April 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Wine and Spirit Magazine’s annual restaurant poll. The magazine polls restaurants around the country for their top-selling wines. The top 10 sellers this year are as follows:
- Cakebread Cellars
- Jordan Vineyard & Winery
- Duckhorn Vineyards
- Silver Oak Wine Cellars
- Frank Family
- La Crema
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
- Franciscan Oakville Estate
Much has been written about what the poll means. Some facts: of all the 50 brands, only 7 have an average sales price of less than $50 (average price for the wine in all restaurants polled). Oregon, Washington and New York state wines are poorly represented. France had only 2 wines on the list and they were both Champagnes. Perhaps most interesting of all: 70% of restaurants reported wine sales increased as a percentage of restaurant total sales for the year.
While some find the average sales price of over $50 to be surprising given the sluggish economy and trend in more casual dining, we do not find this unreasonable. Well-managed wineries make it a priority to get to know sommeliers…to woo and push their wines. It’s also not surprising that California is the heavy-hitter on the list and that wine sales have gone up as a percentage of restaurant revenues.
There’s a couple different ways to explain these phenomena. One is to say the trend in dining is towards a more casual experience and accordingly the cost of a meal goes down. If people are still seeking out those California Cabernets priced over $50/bottle, then wine will be a larger percentage of their restaurant tab. In other words, people who eat out enjoy premium California wines with their burgers. We also believe that rising consumer confidence coupled with a strong stock market has led consumers to return – cautiously – to the enjoyment of luxury wines at dinner. Where this trend goes in the future is anyone’s guess.