Restaurants run fast and often die young. The lucky or the skilled last a decade, sometimes two. And then there are the survivors, like Brooklyn’s River Café, where Joe DeLissio has been shepherding the wine list since 1977, or Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, where Jonathan Waters has booked more than 35 years. Both are loyal participants in our own 30-year project, tracking what flies through the cellars and dining rooms of the most popular restaurants across America. Here are a few more voices from the last 30 years that you may recognize. We’d like to thank all of the sommeliers and wine directors who have shared their time over the last 30 years, and all of our readers, who share in their love of wine. The 30th Anniversary Restaurant Poll runs in our April issue, which is now on newstands across the country.
1990: Wine & Spirits publishes the first Annual Restaurant Poll, reporting that chardonnay makes up 44 percent of the most popular wines in restaurants across the US.
1992: 60 Minutes reports on the French Paradox in November 1991. “Now people are drinking a glass of red wine at lunch for their health.” — Patrick van Hoorebeek, Bistro at Maison de Ville, New Orleans
1995: “Merlot is the chardonnay of the ’90s.” —Greg Harrington, Square One, San Francisco
1999: “I had a table start with Dom, move on to ’89 Pétrus, ’59 Margaux, and then they decided to check out Opus One, Caymus Special Select and ’71 Grange, just for the fun of it.” —Barbara Werley, MS, Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas
2005: “I can’t keep pinot noir in the house since Sideways.” —Carolyn Styne, Lucques, LA
2010: “We have Stimulus Whites, Recovery Reds, Bail-Out Bubbles, all for $40 and under.” —Belinda Chang, The Modern, NYC
2011: “People are asking for weird varietals, like schiava. With technology—iPads and iPhones—guests have more access to information and are more open.” —Kelly Coggins, Bistro du Midi, Boston
2013: “Oregon rules. The prices are gentler and that may be a part of it. But people have cottoned on to the fact that Oregon makes great wine.” —Juliette Pope, Gramercy Tavern, NYC
2017: “There are more sommeliers and aspiring sommeliers out there, so there’s a lot more interest in exploring unfamiliar wines. Instead of having the new cocktail or trying the classics, they might say, ‘I just read about Marcel Lapierre’ or ‘I heard I could have this funky orange wine from Slovenia here.’ They’re excited about that stuff, and I’ve already seen it trickle down to our regular guests who might see a wine poured and get curious about it.” —Matt Whitney, Eastern Standard, Boston
2018: R. López de Heredia Rioja becomes the first imported wine to reach the top of the Top 50, up from fourth place in 2017. Chuck Bussler, at Fête, in Honolulu, says, “We are a small restaurant and I work the floor a lot. I sell wines that I love. The López de Heredia is such a versatile red but we also sold a lot of their whites. We sold through the entire state allotment.” And Daniel Beedle, at NYC’s Indian Accent, adds, “We have a lot of savory, umami characteristics in the food. You put that together with López de Heredia’s 2007 Gravonia and it’s umami-mania.”