Local Wine Lovers Tap Into Technology
by brian freedman
Jeff Benjamin, a partner at Vetri Family and one of the most knowledgeable wine professionals in the country, knows all about the obscure Pecorino grape variety, the wine it produces, and what food to pair it with. Sharing that expertise is one of the reasons he has taken advantage of the most important technological advancement in the world of restaurant wine and beverage service: the iPad. “With the Wireless WineList iPad app [by Tiare Technology] you can [organize data] any way you want,” Benjamin says. “So if you want to sort by style... you hit that button, and it brings up wines that you’ve had before,” along with new wines in a similar style, he says. “So you might say, ‘Well, if [Pecorino] is going to come up… and I [already] love all these, then I may as well try that.’” He has implemented the app at Osteria (640 N. Broad St., 215-763- 0920) with success.
This has the potential to be a game changer. Wine is often the most daunting aspect of dining out, and though Philadelphia is full of world-class sommeliers and beverage directors, many customers still feel a sense of intimidation when it comes to ordering a bottle for the table. Wine lists on iPads can take some of that out of the equation. From basic information on a particular wine—tasting notes, price, food-pairing options—to more interactive features, this technology is changing how guests interact with sommeliers, in particular, and wine programs, in general.
Of course, electronic wine lists aren’t a perfect fit for every restaurant. While Benjamin takes advantage of the technology at Osteria, and hopes to roll it out at Alla Spina in the next several months, he is less sure of its potential in a place like Vetri, where, he told me, “Part of what you get at Vetri is that interactive kind of experience with our staff.” He does feel, however, that as the technology continues to improve, it could be harnessed to personalize tasting-menu pairing options for each guest.
At Le Meridien’s Amuse (1421 Arch St., 215-422- 8222) and Tashan (777 S. Broad St., 215-687-2170)—the standout Indian fusion gem on Broad Street—iPad wine lists are available for guests who request them. Still, their limited use has garnered critical praise around Philly.
Wine technology is impacting more than just restaurant beverage programs. It is also having a tremendous effect on how collectors and professionals manage their precious stashes. Like so many connoisseurs, Byron Mayes, an associate at Vino Volo and a certified wine specialist, relies on cellartracker.com to manage his own cherished bottles. “I chose Cellar Tracker over a number of other database offerings because it’s available everywhere—my desktop at home, my phone, at a hotel. That was important to me,” he says, “since I tend to buy wine wherever I am, and I like that I can log purchases and keep notes on the spot.”
Not all of this, however, is without its problems. Philadelphian Scot “Zippy” Ziskind—one of the top wine-cellar professionals in the nation, president of ZipCo Environmental Services, and COO of My Cellar wine-storage company—does have a few well-founded reservations. “Anything online is accessible to people who really want to get to it,” he says. “And so, if you are using Cellar Tracker and somebody hacks into the system, they can figure out where you are, who you are, and what you have; it would not be surprising if wine thefts start to happen.”
Ziskind has a good point. But the benefits of these advances in wine technology seem to outweigh the drawbacks, especially if they are employed with intelligence and care (and, in the case of online cellar management tools, a degree of security). And when a restaurant like Osteria embraces the iPad as a tool for enhancing an already-stellar wine program, that is as solid a stamp of approval as you’ll find anywhere.
photography by william brinson; rebecca sahn