Somebody has to do it.
Wine drinkers who poke around on the Internet are likely to be aware of online wine cellars, where you can log in and type up a list of the bottles you have in your home, record what you opened last night and what you thought of it, prices, and so on. Two of the most familiar sites are CellarTracker and Cork'd. CellarTracker has been around for five years and boasts a database of over one million consumer-generated wine reviews -- everybody recording what they thought of last night's wine -- and a log of ten million bottles. Cork'd, brainchild of two web developers each named Dan who work on an iceberg floating between Massachusetts and Florida (the site says so) was founded in 2006 and bought in May of 2007 by New Jersey based wine wunderkind Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibrary TV.
Occasionally I have visited CellarTracker in order to look up a particular wine that I have tried, and find out what other people have thought of it. (This is crap, I'll sometimes read, which is a rather unhelpful wine note all around.) CellarTracker's look is so busy, however, that it's discouraging for a start. And when I first logged in to Cork'd, I found that the site kept telling me "no one has reviewed that wine yet -- be the first" when in fact I was trying to be the first. I gave up.
Which brings us to Vinut, a newer on line wine cellar launched in January 2009. Full disclosure: the nice man running Vinut contacted me to say he had stumbled upon my blog (insert woo hoo here) and thought my readers might be interested in the site. I took a look at Vinut, and indeed found I was interested in it. Its look is beautifully clean, for one thing, and for another, this on-line cellar tracker is for you, the individual: you log in and use it as an aide-memoire regarding what you have bought and tasted. That's all. As the nice man wrote in an email to me, he found on investigating the market -- other cellar management websites -- that with many of them "things were getting more 'social,' which I didn't find necessary." Exactly. All you really want, especially if you are a novice wine drinker, is some place to store your notes besides that ratty notebook sitting on your desk which you also use as a scratch paper pad and coffee cup coaster. Let's face it: seeing things elegantly totted up on a computer screen somehow looks more serious and worthy. And fun. It's fun to get a clear picture, a screen shot, of just how many bottles you have tried. Maybe a lot more than you think, which makes you feel serious and worthy. If you want to open your Vinut cellar to genuine friends, people whose email addresses you actually know, you may do so, but this is not the place to meet new wine friends who all agree this is crap. "Everyone for himself," as Joseph puts it.
Navigating Vinut, however, will prove a learning experience immediately, which is certainly a good thing. When you log on to start chronicling your wine drinking experiences, the first thing the site will ask you is the name of the vineyard of the wine you wish to record. Required information. You can't go further without knowing it. For the shopper accustomed to buying wine by those attractive, clever, artistic labels which so many winemakers' marketing departments dream up -- Earthquake or Big Ass or Buy This Crud or whatever -- then you have Woodbridge, Woodbridge, and Woodbridge, or you have the lovely little family owned operations in Meaningful Valley, California, which name their wines Meghan Schuyler after a beloved granddaughter -- for the shopper accustomed to all this, the idea of wine coming from a vineyard is a jolt. Oh. The vineyard. That matters? Well, let's see: in my coffee-stained notebook I have a note about a wine I tasted at Ye Olde Wine Shoppe in December of 2007. My handwriting reads, "Castell del Remei, Spain, Gotim Bru 2005 Costers del Segre." Lord have mercy, I have no idea which of those is the vineyard. Maybe none. I at least understand Spain is the country.
Luckily, Vinut will not kick you off your own cellar steps if you type in the wrong thing, but it is uncanny how much it does know. I put in Costers del Segre and found the name already listed in the drop-down menu for Spain's regions. Ah so. Vinut's forcing the user to think about and remember wine in these terms might just represent the very boost needed to get you over the wall from ignorance to connoisseur-ship, or at least to a wise and cheerful appreciation of what wine is. Vineyard, country, region; then vintage year and producer; finally, cute label identification, if any. Wine as miraculous but understandable product of collaboration between nature and man, not as perplexing, incognita temptress, nor as bottled uniformity to be shunned in astonishment if its price rises above $6.99.
(My actual tasting note for what we at Ye Shoppe called Gotim Bru was "average good red blend, not too dry," which makes me cringe now. Gee, how discerning.)
I like Vinut. If you visit and notice that one or two users' contributions, highlighted on the main page, are in German, there's a reason. Vinut's founder was born in the United States but has lived long enough in Germany to be bilingual. Vinut itself exists in two forms, English and German. "Your browser settings will choose the appropriate language for you," Joseph writes. Uncanny.
Incidentally, enjoy this post from Vinography, three years ago, on "Why community tasting note sites will fail (my emphasis)." Vinography makes an exception for on line cellar management sites like CellarTracker -- or, by extension, Vinut. And Vinography agrees with me on CellarTracker's atrocious look, "what must be one of the most godawful web application interfaces I have ever seen. The thing simply stinks ...."