For wine consumers, smart shopping increasingly involves smartphones.

Many local merchants have noticed a steady and often marked increase in customers pulling out their devices to determine their buying choices. And no, it’s not just those app-happy millennials going this route.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in their mid-40s to mid-60s using [smartphones],” said Lonny Isenberg of Haskell’s Minnetonka. “The apps are maturing so that it’s filtering up from the early enablers to more mainstream.”

What are they looking for? “A lot of everything,” Isenberg said. “How prices compare, how people reviewed it, just looking for a lot of information because it’s readily available. Some apps even have food matches.”

A simple scan of a label or URL code can provide a wealth of info from Vivino, Corkz and other apps. Looking up ratings on a crowdsourcing site such as Cellar Tracker or Delectable produces countless reviews, from pros and avid “amateurs.”

And while younger consumers might be more inclined to seek out feedback from their peers, high-end buyers likely have a decidedly different goal.

“If somebody out there buys a lot of really good stuff, the high-end [Robert] Parker stuff,” said Mike Thomas, whose family has owned St. Paul’s Thomas Liquors since Prohibition, “he might be checking for the prices” at sites such as Wine-Searcher, which lists prices from stores around the world.

In a sense, these wine buyers are using the wide, wide world of the wine Web in lieu of something that’s already available to them: “shelf talkers,” the placards in front of bottles that might show only a Wine Spectator score but increasingly are crafted by winemongers to include ratings, descriptors and possible food pairings. “We’re doing the homework for them with our own shelf talkers,” said Thomas, who shares writing duties with one of the Twin Cities’ savviest wine salesmen, Peter Vars.

The increasing prevalence of smartphone shoppers requires a somewhat different approach — generally a more patient one — from the sales staff.

“I give them more time [before checking in] because I want them to have the time to investigate what we have,” said Isenberg, who knows a thing or two about the electronic world, having worked in hardware systems support before landing at Haskell’s. “I know if they’re using a smartphone, they’re a little more clued into the top wines.

“And when I do ask them if I can help them, a lot of times I really want to engage with them on what they’re using.”

One thing he has noticed is the popularity of the all-encompassing Vivino package with younger women. Among millennials, the app fans are fairly evenly divided by gender, Isenberg said.

A big force behind this trend is the democratization of wine. For decades Robert Parker, and to a lesser extent the Wine Spectator, ruled the roost in terms of consumer trust. Numbers in the 100-point rating system were king.

But today a wider range of professionals have the eyes and ears of the wine-buying public, and many folks, especially younger ones, lend more credence to what their friends are enjoying. Shelf talkers with a Parker score have “dropped down” in influence, Isenberg said.

As the realm of expertise has broadened, the world has flattened in terms of what’s available on retail shelves and restaurant lists. That dovetails nicely with the app crowd, especially younger ones.

“With all this info,” Isenberg said, “people seem more willing to look for other grapes, like Muller Thurgau, or wines from Jura or Muscadet. I think it makes them more adventurous.”

 

Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.