Posted on 20.12.16 #07

A sommelier in your pocket

Here’s a shortened version of a piece I’ve written for The Buyer, the magazine for the premium on-trade. I’d highly recommend experimenting with the app, which is free to download, especially the ‘chez Corkscrew’ feature, which you can use at home, or whilst choosing a wine for your dinner. It’s fun, unnervingly smart, and it’s definitely not just for wine geeks!

Whilst the wines we drink have changed quite a lot over the last few decades, the physical wine list itself still looks pretty much as it did fifty years ago. So could it be due its ‘Uber moment’? The team behind Corkscrew certainly thinks so.

The app styles itself as a digital sommelier service and distinguishes itself by aiming to offer its users the best possible food and wine pairings, using a restaurant’s up-to-date wine list.

Corkscrew is the brainchild of CEO Matthew Gertner, a software developer who is happy to be described as “the tech guy”, and Chief Wine Officer, Matt Day, an industry veteran who has been a winemaker, wine writer and wine director.

An old-fashioned labour of love

Gertner’s team has created an algorithm that takes a restaurant’s wine list, asks you to add your potential menu choice, and makes a recommendation. The app looks super-slick, relying on the very latest technology, but the work that went into building it was an old-fashioned labour of love.

“We started off with the idea of taking a picture of the bottle, but that was never going to work”, says Gertner, “we realised that we needed something that was based on the list itself.” So they created the technology to sweep for restaurant wine lists and suck in the contents.

Day was then tasked with providing the team with every grape variety, including its alias; around 15,000 ‘wine flavours’, each corresponding to a wine from a particular vineyard area, ranked for sweetness, body, acidity, fruitiness and alcohol; and around 2,000 ‘dishes’, likely to be found on a London restaurant menu.

“I wanted to put Matt’s brain inside a phone”, says Gertner, “and when we’ve been out together for dinner, the app has come up with exactly what he’d recommend, so it really works”.

He estimates that they have upwards of 20,000 different wines in Corkscrew already, “At the moment we are working on the 80/20 rule”, he says, “when we encounter a new wine list, around 80 per cent of the wines will be ones we already recognise, with the other 20 per cent needing to be added to the database”.

The app is currently free, but there are plans for an additional premium service, and it’s currently live in around 200 Central London restaurants, with plans to encompass other big cities soon.

And then there’s ‘Chez Corkscrew’, which allows you to tap into recommendations at home, and there are even plans to give it the capacity to work in tandem with your own cellar collection.

An app that’s indispensable for daily life

Arguably, the feature with the most commercial potential is yet to come – the app features a barcode reader and the team have partnered with one of the UK’s leading supermarket chains to develop a system for live wine recommendations to partner your food choices. Potentially very handy when you’re out shopping.

Corkscrew is having a soft launch, to allow for inevitable teething issues to be dealt with, but the duo have big ambitions for it, summed up by Gertner, “We want to build an app that is absolutely indispensable for daily life”.

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