Digital wine lists are cropping up in restaurants all over the world as owners begin storing their wine lists on iPads and other touchscreen devices, or offering them as apps.
Using electronic tablets and apps allows a restaurateur to keep their wine list constantly updated without paper and printing costs.
Furthermore, the list can be broken down by the customer in myriad ways, according to style, price, country, grape and food pairings.
They can also include tasting notes, scores and, in the case of the Ballymaloe hotel in County Cork, Ireland, short videos of featured winemakers talking about their products.
For those restaurants with rather more extensive wine lists, this is a practical way of allowing customers to draw out what they really want from the menu without minutes of anguished page turning.
Restaurants in places such as the UK, US, Australia, Ireland and Spain have latched on to the idea. The Aureole in Las Vegas launched its own wine-list on a hand-held device back in 2001.
The introduction of the Apple iPad earlier this year has made the format far more accessible, alongside increasing consumer awareness of touchscreen technology and how it works.
Bone’s in Atlanta introduced the idea six weeks ago, according to the International Herald Tribune. In the first two weeks wine purchases shot up by 11% per diner compared to the three previous weeks before the tablets were introduced as the device encouraged diners to move away from beer and cocktails.
Other restaurants with electronic lists include El Bulli, The Greenhouse in Mayfair, South Gate in New York and Barbacco in San Francisco.
There are concerns that surround the use of such technology. Due to the expense involved in buying an iPad – £429 per device – there is a very real risk of theft or damage, something to which old-fashioned lists are largely immune.
Another fear is that the use of iPads would make the role of sommeliers defunct. However, the head sommelier at Bone’s, Robert Reno, admitted that many guests still wanted a word of encouragement and advice from his staff once they had made their choice.
Rupert Millar, 21.09.2010