There are a lot of interesting numbers to parse in Wine & Spirits magazine's 22nd annual restaurant wine poll, which covers 2010.
The restaurants surveyed reported that wine sales have increased after a two-year slump, and that consumers seem to be buying more expensive wines than they did in the past couple of years.
But it doesn't look like the old, "let's spend crazy money on wine" ways have returned, says Wine & Spirits editor and publisher Joshua Greene: "… [W]hether buying low end or high, most diners were looking to get the most out of their wine-buying dollars: They weren't spending on trophy labels. Sommeliers describe a savvier wine-buying public as we come out of the recession."
This is significant, because the poll tracked wine sales using the Zagat guide's most popular restaurants in the country. These restaurants, given Zagat's methodology, attract more affluent and upscale consumers who eat out more often than the rest of us and spend more money when they do. So if they have embraced the New Normal, imagine how little the rest of us are spending.
Also significant: The average price for the most popular wines in these restaurants was $62 — about what it has been for the past five years. Which is a damned odd statistic, given the sales slump during the recession, and I'm not quite sure what it means (besides that restaurant wine is overpriced). Most likely, according to what respondents said about their wine pricing, it means that restaurants didn't cut prices during the recession, which kept the average price up even as sales declined. Why they didn't cut prices is a question for another day.
The complete survey is in the magazine, which requires a subscription. But there are more highlights after the jump:
? Nine of the top 10 most popular wine brands were from California, and included almost every one of the usual suspects — Sonoma-Cutrer, Jordan, and La Crema among them. How chicken and egg is this? Do diners order these wines because they like them, or do they like them because they're always on the list?
? The 10th most popular brand was Washington's Chateau Ste. Michelle. Not coincidentally, the average price of a Chateau Ste. Michelle wine was $34.75, the second least among the top 50 brands. Also not coincidentally, this was the first time the winery made the top 10. Welcome to the New Normal, Chateau Ste. Michelle.
? Thirty-eight of the brands in the top 50 (52, actually, since there were ties) were from California, and the only surprise I saw was that Kendall-Jackson was not higher than 38th.
? There were only nine non-U.S. brands, including the usual suspects like Santa Margherita and Veuve Clicquot. The average price of a bottle of Veuve was $100. Maybe someone in the cyber ether can explain why anyone would pay $100 for a bottle of Veuve.
? A Greek brand, Gaia Estate, was 40th, the first time a Greek label made the list. It's apparently the top producer in Greece, and that its price was $48 — 22 1/2 percent less than the average — probably helped too.
? There were no surprises among the lowest priced wines. Beringer's white zindandel was first and Chateau Ste. Michelle's riesling was second. And as long as we're trying to figure out why anyone would pay $100 for Veuve Clicquot, can anyone explain why someone would pay $25 for a bottle of white zinfandel? It's $6 at retail.
? Dave Madera, from Mise en Place in Tampa, reported that he doesn't have any trouble selling wine that costs $180 a bottle. Wow. It's not often that the Wine Curmudgeon is speechless, but this is one of those times.