SINGAPORE (July 2): On June 20, Rob Wilder, the co-founder of ThinkFoodGroup, announced the release of WineGame, a simple app that instantly turns any bottle into a fun, multiple-choice blind tasting game. Even if you do not know Wilder’s name, you certainly know his partner’s: star chef and humanitarian Jose Andrés. The game began as a late-night lark between Wilder and Andrés who would challenge each other to blindly taste and then correctly name the wine hidden inside a paper bag.

Blind tasting is a big part of what all sommeliers do to earn their stripes. And it is not easy. The challenge of deductive tasting is one of the reasons why there are less than 250 Master Sommeliers in the world. That is why another one of the brains (and palates) behind WineGame is Keith Goldston, who became America’s 47th MS and the youngest to pass all three parts — theory, tasting and practical — on the first go. 

The goal of WineGame is to make blind tasting way more accessible, super social, educational and fun. “Somebody who likes wine but doesn’t know much can still play,” says Wilder.


Screenshots from the app​

How it works
First, the app directs you to populate the game with wines by either scanning a label with your phone’s camera or typing in a keyword. Without fail, from Old Westminster Albariño (an obscure wine from Maryland) to Nino Negri Sfursat 5 Stelle (a hard-to-find Italian gem), and even Bota Box Brick Merlot, the app was unstumpable in finding the bottle I wanted to taste.

“Scanning a label, putting in a keyword, finding any wine and getting the Screenshots from the app PICTURES: WINEGAME facts about it — that’s actually pretty easy,” says Wilder. “There have been people building those databases for awhile.”

Next, you are prompted to discern the grape. Five options are presented, and you get three tries. Then it is on to country, region and vintage/label. If you get stuck, there is a “hint” button to help narrow down the answers. The fewer misguesses, the more points you accumulate. The platform generates logical answers to each question, so that gamers learn even when answering incorrectly.

“That’s the special sauce of WineGame,” says Wilder. “Right answers are easy. What’s hard is taking those right answers and turning them into a multiple-choice game with wrong answers.” In the case of a rosé from Provence, for instance, the app had me choose not from a random selection of five wines, but from related Provencal rosés that would make any pro take pause. 

Before the big reveal, WineGame asks you to rate the wine.

“This is an important moment for the game, because you’re deciding how much you like the wine before you find out what it is or know anything about how much it costs,” says Wilder. Unless you were the host who bought the wine and scanned in the label for friends, players are scoring wines without any label or cost bias. “We’re betting that data will be really interesting for restaurants.”

Monetisation
 While at-home use will be free, WineGame aims to make money by licensing their proprietary software for events, blind flights at restaurants, upgraded private dining, on-premise entertainment (think bar trivia) and so on. 

“Thinking of adding a wine to your list? Put it in your game and you’ve got a focus group.” In the app’s Game Center, there are also leaderboards akin to the Strava app for athletes that allow players to track stats locally and globally. “Imagine the business traveller sitting at the bar all alone and the bartender says, ‘Hey, you want to have some fun?’”

Bartholomew Broadbent, named one of the “50 most influential people in the wine world” by Decanter Magazine, agrees. “WineGame is brilliant for the novice or expert alike. I’ve played it with Master Sommeliers and complete novices and everyone loves it.”

“My suggestion,” he adds, “would be to go into your local wine shop, give them a budget of, say, one hundred dollars, and have them select six wines that they give you in brown bags, having already set them up on your WineGame app. Then, you take your bottles home and start playing with your friends, so even you don’t know what the wines are. If you like Trivial Pursuit, if you like wine, if you have friends, then you need WineGame.” — Bloomberg LP

This article appeared in Issue 837 (July 2) of The Edge Singapore.

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