Welcome to the brave new world of the digital sommelier. Or Corkscrew as it’s known – a new app that promises to make selecting the right wine to go with what you want to eat in a restaurant so much more enjoyable and stress free. But could technology, such as Corkscrew, ever replace the skills of a sommelier?
David Kermode meets the duo behind Corkscrew, the new food and wine pairing app – Matthew Gertner and Matt Day.
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 50 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 chief executive, Matthew Gertner, a software developer who is happy to be described as “the tech guy”, and chief wine officer, Matt Day (main picture), an industry veteran who has been a winemaker, wine writer and wine director.
Gertner’s team at his software services business, Salsita, has created an algorithm that takes a restaurant’s wine list, asks you to add your potential menu choice, and then 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.
Proposing wine pairings
The emphasis is on potential wine pairings, rather than merely ratings (although they are also available, on your dashboard). “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% of the wines will be ones we already recognise, with the other 20% needing to be added to the database”.
So does this sound the death knell for the sommelier? Day insists not: “We are here to complement the sommelier, we’re not buying the wines, we’re not curating the wine list, sommeliers know they can’t get to everyone on a single service. They should see this as a new tool.”
“Wine doesn’t speak with one voice, to attract new consumers. What we’re going to be able to do is encourage restaurants to have more diverse wine lists”.
By the glass benefits
There are potential benefits for the all-important by-the-glass market too. If, for example, one person orders a fillet steak and another chooses a lemon sole, the app will recommend two different wines, by the glass.
The team have already loaded up lists from 200 central London restaurants, including M Restaurants and Angelus, with plans to expand out to other big cities. “This is a great marketing opportunity”, says Day, “you don’t put special offers on a wine list, as it’s vulgar, but this is a new channel, offering a new way to build loyalty and upsell”.
‘Chez Corkscrew’ 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.
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.
Corkscrew will have a reasonably soft launch, to allow for 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”.