I’ll confess, I know very little about wine, except that too many glasses of cheap red plonk can make you very sick as a 14-year-old child. WhatWine, a new app from serial entrepreneurs Cedric Maloux and Matthew Gertner, who previously founded AllPeers together, could help fill in a few of my gaping sommelier blanks.
The newly-launched iOS app uses OCR technology to let you scan a restaurant’s wine list and, coupled with wine database Snooth, pair the correct bottle of wine to the type of main dish you’ve ordered. Or, another way to describe the app, says Maloux, is that it’s like ‘Shazam for wine list and food pairing’, in reference to the hugely popular music recognition app.
“We are really trying to solve the problem that unless you are a wine expert, it’s impossible to properly choose wine alone in a restaurant,” he tells me. “A sommelier has to study for one year to get his degree and then it takes him years of experience and experimentation. Still, a waiter will give you a wine list with 50 different wines and leave you alone; good luck with that especially if everybody is eating something different!”
Maloux says he actually came up with the idea five years ago, but didn’t know how to overcome the technical obstacles involved with scanning and interpreting any wine list regardless of font, layout, background colour etc. Then, around a year ago, he shared the idea with his old co-founder Gertner, who is currently CEO of Salsita Software, and he was convinced that Salsita’s team could successfully meet the challenge.
“We use OCR technology to recognise wines on a menu and offer the best pairing advice. I had this idea in 2009 but it took me 5 years to get it out of the ground and it’s now been 12 months in the making with a team of 5 developers and designers,” says Maloux.
The resulting iOS app couldn’t be much simpler. You tell it which nearby restaurant you are at (via Foursquare’s API), then, with a single tap, you can view the wine list of the selected restaurant if it has already been scanned by another WhatWine user. Alternatively, you take a photo of the wine list yourself and WhatWine indexes and adds it to its database.
Next, you choose from a selection of 13 different types of food to get a suggestion of the wines that best complement your food choice. In addition, for groups, more than one food type can be selected, and the wine suggestions will be adapted accordingly.
Meanwhile, under the hood, WhatWine uses its own proprietary pairing rules and image recognition technology, in conjunction with licensed OCR software and information pulled in from the Snooth wine database on grape types. Food pairing, apparently, depends mainly on the type of grape that the wine contains.
In terms of competitors, Maloux concedes that there are a plethora of existing wine apps, but says the majority of them, such as Vivivo, Drync, Hello Vino, and Delectable, let you take a picture of a wine label to recognize the wine after it’s already been served and is in front of you. “These apps are mostly a way to remember which wine you have had in the past but they do not help you choose wine,” says. “In term of use case, we arrive before these other apps, when you are staring at the wine list. We are the only one focussing on helping users make the best choice by pairing their food with the wine list of a restaurant.”
Along with Maloux and Gertner, WhatWine is also co-founded and backed by early stage investor and entrepreneur Robert Cohen, who also previously invested in AllPeers.