The inevitable has happened. There are now wine magazines created exclusively for the iPad.
The tablet computer is a media revolution, so it isn’t surprising that we now have wine publications dedicated exclusively to this format. It isn’t a complete wine experience of course - the iPad offers sight, sound and touch, but not taste or smell (yet).
First out of the gate was By the Grape, with an introductory issue featuring Jancis Robinson, the British wine writer, master of wine, columnist for the Financial Times, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine (aka, “The Great Big Book of Everything”), and Internet wine maven. The introductory issue, available in the iTunes App Store for $3.99, is a hagiography of Jancis written in glowing terms. For example, it quotes Hugh Johnson, Britain’s senior wine authority (and co-editor with Jancis of the World Atlas of Wine), saying, “Secretly or not, perhaps we’re all a little bit in love with her.” (Guilty!)
By the Grape is the product of a Dutch team that traveled to Languedoc in southwest France to interview Jancis and her husband, FT restaurant critic Nick Lander, at their summer home. The magazine takes advantage of the iPad’s game-changing features, including interactive tasting notes and a lengthy video (helpfully subdivided into chapters for shorter attention spans), in which Jancis discusses her tasting techniques and tries some surprisingly good Dutch wines, while Lander cooks lunch and raves about the local produce.
It’s actually rippingly good video, of a wino/foodie, Peter Mayle-ish, aspirational sort. And Jancis’ discussion of her wine tasting technique should be watched and digested by every serious oenophile, wine writer, or even casual consumers befuddled by tasting notes. It’s a short distillation of her wonderful book, How to Taste.
“Smells and tastes are not perfect subjects for words,” Jancis says. “They’re very private, they can’t be extracted and objectified and compared to somebody else’s. So you just have to get as close as possible to some other taste that will be comprehensible to people, which I suppose is why in tasting notes you read so many of these strange fruits and herbs and woods and things like that.”
She also explains how young French wines can be reticent in aroma but “amazing” when you taste them, while in contrast, “typically with a very technically made New World wine you’ll have an explosion on the nose, very beguiling and aggressively aromatic, and then it just fades to nothing on the palate.”
The second early entrant into the iPad wine comes from Nomad Editions, a web-based venture headed by former Newsweek magazine president Mark Edmiston. Nomad produces lifestyle publications designed for mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad - including Uncorked, a digital wine magazine launched last month.
Uncorked, a weekly magazine available for 99 cents a month in the iTunes App Store, is actually rather conventional in its approach. It doesn’t take advantage of the interactive possibilities presented by the iPad or iPhone, except you swipe pages rather than turning them.
Yet Uncorked could find a niche: It is smartly written, using well-known wine writers and focusing on value wines versus cult wines (though its definition of “cheap” wine seems to be $30). It could use some sharper editing; cliches about the “snotty French” or pinot noir producers “living on the knife’s edge” quickly get dull, and no wine publication should misspell Lafite. Even so, Uncorked features some lively writing, including an article by Tina Caputo on “flash” Internet sales of collectible wines, or editor Stephen Yafa’s skeptical look at wine aerators.
Uncorked really isn’t different from other wine publications except in its voice, which is noteworthy, and its exclusivity to the mobile format. If it ever takes full advantage of that format and all it has to offer, such as embedded video and the iPad’s interactive possibilities, Uncorked — and other publications such as By the Grape — could help define a new genre in wine media.
(This post appeared in slightly different form on The Washington Post's "All We Can Eat" blog.)