There's a lot happening with wine out there. It's a buyer's market, restaurateurs are getting their own labels, wine lists are more selective, and fast-casual chains are trying to do wine better than the old boys. But what are the other, perhaps more subtle, trends that are beginning to influence the way restaurant wine is selected, marketed, and sold? That's precisely the question we put to several leading experts in the field. Here's the wisdom they had to share:
Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier and dean of wine studies at the French Culinary Institute, New York.
"Consumers have an increasing interest in value pricing and ordering wines by the glass. I believe the entry point price for a good glass of wine should be close to the price of a glass of premium beer. There's a movement toward this kind of pricing, and the result is that restaurants are selling more wine."
Rachel Antalek, Director of beverage for Red Lobster (Orlando, FL-based).
"The trend toward softer, easier to drink wines, both red and white, will continue to evolve. The pinot grigio explosion shows no signs of slowing, and on the red side, the popularity of shiraz and pinot noir will continue to grow. This is good for us in the casual-dining industry as these flavors are great matches with food, especially seafood."
Gred Koetting, General manager and wine director for Woodfire Grill, Atlanta, GA.
"Wine-savvy customers are looking for choices that are not cookie-cutter or mass-produced, but offer good value. They're much more aware of non-American wines and more willing to try new varietals and smaller producers. Therefore, wine stewards are adding more unusual items to their lists than in the past and are focusing on good values and some of the lesser-known classics, including the village wines of France, Italy, Spain, and even Greece."
Greg Harrington, Wine director for the BR Guest Restaurant Group, New York.
"Guests are getting away from big-name wineries and experimenting with wines from all over the world. For example, if they want a merlot, they'll just as soon choose one from Australia or South Africa as California. And they're trying unusual varietals, like albarino from Galicia. The days of massive, high-alcohol 'big' wines are gone—people are looking for more restrained wines and better value."
Marian Jansen op de Haar, Wine director, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (Newport Beach, CA-based).
"Customers are getting more adventurous. They're venturing out from the usual cabernet, chardonnay, and merlot and trying more sauvignon blancs, for instance. I think it's because these offer more value in this economy. On the other hand, people are drinking better wine because more is available by the glass and they can sample expensive bottles without spending a fortune. We're also selling more flights of three 2-oz. pours, which allow guests to experiment."
Victor Tiffany, VP of food and beverage, Borgata Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ.
"Half bottles are becoming a fantastic option for diners for a couple of reasons. First of all, they're a good way to enjoy one or two great wines at a value, sometimes pairing them with two separate courses. And since we have a strong drive-in market in Atlantic City, half bottles allow diners to enjoy wine with dinner without overdoing it."
Danielle Price, Wine director, Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group (New York-based).
"Customers are looking for wine choices that are not as risky. We started a section on our list called Undiscovered Gems that allows diners to take a chance. These are about 50 high-quality wines from all over, priced at $35-$75 per bottle. Many of the selections represent younger American producers making vibrant, handcrafted wines."