Wine Friend: The drinking buddy that delivers

Yvonne Lorkin (left) and Debbie Sutton, co-founders of bespoke delivery service WineFriend.
TODD EYRE PHOTOGRAPHY/SUPPLIED

Yvonne Lorkin (left) and Debbie Sutton, co-founders of bespoke delivery service WineFriend.

Yvonne Lorkin's kitchen bench is awash with pinot gris. Nine bottles, she counts.

"But I'm standing over the sink," says the Hastings-based wine expert. "I'm spitting it all out!"

There are more than 700 wineries in New Zealand. Every week, between 12 and 36 new releases hit the market.

How does the consumer know what's good – and what's not?

You could read the reviews. Look at the price, the number of gold sticky stars on the label and consider the winemaker's reputation. But none of those things, says Lorkin, will account for your individual taste buds.

And that's why the presenter of Food TV's Thirsty Work has teamed up with Auckland entrepreneur Debbie Sutton to launch WineFriend: an online venture that matches wine to your personal taste profile and delivers curated cases to your door. Or, in my case, the office. Because I'm all over this investigation.

Can a complete stranger really come up with six wines I'll like better than my usual (AKA: whatever is on sale) supermarket selection?

It starts with a multi-choice survey. I log on and tick the boxes that tell WineFriend I like my coffee long and black, that my "go to" dinner is roast chicken (other choices include spicy curry, creamy pasta and steamed fish), and that my dessert of choice is lemon tart (not chocolate gateaux, cheesecake or "fruit" which, frankly, is not pudding by any definition).

The questionnaire does ask you to list your favourite wine varieties. At this point, it feels a bit going to a clairvoyant who needs to know your name, occupation and marital status, but go with it – you're paying for that pinot and why risk being sent noir when you know you prefer gris?

This is not my first online wine delivery experience. Last Christmas, I signed up to a company that offered a select-your-own mixed dozen. The $6.99 rose was so awful, I still have four bottles of it sitting under the desk in my spare room.

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Buying a wine you haven't tasted is always risk, says Lorkin. "You're taking someone else's recommendation, which is fine, but you can open it up and it's not to your taste – I don't like making mistakes, and I don't like making mistakes that cost me money."

When she's standing at her kitchen bench, swilling (but not swallowing) all of those wine samples, Lorkin says she's thinking about what kind of palate profile would enjoy that particular tipple.

And those survey questions, she says, provide huge clues.

"For example, you said you regularly added salt, chutney and hot sauce to meals, so I know you like a real flavour punch. Your coffee was a long black. That's a real coffee, you can't muck around with that.

"And you said that if there wasn't any wine around, you'd choose a traditional cider – and that's a crisp, very defined taste, so it indicated to me you like the citrus end of the spectrum . . ."

Suddenly, I feel special. Accordingly, my first case contains Loveblock and Black Estate Rieslings, a Staete Landt pinot gris, a Huia gewürztraminer and something with far too many red grape varieties to count, from the Hawkes Bay. Every order includes a "wild card"; a wine the customer is unlikely to have encountered before, but one that falls within their taste spectrum. Mine is a 2013 viognier from The Family Company in Gisborne.

None of these wines, says Lorkin, are regularly available from the supermarket.

"It was important to us to give people a chance to see the wines that are being produced in New Zealand from these fantastic little companies that don't have the resources themselves to get in front of you."

Suddenly, the weekend looks interesting. Back home, I study the Lorkin-penned neck-tags that give a little background to how thyese wines taste, the people that made them and suggested food pairingts. We compared and contrasted. We loved some and only liked others. The red really was too much for me. The Huia Gewurztraminer was a stand-out match to my palate. "It's not throwing itself in your face," said one drinker. "Not like the usual cheap and slutty wines we buy."

Elegant. Sophisticated. Layered. We regularly returned to these descriptors as we logged back on to WineFriend to report our findings. The next step: Lorkin will take those results and use them to even further hone our next case of six. I can confidently predict that come next Christmas, none will be left sitting under the desk in the spare room,

WineFriend: Need to know

What: A nationwide wine delivery service matched to an individual's palate profile (based on an eight question survey), further refined each time the customer reports back on their likes and dislikes.

How: Sign up to monthly or bi-monthly deliveries at three price levels ($99, $149 or $249). Visit www.winefriend.co.nz.

Pros: Broaden your drinking horizons and support smaller vineyards that aren't represented in supermarkets.

Cons: There's still a risk you won't like what you're sent – and at $16.50 for the cheapest bottle on offer, that's a risk you should weigh up. 

Verdict: More fun than squinting at labels in the wine aisle hoping the promised ginger-lime-quince doesn't translate as armpit and nail polish against my palate.

 - Stuff

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