Review: CellarTracker App
Anyone who has a reasonable wine collection has likely heard of CellarTracker. Originally the side project of a Microsoft engineer, the data trove of private wine holdings from over 300,000+ users now tracks more than 1.7 million wines. With tasting notes, market values and inventory management for each wine, the CellarTracker database is an invaluable resource for professionals and casual oenophiles alike.
Popular reviews and ratings from professionals are included in the service, and CellarTracker nicely integrates third party resources to add many more. So if you already subscribe to reviews and ratings from sources like The Pinot Report or Richard Jennings on Wine, they’ll show up too.
Reviews and tasting notes from fellow users often provide the most important information on any particular wine though, and many religiously contribute thoughtful notes. The average community rating is an excellent complement to professional ratings, and CellarTracker has an active community if you’d like to compare notes in greater detail or connect with particular people who share your taste.
CellarTracker is not only a rich source of information, it is also reliably unbiased as there are no conflicts of interest steering users to specific sources. While most wine sites and apps depend on affiliate kickbacks from retailers (e.g. Lot18, Last Bottle — see, I just did it too), CellarTracker depends on suggested donations. This independence not only means honesty in the data gathered and reported, but also when it comes to finding the best prices. When users are ready to buy, CellarTracker refers them directly to Wine Searcher for an impartial comparison of retail and auction prices on almost any wine available. Prices from Wine Searcher are submitted by over 28,000 retailers and are almost infallibly current.
Steadily updated market values for each wine also make record keeping and self-congratulation (or self-pity) easy. This is especially useful for collectors considering whether to send bottles to auction or stock up at the right price.
With such a wealth of information and a dedicated user base, a mobile app seems long overdue. There are many consumer apps in the wine market, particularly ones that will find the nearest wine bar or pair the right cheese with your favorite cabernet. There are also cellar management apps that do a good job managing inventory. The big hole in the wine app market has been the depth of knowledge from a source like CellarTracker applied in a way consumers can love.
A good wine app should tell you immediately what you have, what it’s worth, and any notes on pairings, past tastings, or recommended dates to drink.
Two years back, third party app Cor.kz tapped into CellarTracker data rather well but fell short. The fundamental flaw behind Cor.kz was an attempt to bridge a gap between serious collectors and casual tasters; in the end it does not serve either completely. For example, Cor.kz recently included both “Moustache Party” and a Catholic church as nearby wine establishments, and didn’t list any of several wine shops within walking distance.
Cor.kz also forces all new purchases to be recorded as in-cellar, though they may not have been delivered yet. For anyone buying future releases or needing delivery after the summer heat (frequently the case for such valuable perishables), this has made the Cor.kz app frustratingly limited.
The new CellarTracker app wisely leaves the hunt for wine bars to others and focuses instead on the features that only CellarTracker can offer. And it delivers.
In short, almost everything a user expects from CellarTracker is available in the app. More importantly, it all functions smoothly, quickly and pleasurably.
Appropriately utilitarian, CellarTracker’s app has a pleasant but bare bones design scheme. Unique details like red wine swishing in a tiny glass as views load keep the interface friendly and comfortable.
There are three key moments in which an app like CellarTracker absolutely has to perform well:
- In Cellar: Whether scanning a 10-bottle rack in the kitchen or searching a subterranean cavern filled with rare cases, a good wine app should tell you immediately what you have, what it’s worth, and any notes you may have on pairings, past tastings, or recommended dates to drink.
- Time of Purchase: Whether you’re browsing the aisles, the auction catalogue, or the internet, a great app should tell you the market value and peer reviews on any wine you are considering, in seconds. Then it needs to record the purchase, with all the details for delivery, specific bottle notes, and anything else you desire for later reference.
- Drinking: When a bottle is consumed, any app worth its salt needs to give you the option to include tasting notes and some detail about the time and place of consumption (e.g. sold at auction, gifted, drunk from a bag on the beach).
CellarTracker performs beautifully in each of these situations.
The CellarTracker app performs so well in terms of speed and ease that it may in fact be superior to the site itself. With the simplicity of finger taps to access almost everything, the user experience is arguably better, if only because there is no need for a computer.
Professionals and serious collectors will appreciate the flexibility a mobile app gives them to scan bar codes right into their CellarTracker account. And everyone will appreciate the auto-complete search function — especially helpful when typing Châteauneuf-du-Pape as you walk down a crowded street. These features are not unique to the app, but they suddenly become much more valuable in the palm of your hand.
Collectors with an eye on investment returns may miss some of the valuation display and report options in the app, but it’s hardly a noticeable shortcoming. It would be helpful (or at least enjoyable) to be able to see a display of profit/loss, particularly over time, and the main site could use greater focus on this use case too. Users are left to download data periodically and import into their own software if they really want to track investments effectively.
The one other key feature currently missing is text and image recognition. Enabling users to scan a label instead of typing is not an entirely necessary feature, but it is one users are likely to expect. It would be a shame for that feature to cost CellarTracker popularity with casual users.
Bottom line: this is an absolute must-try app for anyone interested in wine, and a must-have app for any serious oenophile. CellarTracker’s core team of Dan Polivy, Andrew Hall and original creator Eric Levine should all be very proud of the CellarTracker app. It takes a unique combination of skill, diligence and instinct to introduce something this good right out of the gate.