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08.17.2007

What Wines Do Americans Drink?

I'm completely fascinated whenever I learn more about what the "average" American drinks when it comes to wine. The Restaurant Magazine annual report on the top selling brands of wines in America that I regularly reference here on Vinography is always a sober wake up call to most of us who are wine lovers, because it represents a world of wine that we left behind a long time ago, or in some cases, have never experienced.

Is it safe to assume that none of you reading this blog regularly buy Turning Leaf or Franzia boxed wine from Safeway? Last time I did a survey of you readers, you were regularly paying more than $15 for your average bottle.

So I was pleased to see a new piece of research this week that added some more depth of understanding to my sense of what the average American wine experience is like. Released on Thursday, the Winemetrics LLC first annual On-Premise Wine Distribution Report, takes a look at the composition of wine lists around the country. Based on surveys of 10,000 restaurants in 20 states with a mix of casual and fine dining restaurants represented, the survey corroborates the findings of the annual brand survey referencing the top selling wines in America: Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, and Mondavi among other usual suspects.

However, this survey goes a little deeper, and offers up the following additional tidbits of interest:

The top 100 brands represented on American wine lists actually include 15 French wines, 7 Italian, 2 Australian, and 1 Chilean.
I never would have guessed these numbers. If you had asked me I would have thought that one or two would be French (remember Mouton Cadet?) and there would be likewise be only one or two from Spain and Italy as well. I assume the wines from Australia is Yellow Tail, and probably Rosemount or some other Penfolds brand. I don't have a good sense of what the Chilean wine would be.

Other top selling brands include Caymus, Cakebread, Sterling Vineyards, Veuve Clicquot, and Clos du Bois
This was interesting to me, mostly because several of these tend to be more expensive wines, certainly more expensive than all the wines on the top 10 brand list. The survey goes on to report that the largest number of wines consumed in restaurants cost between $25 and $39, but the article referencing the survey doesn't say what percentage of all the wines consumed is represented by this "largest number." I assume it is less than 50% as they didn't use the phrase "the majority."

Americans drink twice as much red wine as white, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir being the two top choices, trailed by Merlot in a close third. The top white wine is Chardonnay.
I guess this is not so surprising on any front, though I wish I knew what the number two white was. Any guesses? My bet is Sauvignon/Fume Blanc, with Pinot Grigio trailing with a distant third place.

It's important to remember that this analysis is only in 20 states, and that actual national stats may be a little different.

Winemetrics is an interesting company -- it offers a service that statistically analyzes your wine list compared to national averages, both on price as well as on brand and geographical representation. A service which I suppose some people would find valuable, but which is a little weird. I understand the pricing part of it, but I guess there are restaurants that might be interested in making sure that the geographical distribution of the wines on their list meet the national average -- like big national chain restaurants, etc.

Comments (13)

Stacy Nelson wrote:
08.17.07 at 11:20 AM

I just want to thank you for consistently posting pertinent quality posts.

I would love to be able to put part of this article on our blog with a link back to the full article here... permission?

winehiker wrote:
08.17.07 at 12:09 PM

Nice discovery, Alder. I just hope that use of Winemetrics' tools doesn't cause restaurateurs to adopt the "everybody-else-is-drinking-it-so-it-must-be-good" approach that could result in mass-developed "McWine Lists". Indeed I trust that wine lovers will remain delighted by the unique, the funky, the unusual and the privately sourced, not the same insufferable across-the-board sameness that Winemetrics seems to infer we'll see.

Alfonso wrote:
08.17.07 at 3:24 PM

there were copies of the report kicking around our office - we sure look at the data when analyzing our business ( wholesale-large dist).

David Grega wrote:
08.17.07 at 5:50 PM

Very interesting Alder, thank you. I would like to note that I've noticed quite a bit of Temperanillo and malbec creeping onto wine lists all over. Temperanillo is really starting to be recognized as a great food wine (I'm not sure if people realize it's close ties with Pinot Noir?)As far as the big names with a higher price tag...well I see a lot of people with money buy Silver Oak, Cakebread, Opus One and Caymus more than anything else. People just know those names are associated with money.

