Major Restaurant Wine Trends of 2009

Athough there are similarities between last year’s and this year’s trends—restaurants continue to offer more staff education, and lesser-known varieties and wine regions are becoming more familiar—there was one dramatic theme that overshadowed and influenced all others: affordability. People are dining out less often,and the size of the average check has decreased. Difficult times call for creative solutions, and as witnessed by the applications we read for our 2009 Restaurant Awards, restaurants have come up with many ideas to help keep the front doors swinging.

More low- to medium-priced wines.The wine lists of all types of restaurants,from haute cuisine to casual,featured more bottles in the $25 to $50 range.Many of these are New World wines,produced in Chile,Argentina,Australia,New Zealand and South Africa.Some lists contain only American wines,but they are including states less well known for their wines: Georgia,Virginia,New York and Texas. And from the Old World,we noticed less familiar regions and grapes.

More high end restaurants get in the act. Even fine dining restaurants with 100-page wine lists (one was a staggering 198 pages) containing rare vintages created new sections such as “30 Wines for $30”or, at a famous three-star French restaurant,“60 Under $60.”

Presenting the unexpected. Many restaurants are betting that their patrons will be more adventurous if they’re buying a less expensive bottle,or better still, a reasonably priced glass of wine.We noted a wide range of offerings, especially on the by-the-glass list,with known grapes produced in unfamiliar regions,or unknown grapes from familiar regions: Pinot Blanc from Oregon; Riesling from Australia; Picpoul,
Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Cinsault from the Languedoc; Viura,Monastrell and Petit Verdot from Spain.

More sources for sparklers. Although Champagne will always be the benchmark for elegant, delicious, classic sparklers, most sparkling wine lists included bubblies from Italy, Spain and the New World. Prosecco from Italy has probably made the most inroads on the printed  lists, appearing by the glass, by the bottle and in cocktails. And Cava from Spain was not far behind.

Fewer sips, more choice.There are two sections of the wine list that are increasing: the half bottles and the by-the-glass selections.Both are an effective way to encourage patrons to continue ordering wine as part of their meals,and to expand their wine repertory. One national chain (Flemings) offers 100 different wines by the glass,but this phenomenon is not only limited to large chains; a restaurant in West Virginia offers 30.

Mini-tasting flights. Like wines-by-the-glass,restaurants have realized that tasting flights are a terrific way to expose their patrons to unfamiliar wines.Some restaurants are offering less expensive flights with two or three wines instead of four or five. One restaurant,on Monday night only, provided a second flight free,after ordering the first one.

BYOB, half-price nights and no corkage. There was a significant increase in the number of restaurants that offer reductions on wine in different ways. Some offer 50% off bottles on a specific night of the week,most on Sunday or Monday, but others focused on Friday and Saturday. Others hold a weekly bring-your-own-bottle night,during which the usual corkage fee is waived; a steakhouse in New York City waived corkage entirely for a 6-month period.

New promotional avenues. These promotions were publicized not only by the restaurants themselves, but also by major food and wine Web sites and blogs. In some cases,a promotion was announced on a blog site (for example, “Buy Two Glasses, Get the Entire Bottle”) and valid only to those who read it there.


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