Restaurant Poll

April 2014 Issue On Sale Today

The Poll dates back to 1989, when, after having worked for Wine & Spirits for five years, I purchased the magazine and set out to make it my own. A friend, Ward Wilson, was working at Opinion Research at the time, and we talked about putting together a research project on fine wine. Zagat was the restaurant app of the moment, and each of their little red books kicked off with a list of the 40 Most Popular Restaurants in about 40 cities. We decided to send out a survey to the wine directors at each of those 1,600 restaurants, asking them to list the ten best-selling wines in the fourth quarter of the year, and added a few additional questions to teasing out what we hoped would be interesting trends.

Twenty-five years later, some of the most popular wines of 1989 are still at the top of the list, while others have fallen off or disappeared, making room for wines from places as diverse as Greece, Portugal and Argentina. Interest in Central and Eastern European wines is also surging. The Poll has become a valuable gauge for determining what diners are actually drinking—and the power of sommeliers to influence consumer taste.

Meanwhile, Zagat is now owned by Google, and many tech companies are providing robust inventory management systems that link once rather low-tech, personal food and wine businesses to massive databases. Eventually, their information resources will be able to provide data parallel to our Restaurant Poll, but in the meantime, we have stubbornly held to our original strategy, which allows us to compare trends and tastes across a quarter century of wine. We are already planning new strategies for our next 25 years, focusing on what makes this an exciting project for us: listening to the leaders in restaurant wine sales, catching sight of trends long before they go viral.

You’ll find glimmers of those trends in the sheer number of great new wine lists emerging in cities and small towns across the country. We cover some of the most notable new openings in this issue, particularly in New York City, where Executive Editor Tara Q. Thomas assembled a team to report on the city’s most exciting new destinations.

You’ll find perspectives from sommeliers who earned their MS diploma in 1989, the same year we launched our first Restaurant Poll. And a brilliant interview with Randall Grahm and Ceri Smith on Tuscan wines in restaurants.

This is the largest and most ambitious issue we’ve put out in many years, and I’m grateful to all the contributors who helped make it happen. I hope you’ll check it out, and enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.

This story was featured in W&S April 2014.