Restaurant wine: What we’re drinking, part II

This is the second of two parts looking at restaurant wine and what Americans drink. Part I is here.

The good news, if anyone in the restaurant business is paying attention, is that Americans want to drink interesting, quality wine in restaurants ? if the restaurants will let them.

That was one of the most intriguing bits buried in this year ?s Top 100 Wine Brands and Top 100 Individual Wines, a report compiled by Restaurant Wine magazine tracking restaurant wine sales in 2007.

Sales of some of the least interesting traditional wines declined in 2007, and there were sales boosts for several newcomers that were not the same old stuff. What does this mean? Forward-thinking restaurateurs, and even those who work for chains and corporations, can put together a more appealing and less expensive wine list.

First, sales of white zinfandel and shiraz declined significantly in 2007. The former dropped 15 percent, while the latter fell 22 percent.  This is a big deal, and in any other business would make people re-examine what they do. After all, is a shoe store going to carry the same brand after its sales drop 15 percent?

Second, consumers were looking for value, and may well have traded down from more expensive wines. Three wines, all about $10 retail, saw sales increases in the triple digits (or more): Sycamore Lane Pinot Grigio,  Red Rock Winery Merlot, and Schmitt Soehne Relax Riesling. And I don ?t think it ?s a coincidence that Barefoot, the budget brand from the Gallo empire, was up 66.7 percent.

Third, look at the wines that saw huge sales increases:

? Sauvignon blanc. It ?s the first time a sauvignon blanc made the top 100 list, with the New Zealand import Whitehaven.

? Chianti. The Italian Ruffino Chianti. made the top 100 list, the first time for a wine made with sangiovese.

? Riesling. Sales were up 45 percent, especially impressive considering how little known the grape is.

The lesson here? Take some chances, because it will likely pay off.. Don ?t underestimate your customers. They ?re probably as tired of livestock wines as you are.

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