Wine Tasting Goes High-Tech in New York

Overlooking Columbus Circle from the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, New York's Clo is a wine taster's dream come true.
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After a week-long trip to the Napa Valley region earlier this year, I returned to New York with a newfound interest in wine.

New York does have a bevy of wine bars with decent options and modest prices, but I found myself unusually interested in new varieties from different wine-producing regions of the world. Thankfully, I stumbled upon the newly opened Clo Wines, which is, for my money, the best spot in the city to sample a glass of wine.

Overlooking Columbus Circle from its perch on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, the contemporary styled Clo is a wine taster's dream come true. Each wall is equipped with multiple tasting stations that each house eight different varieties of wine -- from chardonnay to merlot, cabernet sauvignon to sauvignon blanc, from riesling to chianti -- for a grand total of more than 100.

Simply swap your credit card for a tasting card at the counter, insert it in a wall dispenser, and select the wine you want to try. In seconds, your perfect 2-ounce pour is in your glass and ready to taste. Each pour is priced separately, with a range that starts at $3 and goes as high as $90, depending on the vintage and style of wine.

The Best Wine Bar in New York City

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While wine connoisseurs will say the enormous wine selection is the main attraction at Clo, nearly every visitor is wowed by the bar's interactive tabletop. A flick of your finger across the surface quickly flips through the entire wine list at Clo, complete with a computerized image of the bottle, information on the region the wine grapes are grown and their vintage, the different subtleties of the taste and the perfect food pairing.

All of the technological aspects of Clo are reason enough to give it a try, but once you settle down with your selection, you'll feel completely removed from the city. It's all part of the relaxing, upscale charm of Clo.

"The idea behind Clo Wines was to demystify the whole wine bar experience and the retail experience and combine both those models," says Clo creator and founder Andrew Bradbury. "We really tried to make it very simple and very clean. We were more inspired by fashion retail than we were by anything going on in the wine world."

During his career, Bradbury has developed electronic wine lists on wireless tablets with

Microsoft

for a shop in Las Vegas. One of his first retail experiences was also in Sin City at a venue that integrated touch screens. With the knowledge that allows him to give information and content to people through a model that keeps everything simple, Bradbury says he has found the right combination for Clo.

For Bradbury, though, the beauty of all the technology is that it allows him to run a tight ship. "I can manage the business remotely on every level. I actually track my inventory to the ounce, not to the bottle," he says. "We can take all that information and effectively look at how each operation is performing."

Despite the fact that it often carries a negative connotation, self service at Clo is a hit among imbibers. While other wine bars shy away from this model, Bradbury and Clo embrace it by utilizing the concept the best way possible. Bradbury stresses, though, that Clo is anything but a robotic or a technology experience. At the end of the day, it's the people that drive this business.

"What's great about Clo is that customers are doing this in an exploratory environment," he says. "I want people to feel empowered and to not be scared of wine. I want them to go out and try it. That's why we do those half-glass pours. You don't have to commit to a full glass. If you really like it, have another or try something else."

Part of the beauty of Clo is that you can be either a wine novice or an expert and still find something interesting. Bradbury says that consumption patterns globally are going up just about in every major market, leading to a glut of great wine. One would really have to focus in order to find the wine they'd enjoy most. With five master sommeliers lending their knowledge, Clo does all of that work for the customers.

Clo also offers the proposition with some of its rarer wines, selling them for a lower price than a restaurant or a wine shop might. Instead of shelling out $300 to $700 for a bottle, visitors to Clo can try one of the rarer wines at a lower price tag for a small glass.

"That's the great part and experience we offer here at Clo," Bradbury says. "You don't have to commit to the full bottle. You can try it and say that you got to try this great old classic wine without spending the full amount on it. For somebody that's really into wine, maybe a collector, we have wines that I guarantee they've never seen before."

Bradbury says that while he's happy with Clo's launch, he has far more ambitious ideas, including expanding to different parts of the U.S. and the world. "We want to try to develop the world's first global upscale wine lifestyle retail experience," he says. "We think there's a lot of great markets out there for us to go into with our great group of sommeliers and our technology."

First up, though, is the introduction of Clo's small New York-style wine bar kitchen, which will enable Bradbury to offer visitors meats, cheeses, pate and smoke fish. Clo will also open a separate wine shop where guests can purchase bottles of wine they've tried already. For Bradbury, it's merely an extension of Clo's ability to empower tasters and keep novices from fearing wine.

"I believe in that the end it's up to the customer," Bradbury says. "They don't care how many points a critic gave it. At the end of the day, it's what they like and that's the most important thing. The best way to do that is just by tasting."