If you’re in a restaurant and have a question about wine when ordering your food, all you have to do is ask your server or the sommelier. But what if you’re having people over for the evening or chatting with friends and need a quick answer to a wine question?
When you don’t have time to look it up personally, you could use your smartphone or tablet to ask your digital assistant. But who tells you the best answers simply but accurately — Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri?
We decided to put all three to the test to find out once and for all, recruiting as our judges three experienced restaurant sommeliers: Tonya Pitts of One Market in San Francisco, Katja Scharnagl of Koloman in New York City, and Master of Wine Doug Frost of the Restaurant at 1900 in Kansas City.
Then, we chose 10 wine questions, some simple, some complex, and one a little tricky, and verbally asked them each to Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Alexa and Google instantly chatted back their answers, citing their online sources. After each answer, Google even asked if we wanted to hear more. Siri, however, only gave us verbal answers to half the questions, asking us to read on our smartphone answers to the other questions. We weren’t sure how our judges would react to that.
But we sent Pitts, Scharnagl, and Frost transcripts of each virtual “conversation” and asked them to judge and give a letter grade for each response. Here’s what they think about their virtual competition:
1. What wine should I drink with duck?
ALEXA: “If a duck is roasted slowly, then it resembles chicken, so a light red such as Chianti or a white wine is best. When duck is dark-roasted or barbecued or made as confit, go with a darker red, such as a Malbec, Pinot Noir, or Burgundy.”
Comments: Scharnagl and Frost point out that duck really doesn’t taste like chicken, and Frost says the advice “is both too general and too specific by half.”
SIRI: No verbal answer, but suggested we read what JJbuckley.com thought about it.
Comments: Pitts says while Siri gives a reference, “there are no Cliffs Notes — you have to read through it to get the information.” Scharnagl agrees, but Frost says the Buckley information is at least “decent.”
Comments: Frost says, “Google doesn’t shop for wine much, does it?” Scharnagl isn’t impressed either, but Pitts thinks it’s a start in the right direction for drinkers “in the discovery mode.”
ALEXA was graded C+, B+, and F.
SIRI was graded C-, C, and F
GOOGLE was graded B+, C, and F.
2. Where does Champagne come from?
All three recognized it as being from France, but provided very little else. However, they did avoid the trap of calling all sparkling wine Champagne.
Comments: Our judges’ reactions: Technically correct, but….
ALEXA: C-, F, C.
SIRI: B+, B, B.
GOOGLE: C, C, C.
3. How much wine should I pour in my glass?
ALEXA: “The standard pour for a glass of wine is 5 ounces or 150 milliliters.”
SIRI: Refers users to Home.BinWise.com
GOOGLE: “The standard wine pour is five ounces. That applies to both red and white wines.”
Comments: All three judges agree that 5 ounces is correct, and Frost pats Alexa on her virtual back for adding the metric conversion. All penalize Siri for not giving a verbal answer to a simple question.
ALEXA: A, B, A
SIRI: C, F, F
GOOGLE: A+, B, A
4. At what temperature should I serve white wine?
ALEXA: “White wine is best served between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.”
SIRI: Refers users to Decanter.com
GOOGLE: “Serve white wines between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit will give you the best flavor profile possible for these types of wine. This is why it is also important not to store your white wines in your traditional home refrigerator.”
Comments: While Scharnagl thinks Google gave “a great answer,” Pitts argues, “It does not hold true for all white wine.” Frost defends the practicality of sticking wine in the fridge — “Just don’t do it for like a year.”
ALEXA: B-, B, B
SIRI: C, F, C
GOOGLE: C-, A, B
5. Why should I decant a wine?
ALEXA: “Decanting wine is a great way to improve the flavors and remove sediment from the wine.”
SIRI: “A wine decanter is a glass serving vessel into which an entire bottle of wine is poured. They are used to remove sediment, aerate the wine, facilitate pouring, and provide elegant presentation.”
GOOGLE: “Decanting also enhances the wine’s flavor by exposing it to fresh air and allowing it to breathe.”
Comments: Pitts says Siri’s answer “covers all the bases and is most accurate.” And after Siri’s poor performances on earlier questions, Frost cheers her on: “All true, Siri! (As if she could hear me…).”
ALEXA: B, B, B
SIRI: A, A+, B+
GOOGLE: C+, B+, B
6. What is a “corked” wine?
ALEXA: “Corked wine is a term for a wine that has been contaminated with cork taint.”
