EDITOR'S NOTE - Twenty Years
Head to one of the top restaurants in America and half the bottles on the tables are chardonnay. It's the trophy wine of the times: the fourth quarter of 1989. Few guests are talking with sommeliers. French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy are the imports of choice.
That's when we sent out our First Annual Restaurant Poll, to see what wine sold best in high-end restaurants. At the time, no one had any data on this small but influential slice of the market. Even today, the Wine & Spirits Annual Restaurant Poll remains the only source. Over the course of 20 years, the poll has tracked the boom and bust of merlot, chardonnay's reversal of fortune at the mercy of red wine, the infiltration of Italian wines onto the most French of French lists, the sudden emergence (and swift flight) of shiraz. What was once a staid and stodgy market for wine has become vibrant and diverse. In our poll report, we try to capture some of that energy, some of the enthusiasm of the sommeliers working in America's top restaurants for the esoteric, the glamorous, or the downright delicious wines they have on offer.
Remarkably, in the face of distressing economic conditions, the market for fine wine in top restaurants remains essentially sound. Fewer guests may be filling the tables, and diners may be spending less, but they consider wine part of the meal, not an add-on. Our poll report begins on page 52, with a brief look back over the past 20 years on page 8.
This year, for the first time, pinot noir is the most popular variety in America's most popular restaurants. And it's an unusual variety to hold that lead, as unlike chardonnay, merlot or cabernet, there are few inexpensive California or Oregon pinots to help sustain it. So we checked in with Jordan Mackay, author of the recently published Passion for Pinot (Ten Speed Press, 2008). With Chilean producers such as Cono Sur and Morandé setting out to produce $10 pinot, and a lot of $15 pinot coming out of New Zealand, we asked him to consider what good, cheap pinot might be growing in California and Oregon. It turns out that you can find consistently good pinot for around $20–often as good, if lighter, than wines for twice as much. And as Mackay finds, lighter is sometimes better.
Italian wine is the other big news in the poll report, accounting for more than 17 percent of the most popular wines in restaurants, its strongest showing to date. David Lynch, whose résumé includes posts as senior editor of Wine & Spirits and sommelier at Babbo, has been busy with the wine list at The John Dory, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman's follow-up to The Spotted Pig. He spent some time last summer in Tuscany's bassa Maremma and the new super-Mediterranean blends he found there (page 46) are just the kind of new Italian reds you're likely to find on restaurant lists next year.