wineIf wine can make “… every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized …” according to Andre Simon in the Commonsense of Wine, can it also make an online social network more fun, more witty, more useful? Virtual wine communities are springing up everywhere – as subsets of Facebook, My Space etc.; as straight bulletin boards and blogs; on paid subscription sites like www.erobertparker.com; and as wine-centric social networks. The leading wine-centric sites combine a social wine network with other free services, notably software to manage wine collections, wine databases and/or links to online retail listings.

A retail search service may seem redundant in the omniscient presence of Google, but in fact wine retail sites are possibly the least uniform category of all online retail sites, with each retailer seemingly bent on coming up with a unique sitemap that buries their wares like hidden treasure from frustrated buyers. Specialized wine search engines are the best way to find a specific wine.

Wine networks are growing fast, as evidenced in a comprehensive survey by Vintank in May 2009. So what do these networks offer in return for registration, and which of these social wine networks is right for you? That depends on who you are. If you are a:

Wine geek, who loves exploring new wines in the company of other geeks, Cellartracker has more than one million tasting notes as at August 2009, all authored by passionate wine consumers. Packed with information, the user interface is unabashedly cluttered. If you already know and drink all kinds of wine and know what you are looking for, this is your community. The core service is its cellar management program, which is free, but you can pay for premium features if you want them. It provides links to wine purchasing options via New Zealand-based www.wine-searcher.com and runs ads from Google.

Sample geeky tasting note from Cellartracker:
08 Weingut Schellmann Cuvée Gumpoldskirchner (Austria)
By Otto Nieminen
Apparently a dry blend of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler is exceedingly rare. But in this wine, it worked. It smelled of rosewater and steel, mineral and floral. Dry, crisp, mouthwatering despite a floral scent promising sweetness. Quite long. Very nice.

Other sites for wine geeks: Snooth; BottleTalk; VinoGusto.

Wine collector, who invests in wine for profit as well as pleasure, Vinfolio’s VinCellar offers a comprehensive database of retail prices and auction results, and a growing database of professional reviews and community tasting notes. [Full disclosure: I work in cellar acquisitions for Vinfolio.] The core service here is also its cellar management program, which is free, combined with a wine retail site specializing in collectible wines and a Marketplace where users can legally offer wine for sale.

Sample investor tasting note from VinCellar:
1994 Beaucastel – Chateauneuf du Pape
by Anthony D526
92
Consistent notes. A bigger wine in body than the profound ’89, but not as complex or elegant; still it has good complexity; big & intense but not over-extracted; good fruit; lots of earth & leather; soft and approachable yet good grip and integrated tannins; long finish; ready now but should hold. An excellent Ch. du Pape!

Other sites for wine collectors: Cellartracker; CellarWineSoftware; ManageYourCellar.

Wine fan, in the way that Gary Vaynerchuk is a Jets fan, Corkd offers you the platform to be a fan of your favorite wineries and tell everybody why. This site reflects Vaynerchuk’s down to earth approach to presenting wine, and includes guides to the basics like grape varieties. The core service here is really the network, encouraging ratings not just of wines, but of the reviewers. Wineries pay an annual fee for “verified accounts”, which offer users direct links to purchase their wines.

Sample breathless tasting note from Corkd:
2005 Kitfox Foxy White
by wineslut
97/100
An absolute ton of layers of unique fruit flavors. So good with Asian and anything spicy. My friends and I went through an entire case (there were a lot of us) and this is now OUR wine. I think it is a blend of 6 or 7 different varietals. You may not have heard of these guys but you should make it your job to!

Other sites for wine fans: Must Love Wine; Bottle Notes; Open Bottles.

Christina Pate is Cellar Acquisition Coordinator at wine site Vinfolio.