Restaurant wine industry goes digital

The latest gizmos in wine technology are found neither in the fields nor in the fermentation rooms.

They range from projected wine lists to wireless handheld devices to tablet PCs, part of the digital revolution in the restaurant wine industry, according to "The Wired Wine List," Kara Newman's cover story in the November issue of Sommelier Journal.

The story begins this way:

"It’s Thursday afternoon at the Time Warner Center on New York’s Columbus Circle. Up on the fourth floor, where high-end restaurants such as Per Se and Masa reside, tourists and shoppers are starting to circle the wagons, dinner on their minds. They take laps around the floor, inspecting the menus encased behind glass. When they reach the 10-foot-high wall of light boxes that encloses Clo, a tiny, free-standing wine bar in the middle of the area, each one stops, straining mightily to peer inside.

"At 3 p.m., an hour to opening time, Clo doesn’t look like much. A long, communal table spans most of the space, cluttered with open wine bottles, half-empty glasses, handbags, laptops, and the remains of someone’s lunch. But by 3:30 p.m., the transformation begins: the table is cleared, everything is secreted behind cabinets built into the walls, and the staff wipes down the surface, now identifiable as pristine white Corian.

"With the visual clutter removed, it’s easier to notice that the walls are lined with Enomatic wine-dispensing machines, where customers can self-dispense wine by the glass, Automat style, using prefilled purchase cards. The illuminated slots for the Enomatic cards pulse with light, and the backlit wine bottles glow softly, resembling a quieter version of Atlantic City’s slot machines.

"3:55 p.m.: Five minutes to opening. The lights are dimmed, and a projector from above is flipped on. Up close, I can see pictures of tiny wine bottles projected on the communal table. Owner Andrew Bradbury shows me how it works: holding one finger above a wine-bottle graphic opens a larger display, revealing the label and information about where the wine was made, the grape varieties, and a few notes on style and taste. He skims along the tiny pictures, like a pianist running his hand across a keyboard, and the bottles obligingly whisk aside to show another array of tiny bottles.

"Is this the future of wine bars and wine lists: everything computerized and automated, from arrival to order? The answer is yes— and no."

[Go here for the complete story.]

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