Text and photos ©Tom Hyland
Interesting article in the New York Times on Wednesday about restaurants now offering to their customers iPads that contain the wine list; there is now an app that can list a particular restaurant's wine offerings along with ratings. The idea here, as best as I can tell, is that a customer will have another option when he or she selects a wine off the list.
I for one think this is technology gone wild. Do customers at a restaurant really need this information? Isn't that what a sommelier is for? One woman in the article is quoted as saying that clients "like to make their own decisions." How's that? How is reading a collection of ratings for a group of wines making your own decision?
The article does cover a number of opinions and apparently there are many in the business who see this as a plus. If it works for them, fine. I certainly don't blame Apple for creating this app. They've got a huge audience out there who is endorsing all sorts of apps, from choosing a restaurant to reading specific magazines or watching a particular TV show. (I myself am waiting for the app that lists the best bathrooms in big cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, so the well-to-do can be choosy about where they do their business. Hey, people like to make their own decision, don't they?)
The article mentions that one customer chose a wine as it had received a high score from Robert Parker. There is no mention in the article if other ratings are listed for the wines. I certainly hope so; the last thing wine lovers need is more slant toward the international, super ripe wines favored by Mr. Parker. It's the bigger is better philosophy, which unfortunately is probably what prevails at a business wine dinner. Don't order a wine if it works with the food, buy it because it's a powerhouse. If you're happy with that, then I guess you deserve this new play toy.
But the crux of the problem, it seems to me, is technology being used as a crutch. Don't know what restaurant to go to? Don't know what wine to select? No problem, just take out your iPhone or iPad (or other similar devices) and check out that app. Is this what technology has done to us? What happened to our sense of adventure? Isn't life more than a set of numbers and statistics, especially when we're dealing with a sensory experience as tasting wine?
Wine at its best reflects a sense of place; a wine made from Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills in California has a particular flavor profile, one that is markedly different from a Burgundy from Nuits-Saint-Georges. Does this iPad app with its numerical ratings cover that? When it does, I'll be all for it, but for now, this is another argument against rating wines with points.
A friend of mine tells me often that "the internet is the worst invention in history." I don't exactly share his sentiments, but I understand his thoughts, as he thinks a lot of people have lost their jobs because of it. If I were a sommelier at a restaurant that offered an iPad to help customers choose wine, I wouldn't be worried just yet, but I'd have to think that my services weren't as necessary as they were before this tool. And let's face it, technology is only going to get bigger and more out of control.