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Contact: Samantha Groseth
(New York, NY, March 9th, 2017): After 28 years of tracking what diners are ordering off wine lists at America’s most popular restaurants, Wine & Spirits Magazine has noted a new trend: The desire for exploration among diners is fueling wine-pairing opportunities for sommeliers. Once the exception, this approach is increasingly the dominant mode in restaurants from coast to coast, taking the burden of decision-making by the guest off the table. “Wine-pairings are what drive our by-the-glass sales,” says Carlin Kerr at Frasca in Boulder, Colorado, and at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire in Las Vegas, Will Costello reports that one-third to half of his wine sales are pairings.
As wine-pairings become more ubiquitous, sommeliers work to differentiate their approach. At Mabel Gray, the Detroit area’s first restaurant to offer a full-fledged tasting menu with pairings, wine director Rachel Van Til says, “There’s not a lot of expectation of what a tasting menu should be or what should be on it, so whimsy goes over really well.” She presents chef James Rigato’s kumquat-habanero marmalade duck wings with an off-dry Vouvray from Domaine Huët. Or beer. Or cider. Or maybe a riesling from northern Michigan.
Rather than offering diners their usual pinot grigio or favorite brand of California cabernet, the wine and beverage directors putting these lists together are stacking them with their own favorite small-production wines. Ben Teig of Redbird in LA says:
As sommeliers drive more decisions about what their customers are drinking, this trend may be one reason why US wines dipped below 40 percent of the most popular wines in America’s most popular restaurants—the lowest point for US wines in three decades. Italy also took a hit. France and Spain, however, are on the rise. Spanish wines made more appearances on top-ten lists from American, French and Italian restaurants than ever in the past. And while data from prior years would show French restaurants often focusing on French wine and Italian restaurants on Italian wine, those barriers began to fall away in this year’s poll results: Last year, 78 percent of the most popular wines reported by Italian restaurants were Italian wines. This year, that number dropped to 61 percent, with French wines rising from 5 to 15 percent of the most popular lists in Italian restaurants. In fact, French wines increased in most every other category of restaurants participating in the poll.
Price plays a big part in the move towards plentiful and adventurous drink orders. Stephen Racheff of Holeman & Finch makes a case for wine that is priced to drink, explaining, “We have transitioned over the last year from having a massive wine list to narrowing it down to things that are at reasonable price points. Now, our sweet spot is the $40-$70 range, and the amount of wine we’re selling each night has gone up.”
At the top of the list, the Top Ten Most Popular Restaurant Wine List Brands of 2016 are:
1. Caymus Vineyards
2. Merry Edwards
3. Cakebread Cellars
4. R. López de Heredia
5. Jordan Vineyard & Winery
6. Heitz Wine Cellars
7. Silver Oak Wine Cellars
8. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
The 28th Annual Restaurant Poll Report appears in the April 2017 issue of Wine & Spirits. The issue also features the W&S NYC 50, the best places to eat and drink in New York City right now. Both the wines featured in the Poll and the restaurants in the W&S NYC 50 will be fêted at our Ninth Annual Top of the List event in NYC on April 27.
The issue will be available at newsstands nationwide Tuesday, March 14th, 2017.
Copies of Wine & Spirits’ April 2017 issue featuring the Poll results are available by mail for $9, including postage and handling. Members of the press interested in receiving a review copy of the issue or scheduling an interview with editor Joshua Greene may contact Samantha Groseth (415) 770-2146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1982, Wine & Spirits is published eight times a year and read by more than 200,000 members of America’s wine community. Consumers and wine professionals read the magazine for information on established and up-and-coming regions and producers, the art and science of viticulture, industry happenings and food and wine pairing. Wine & Spirits, the only wine publication to win the James Beard Award five times for excellence in wine writing, evaluates more than 15,000 bottlings every year.
This is a W&S web exclusive feature.