If you're unsure what to bring to your neighbor's smorgasbord, Bottletalk might help you find a wine fine enough for the occasion. This wine-rating community lets you set up a profile, add and rate wines, and network with fellow members. Descriptive tags identify flavors such as citrus or tobacco, and most of the members seem to know a bit about what they're sipping. One member describes a certain Spanish Rioja as a "Very correct wine, but poor in creativity."
Robert Parker I'm not. I added a Two-Buck Chuck Chardonnay to my list of wines just to be, well, incorrect. Sold by the case at Trader Joe's, where it's formally known as Charles Shaw, Two-Buck Chuck is ubiquitous at budget cocktail parties, and, given the price, it isn't vinegar. But I'm a little nervous that people on Bottletalk will flag that shwag for removal (although there's no obvious option on the site to do so). To be fair, I added some more respectable Sauvignon Blancs as well. Bottletalk's least expensive category is $10 and lower. I'd like to break it down a bit more. How about a "cheap wines with dignity" section for people who don't want to splurge on a bottle they end up disliking?
Similar to Bottletalk, Bottlenotes lets you create a virtual wine cellar of favorites. This online wine club offers more to do than Bottletalk does, such as creating a Personal Taste Profile, but it doesn't put member picks and relationships at the front and center.
WineLog appears to have both more members and more wines than Bottletalk and Bottlenotes. As you rate wines over time, WineLog suggests vintages that seem to fit your tastes. You can even send your selections to a mobile phone, export them to a spreadsheet, or view them in a print-ready list. Unfortunately, once I loaded the My Wine Log section, I couldn't figure out how to add wines to it; I had to browse wines to find an Add Wine link.
I'm surprised there aren't more rating sites for oenophiles already, especially given the proliferation of wine blogs, wikis, and podcasts shown off at the recent Wine 2.0 conference. I doubt the world really needs more social networking services, but these not-necessarily-professional wine recommendation services could make my party shopping less stressful. I'm inviting some friends who live around the country to join Bottletalk so that we can share our similar tastes. They're probably most likely to use Bottletalk even though it has fewer features than WineLog. The design and simplicity of Bottletalk, which remains in beta testing, make it easy to use.
Update: Through comments to this post, I just learned about Cork'd, a great wine-rating site that launched in the spring. Cork'd enables you to rate wines, add them to your virtual cellar or shopping list, make recommendations to drinking buddies--and like Bottletalk and WineLog, subscribe to updates via RSS. Unlike Bottletalk, searches can fine-tune prices and flavors, such as Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand for between $11 and $20. Looking for grapefruit within those results yielded nothing, although a search for only the grapefruit tag brought up 10 bottles.
If you plan to buy wine online in the United States, WineLog and Cork'd are the better bets, because Bottletalk links to a British merchant site. To make purchases, both WineLog and Cork'd connect to WineZap. WineZap lets you rate wines on a scale from 1 to 100, but it demands long reviews and lacks tagging. Somehow I find myself rating more wines with Bottletalk. Maybe that's because most of its pages display rated bottles, which tempts you to add your own.