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Here comes the Apple’s wine i-Tasting app!



Tim Cook’s announcement on Tuesday of Apple’s new iTaste © app is exciting, and certainly represents a great leap forward in technology, but I wonder if it will really replace traditional human wine tasters.

As you’ve probably heard, the app, which runs on the new Apple Watch, is easy enough to use. You just put a drop of wine into a little hole in the watch, and in a nanosecond the screen gives you a complete readout of all the wine’s qualities: aroma, taste, finish, etc. The flavor descriptors run up to 120 words, and the iTaste can determine the precise blend. It can tell you where the oak came from, what the chemistry is, and even rates the wine on the beloved 100-point scale.

As Tim Cook explained, this frees wine lovers from “enslavement” to critics. “Forget about Parker, Wine Spectator, Enthusiast and all the rest,” the Apple CEO told an enraptured audience at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, who were sipping French Champagne. “They can be wrong, they can have their biases, they may be fatigued or sick or even drunk when they’re tasting.” The iTaste, by contrast, being a machine, “does not suffer from these human frailties. It is infallible.”

I was lucky enough to try out the iTaste, through the connections of a friend who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak for Apple or to provide the media with advance peeks of the product. It’s pretty cool, all right—as all Apple products are. It certainly knows more about wine than I do! I gave it a drop of a Slovenian Refosco, and it correctly identified it; it even knew it came from Dobrovo. I don’t think a Master of Wine could do that!

We should have seen this coming, right? I mean, everybody’s already convinced that wine critics are a dying breed, if not an anachronism. Millennial bloggers figured that they’d be next to take a bite of the golden apple—maybe in a crowd-sourced way—but instead, we may be leaving the human factor behind altogether, and plunging straight into robotics. If it happens, this will have broad impact in a number of areas: restaurants, publishing, retailing; the Wine Bloggers Conference will even go the way of the dodo. And what of shelf talkers? Would a wine store dare to put one up that says, “94 points, iTaste”?

I told my friend—the one who let me use the iTaste—how much I liked it, but I also asked him about a potential problem. Can the devices be hacked into? Even with Apple’s well-deserved reputation as being fairly immune to viruses, isn’t there a possibility that a powerful influence could tinker with the scores of certain wines, raising them or lowering them in such a way as would help itself and hurt its competitors?

My friend, who is highly placed within Apple circles, had no answer to this. As with all new leaps of technology, the early promise outshines the potential problems. Who, after all, could have foreseen that such a marvelous development as texting on mobile devices would lead to increased automobile accidents?

Another thing I wonder about is whether companies other than Apple will come out with their own reviewing software. This seems likely. Will we then have competing i-reviews and i-scores? If so, won’t this put consumers right back where they are now, into a situation of hopeless bafflement? Technology was supposed to make us all smarter. How has that worked out?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I’m all in favor of advances. I, personally, will miss the good old days when we had actual human beings who associated their names with wine reviews. I mean, a guy like Charlie Olken could put his reputation behind a review, and we could trust it because it came from him. Will we be able to put the same trust into an iTaste review? After all, the fundamental rule of software is GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

But I recognize the March of Progress. And there will be inevitable repercussions. Once we get rid of human wine critics, why not get rid of human winemakers? The entire winemaking process can be automated, like automobiles.


  1. Wow. Yesterday was my birthday and today I am mentioned in your blog. At this rate, I will become famous in another decade or two. And I will still be reviewing wine at that time, because I am working on my own tasting device for the days when my octagenarian nasal facilities no longer allow me to recognize Slovenian Refosco when I smell it.

  2. What passes for irony today will likely be viewed as prescience five years from now. Save this post!

    This pattern of pros to consumers to machines is playing out everywhere. e.g., five years ago the only way to get around town was with a surly cab driver. Now you’ve got anyone with a car able to shuttle you around. Five years from now with self-driving cars you won’t need people.

    Let’s say we’re transitioning from pros to consumers for creating wine descriptive content… does that matter? There’s no reason to believe that once someone nails the art and science of integrating measurement and human sensory response ( is a very early attempt at this – there are more on the way) and machines can communicate the gestalt of a wine in a highly-personalized better than any human… then indeed the scenario you lay out will come to pass.

    Move that model back up the production chain and, well, this is an exciting time. And no one is safe…

  3. Hi Steve, nice writeup of this new app. I’m a tech person but don’t see how any device can possibly give an objective rating of a wine’s quality when the sense of taste is so subjective. Seems like a cool “toy” though – hope they make a cheaper version for Android.

  4. Charlie,

    You’re working on the app’s software.

    And Caltech has you covered on the hardware:

    Who’s working on your “firmware”?

    (Hey, no salacious puns from HoseMaster solicited.)

    ~~ iBob

    (Steve: I was down at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College in Cupertino. Geez, what was I missing at the Moscone Center?)

  5. Apple apparently missed a huge opportunity in the naming of the app — shoulda been Apple Juice©!

  6. Steve…a little off topic, but having recently been in Napa for a tour of several vineyards, I was struck by how much it now costs to do a tasting. Some small family vineyards are charging $30-$50/person for a 3-5 wine sampling (often times less than a glass effectively). You buy three bottles, you get 1 tasting fee waived. Having been a Napa tourist for over a decade, I’m struck by how fast and high these tasting fees have gotten. I’d be curious about your thoughts on these fees.



  7. Dear Rob, I too have been mind blown how high these tasting fees have gotten. The only thing I can say is that no one is forcing tourists to pay them. The market rules, so if the prices get out of line, people will stop tasting, and then the price will come down.

  8. Thanks for the response, Steve. Hopefully the market corrects sooner rather than later, though I fear, like all high end goods, there is always someone stupid enough to pay that price. Just a shame…an annual pilgrimage to Napa might be out of the cards for us, unfortunately. Not that I can’t afford it, but I just think it’s outrageous and don’t want to afford it, particularly when I’m spending over a grand in wine. This budding, 40-year wine enthusiast will just have to stick to the heavy discount wine offers I get pushed to me every day for my stock of higher end wines.

    Really enjoy your blog, BTW.


  9. Rob,

    Found in my e-mail in-box this morning, courtesy of LocalWineEvents:

    “Full disclosure”: I have no marketing involvement in this promotion, and no financial investment in the company.

    Take advantage of the offer if it makes sense (cents) for you.

    ~~ Bob

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