Do you want fries with that?

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:

  1. Cakebread Cellars
  2. Jordan Vineyard & Winery
  3. Duckhorn Vineyards
  4. Sonoma-Cutrer
  5. Silver Oak Wine Cellars
  6. Frank Family
  7. La Crema
  8. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
  9. Decoy
  10. 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.