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.
? Champagne sales slump: I suppose this isn't news to any of us who have been paying attention, but someone did feel the need to write a report. Champagne sales — that is, sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France — fared worse during the recession than the rest of the sparkling wine business. Champagne sales fell by 3.6 percent in 2009, which is an amazing figure, and more than twice as much as non-Champagne sales fell. Until, of course, one realizes that it's almost impossible to buy a bottle of Champagne for less than $20, while there are dozens of quality options that aren't Champagne, such as Spanish cava, Italian bubblies, and U.S. brands like Domaine Ste. Michelle for much less than $20.
? The quality of restaurant wine: Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice picked up this nugget (and how does he always find these things?). A CNN blogger who doesn't drink wine decided to sample a pinot grigio from the wine list at a national Italian chain. The result was predictable. "It tasted like rubbing alcohol turned bad." Which, as regular visitors here know, is one of the Wine Curmudgeon's common complaints about poorly made Italian pinot grigio. Reporting this item gives me the chance to do three of my favorite things — rail against the quality of restaurant wine lists; lament that too many people are introduced to wine through poor quality restaurant wine lists; and note something that puts a TV journalist in a less than complimentary light (once a newspaperman, always a newspaperman).
? Gallo pinot fraud: Gina Gallo, the heir to the empire, says the 2009 Pinotgate scandal, in which E&J Gallo's Red Bicyclette label sold some 1.5 million cases of fake pinot noir from the Languedoc in southern France, was a disaster. "As a company we want to be squeaky clean, and we are scrupulous in declaring alcohol levels and other matters, so of course it was an embarrassment to us," she told Decanter magazine. This is, as far as I can tell, the first time an important Gallo official has commented on the scandal, which included criminal prosecutions and convictions in France.