must-have iPhone apps. Virtually any bottle of wine can be found using search field. Either type in the name of the wine or scan the bar code to access more than 2 million notes and ratings from experts. asks to find your location so it can tell you where the nearest winery or wine bar is located. The app has many features the others do not, but it also comes with a $2.99 price tag.

And if you haven’t downloaded an app yet, you may still be curious about the Haspengouw region. It is in Belgium and is home to 48 different wines, including several “smiley face” chardonnays.

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