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Wine Tasting in 2012: My Resolution to Get Organized

I have wine tasting notes everywhere: jotted on cocktail napkins, keyed into my iPhone, and scribbled on the back of envelopes and in countless reporter pads. They’re mixed in with shopping lists, class lecture notes and old interviews. They’re like the flower seeds I collect, but that I never get around to planting.

There was a time when I would have referred to the notes in reporter pads. I always kept one handy while working at a retail shop and for tasting groups, but a few months down the road, that pad would have been employed for another purpose, left in a purse or backpack, and be replaced by another. I now have 20, easily, and there’s absolutely no order to them and no means of retrieving information quickly. Most of the wines are old vintages by now – what’s the point in even trying, I think? Then a friend requests recommendations for her wedding, or I have to buy wines for a class I’m teaching, or I simply want to find that Pinot I had for Thanksgiving – and for the life of me, I can’t remember its name.

Yes, I know, Thanksgiving was only two months ago. But I taste a heck of a lot of wine, and I desperately need a way to catalogue them all. So, my resolution for 2012 is to find a system to record my wine notes efficiently and retrieve them easily.

I have a few modest requirements of any new system:

1. Portability. I taste wines at work, in bars, at restaurants, parties, tasting events, in retail shops … heck, even in ball fields and beaches these days. I need a system that will travel with me easily. Mobile phone apps are the obvious answer, but I’m learning quickly that most don’t meet all my needs; portability has to go hand in hand with requirement No. 2.

2. Compatibility/Synching. I’m a lightning-fast typist, but I don’t want to spend hours transposing notes from phone to database or blog or whatever else. But – and this is a serious “but” – I also don’t want my wine-notes library to exist solely on my phone. I want the ability to scroll through my library at home on a normal-size screen and use a real keyboard to clean up the awkward, messy notes I take on my phone.

3. Easy retrieval. In the 21st century this should be a no-brainer. I want to type in “Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir” and see a list of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs in two seconds. There’s no negotiating this point. This should be easy, as the whole point of keeping tasting notes is to find them and use them again.

I’d also like the ability to add bottle photos; email, tweet or Facebook-post a note; and print. My search has just begun, but there are a lot of options to wade through, and with the apps it’s difficult to discern what they really provide without purchasing them first. I’ll report back here in a few weeks after I’ve experimented with the few I’ve decided to try:

Evernote – This is a super-cool, free app that friends recently turned me on to. While it’s not wine specific, it’s easy to tailor to wine. It synchs with computers, phones and tablets, and it can save photos, audio and whole Web pages. Tag each entry, and you’re automatically building your wine library index system. It’s immensely intuitive, and the elephant-head logo and tagline, “Remember everything,” fuels me with the great hope that Evernote will be my solution. Could it be that easy? I’ve hit a few road bumps, but overall it’s pretty smooth sailing.

Vinocella – Handsome, tailored specifically to wine and incredibly easy to use, the $5.99 Vinocella app is everything the critics said it was. I was initially impressed. Time saving tags – variety, region, color, vintage, aging recommendations, etc. – are already built in. At Lot18’s Wine Friday last week I tasted a wine from a lesser-known region, Calaveras County, and surprisingly it was on Vinocella’s list (which is a good thing, because I don’t think you can add to it). There’s a cellar-tracking feature, a star-rating system, a “favorites” section, and even a wish list (is it too early to start dreaming of Christmas 2012?). I was ready to proclaim this snazzy app the answer when I realized that I couldn’t synch it to my computer, which is a MAJOR disappointment, and really surprising given how sophisticated the system is. Vinocella, you’ve broken my heart. The search continues.

Snooth – I absolutely love Snooth’s app for shopping. I can type in a producer or variety I’m looking for, and it tells me where it’s available closest to me, along with prices and reviews, so I can find the wine I want, when I want. But it’s functionality seems better suited to this than building my own library of tasted wines. I want instant access to my library with a click, and I’ll explore this app more and see if I can tailor it specifically to my needs.

Blogging – OK, this might be an antiquated solution, but it might serve my purposes. Since most blogging platforms provide the ability to tag key words, I could build an indexing system easily. Most have phone and tablet capability, and also offer the ability to attach photos, print, email and link on Facebook. But a public blog’s purpose is different from a private database’s – it would be a public shout-out of my tasting notes. Suddenly I’d feel the need to say smart and witty things about every wine I try. Sure, it could be fun, but I’d like to be able to jot down garbled, hasty or silly notes without inviting comments.

I’m curious to hear from you. How do you keep track of tasting notes? Which apps or methods don’t you like? Which ones do you continue to use, and why? Please let me know below, and happy tasting!

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