Wine sales can represent a significant contribution to the guest experience and to the bottom line. Some thoughts on trends and opportunities from three of the country’s leading experts:
“Lighter wine styles are increasingly popular, led by Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling,” says Evan Goldstein, MS, pres./chief education officer, Full Circle Wine Solutions Inc. He says these lighter styles’ share of the most popular wines has almost doubled in 10 years. Doug Frost, MS, MW, consultant/author, sees the same momentum. “However,” he warns, “it’s important to remember that people are not tied to any particular style, grape, or region, but rather to trying everything new that might be delicious. Especially young people aren’t stuck on any particular wines; they are more open than any generation we’ve ever seen.” Evan sees the same attitude, as does Madeline Triffon, MS, wine and beverage dir., Matt Prentice Restaurant Group. But she adds a caution: “Their receptivity is what I would most remark upon. But are they drinking wine every time they go out? No. Cocktails are also very hip, sexy, fun.”
All view consumers’ general willingness to experiment as an important advantage, especially in a tightening economy. Evan predicts that consumers will work harder to find intriguing, value-oriented wines. “They’ll seek interesting varietals that represent good value, like Argentine Malbec, Chilean Carmenére, Spanish Rosados, etc. – as opposed to increasingly expensive ‘badge’ wines.” Madeline adds that wine buyers need to follow suit. “If there has ever been a time when the experience and skill of a sommelier comes into play, it’s in a bad economy. Not the hoopla stuff, but the grassroots skill of being able to identify quality wines, regardless of the level and price. Guests can recognize a well-made wine, and they want value,” she says. “Plus, as a buyer, I’m seeing the importance of wines-by-the-glass programs more than ever. Guests can experiment and regulate spending, and we can deliver the cost of sales that our business needs.”
Experimentation is also at the heart of other trends Doug and Evan see. “Right now,” says Doug, “the action in wine is in unusual portion sizes, especially those that offer lots of opportunity to experiment: wine flights, two-ounce tastings, half carafes, quartinos.” Evan looks at an explosion in the popularity of wine bars in the Bay Area and sees an opportunity for a multitude of operators around the country to incorporate their appeal. “These wine bars are serving upscale dishes in smaller portions, which allow consumers to try new foods in a small plate style along with wines by the glass. Restaurants that can create a kind of mini wine bar with small plates and ramped up by-the-glass selections could capture the essence and appeal of this thriving genre,” he says.