SIRI: “A corked wine is not a wine that has tiny particles of cork floating around in the glass. Rather, corked wine is a wine that has become contaminated with cork taint.”
GOOGLE: “Cork taint is a broad term referring to a wine fault characterized by a set of undesirable smells or tastes found in a bottle of wine, especially spoilage that can only be detected after bottling, aging, and opening.”
Comments: Our judges aren’t very impressed with these answers. Frost finds “circular logic or circular stupidity” in both Alexa’s and Siri’s answers, and Pitts says all three answers are “not complete.”
ALEXA: C, C-, C
SIRI: B, C, B
GOOGLE: C, B, C
7. What food can I serve with Sauternes?
ALEXA: “Cheese, fruit, or pasta pair nicely with both wines.”
SIRI: Refers users to Matchingfoodandwine.com.
GOOGLE: “Sauternes’ sweet, fruity, and nutty flavors pair excellently with desserts such as cheesecake, ice cream, and fruit tarts.”
Comments: “I don’t think [Alexa] got this one,” Scharnagl says. Frost adds, “Pasta? Really, pasta?”
ALEXA: F, C, F
SIRI: B, C-, F
GOOGLE: B, A-, B-
8. What glass should I use to drink rosé?
ALEXA: “Rosés can be served in white wine glasses because the two are produced similarly.”
SIRI: Refers to VinePair.com.
GOOGLE: “If you’re looking for an alternative glass to serve rosé wine, find something with a thin lip and a round-bottomed glass. This emulates the shape of the glass you would generally serve your rosé wine and is better than a coffee mug.”
Comments: Our judges generally like Alexa’s simplicity, while getting a kick out of Google’s sarcastic response. “Has Google been watching me drink at home?” Frost asks. Scharnagl: “Lol — love this one!”
ALEXA: C, A, A
SIRI: F, C, C
GOOGLE: A, B, D
9. Is there a difference between vintage port and tawny port?
ALEXA: “A vintage port has a regular long cork, and the drink-now style of a (tawny) port has a plastic-top cork cap.”
SIRI: “Vintage port: After aging this port for two years in wooden barrels, it is transferred to bottles and allowed to mature up to 25 years. Tawny port: Aged in wooden barrels, the tawny port is made from a combination of wines and is typically aged for six to seven years, although these ports can be aged for up to four decades.”
GOOGLE: “Vintage port is made from the harvest of a specific year. Tawny port is usually a blend of several vintages.”
Comments: Pitts applauds Siri’s answer as “the most accurate for any of the questions, and it’s possibly the most difficult to answer.” All are perplexed by Alexa’s thinking, with Frost commenting, “True, but irrelevant.”
ALEXA: C, D, F
SIRI: A, A, A
GOOGLE: A, B-, B+
10. How much should I tip a sommelier in a restaurant?
ALEXA: “A typical tip would be 15 to 20 percent for gratitude.”
SIRI: “Tip 15 to 20 percent for satisfactory service and 25 percent for exemplary service”
GOOGLE: “They say in cases such as these, tipping 15 percent minus 25 percent on the food, for example, the $200 bottle of bubbly would be justified.”
Comments: The sommeliers are happy with the 15 to 20 percent tip (“I’ll take it!”), but aren’t sure what to make of Google’s convoluted answer. Frost can only ask, “Huh?”
ALEXA: C, A, B
SIRI: A+, A, B
GOOGLE: F, B, C
We awarded each A with 4 points, Bs with 3, Cs with 2, Ds with 1 and a Fs received 0 points. Then we added a quarter point for each “plus,” deducted a quarter point for each “minus,” and added everything up — 30 individual grades for each virtual sommelier.
And the best virtual wine sommelier is… Google!
Google Assistant: 79.25 points
Siri: 70.50 points
Alexa: 67.75 points
Google’s worst scores were on the first and last questions, but she performed steadily in between. Although the judges gave Siri Fs and Cs for her non-verbal answers, she received the best scores for five other questions and came in second. Alexa settled for third with mostly average scores. And, as all of our virtual sommeliers only averaged a C from our judges, there’s a long way to go before they can qualify for their somm certificates.
Which leaves us with one last question to ask our virtual sommeliers: “Hey, Siri and Alexa, what wine should we buy to toast Google’s victory?”