PC plonk

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The Independent Culture
Microsoft's assault on the home market switches to the gullet of the thirstier PC owner. The multimedia Wine Guide is an interactive encyclopaedia stuffed with sounds, images and moving pictures on all matters slurpable. Starring the irrepressible Oz Clarke - no sobersides, he - the CD-ROM has articles on production, types, how to taste, maps and a searchable database of over 6000 wines with ratings, labels and background information. A spirit of jolliness pervades the whole affair, from the jaunty popping corks of the introductory tune to Oz's effervescent visage enthusing away about the importance of fizz, flavour and finesse. Due to limitations in the medium, these little animated snapshots are often rather fuzzy and with shaky lipsync. Mind you, after a couple of bottles of Capel Vale Chardonnay ("fine, piercing fruit quality married to barrel fermentation characters with fine weight, balance and finish") the same was true of your reviewer. The Guide's true strength is in the database. You can select a wine by a mixture of country, region, grape type, quality and even by what foods you'd like to go with it. Print out the resultant list, and you can go shopping with confidence. There's even a pronunciation guide - click on an unfamiliar phrase, and Oz intones the correct, beautifully accented version. It's a shame it's still not socially acceptable to consult a laptop computer before ordering wine at the Hilton; this one feature should squelch the sniffiest of wine waiters. The maps of the regions are very well done too, and the interface easy enough to navigate even if you're a little unsteady on the mouse. Microsoft has produced a fine CD-ROM and is to be congratulated, even if it was some of its other software that drove us all to drink in the first place.

The Wine Guide is available direct from Microsoft Software (0345 002000) for pounds 50+vat. Also available in the shops