Stories / Drinks

Wine Wisdom: The Virtual Oenophile

Anna Mowry

Anna Mowry

May 26, 2011


Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings

One of the most plugged-in wine personalities we know, Natalie MacLean leads the new-media pack. We got in touch with the JBF Award winner to hear what she had to say about her new app, Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings, and the survival of traditional media.

JBF: Tell us about your new app. What are the coolest features?

NM: Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings just launched a few weeks ago. It’s essentially ten apps rolled into one. It’s available for iPhone and BlackBerry, with a mobile site for other smartphone platforms. We're currently testing the Android version.

With this new app, you can walk into any store and use your phone to scan a wine bottle’s UPC barcode. If I’ve reviewed the wine—and I’ve profiled over 50,000 bottles—the app will display my review, recommended food pairings, and recipes for those pairings.

JBF: We’re intrigued by the “virtual wine cellar” component. Can you explain it?

NM: When you purchase a wine, you can “store” it in the app’s virtual cellar by taking a photo of it. (Eventually, the user will be able to do this by scanning the bottle as I described above.) As you keep entering new bottles, the virtual cellar will keep track of the inventory and its collective value. You can sort your cellar according to maturity date so that you know which bottles are drinking well right now.

Down the road we will unveil a feature that’s anchored in what techies call “geolocation-aware data.” As you drive or walk by a wine store, your phone will be able to tell you how many of my reviewed bottles it has in stock.

JBF: Let’s talk old media. We saw on your blog that you did a post about pairing wines with books. Can you describe how that works?

NM: It’s just a way to have fun with wine pairing and not get uptight about finding the perfect wine for each dish. For Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, I think about a big, dark, brooding Shiraz. Maybe Catherine would be a soft and calming, smooth-jazz wine like Merlot. A Tale of Two Cities would be a Cab/Merlot blend, while a War and Peace wine should have a long finish, perhaps a Bordeaux.

While I’m passionate about incorporating new media into my work, I haven’t abandoned old media. I’m actually coming out with my second book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Bottles, this fall, which will be published by Penguin’s Perigee Books. Books are the best media for demonstrating a chef or writer’s depth of expertise; they create the deepest connections between the food writer and the food lover, which is not always possible in the short-attention-span environment of new media. That’s why books are our friends for life. I love writing an essay for retro old-form media, even if I have to turn off Twitter while I’m working on it.

You can download Natalie’s new app, read her wine reviews, and join her newsletter at

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2011 issue of JBF Notes, the James Beard Foundation member newsletter. Don't miss out on future articles; a member today!