Joe wrote:
08.17.07 at 6:43 PM

I was rather surprised that Washington state made the top five. These wines do not readily appear in the export markets. Chilean? Probably a Santa Rita or Concha y Toro, I suppose...I can't imagine what white grape could unseat Fume Blanc in second!

jimbull wrote:
08.17.07 at 10:48 PM

Gosh, I guess this article really shows my age, I did, and still do buy
Franzia (not form safeway,so I'm forgiven?) and I think it is a great afternoon wine, guess its just my age showing. The Chilean in my book woulod have to be Walnut Crest, wonderful wines, moderately priced. My vote on the the Aussie would have to be Jacobs Creek, much better then Yellow tail, just much less advertising and probably not a "rated 95" put on the bottle!! Then again, it probably my age (and lack of alcohol at this time!)

Notty wrote:
08.18.07 at 5:43 AM

I would actually have to vote for Pinot Grigio as number two white. I have people come into the shop all the time wanting a wine that tastes like "Santa Margarita"

Alder wrote:
08.18.07 at 8:33 AM

Jim,

Thanks for the comments. Good for you for buying Franzia if you like it and it hits the right spot in your pocketbook. I hope you still find Vinography of interest despite the fact that most wines I review are over $15.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
08.18.07 at 11:08 AM

Winehiker,

I wouldn't fear! If you eat at big chain owned restaurants you might become a victim of the homogenous wine list that seems to pop up everywhere someone sees wine as JUST another way to make a buck. Your better restaurants ( not necassarily the most expensive ), where wine is MORE than just another way to make a buck, sommeliers and winebuyers are going to great lengths to keep there wine lists from being 'average'. They are choosing wines that they feel pair well with the kitchens talents and that excite them personally. EAT AT THESE PLACES!

08.19.07 at 9:00 AM

Living in a place (Kansas) that rates tragically low on the national consumption of wine scale, I find this article very informative. As a wine consultant for the largest wine retailer in the state, these are my takes on what sells the most here and what the coming trends look like.

Chardonnay is the most prolific white here with Italian Pinot Grigio gaining steadily. Sauvignon Blanc is a strong third and I feel it will always be that way. People seem to really like inexpensive German Riesling as well. Viognier, in my opinion will be the next varietal to gain in popularity as it offers Chardonnay body, but so much more in terms of flavor and food pairing potential.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot are 1-2-3 here with Shiraz from Australia a super strong #4. Zin is a weak fifth because in Kansas, if the word Zinfandel is on the label it just has to be sweet, right? That's not to say those Concords, hybrids, and (shudder)fruit wines grown in the surrounding appellations aren't extremely popular because they are. Kansans JUST LOVE sweet red (and white) wine. Period. Meritage and other red blends do well with French Cote du Rhone and Australian GSM's at the top because of their outstanding quality-to-price ratio.

In Kansas, the future looks bright for Southern Hemisphere wines as long as they remain affordable and available (keep your trained eye on Malbec). Reds from Spain are really gaining in popularity because Kansans look for value and those Tempranillos are mighty tempting.

Personally, I would do cartwheels if Mourvedre, Monistrell, or Mataro would be the next big thing, but......

Keep tasting,

William F. (Rick) Burbank
aka Count Mourvedre

David McDuff wrote:
08.20.07 at 9:39 AM

Thanks for the summary, Alder. I'm constantly amazed by the current en masse rejection of white wine by a growing population of American wine drinkers.

cheers,
David

andrea gori wrote:
08.20.07 at 2:43 PM

Interesting that in Italy we all know about Cavit (italian brand at number 10) but we didn't know that a Ecco Domani brand exist!!!
And in these days we are discussing about introducing a national appelation like Italia IGT.
But we can see that Ecco Domani has just made this new law for itself!
Read in the technical note for Chianti...
http://www.style.com/eccodomani/about/chianti.html
Varietal Content: Sangiovese 90% - Merlot 10%
Appellation: Italy
Alcohol: 12.6%

so we have to discuss no more about using this appelation or not!!!

Steve wrote:
08.23.07 at 3:10 AM

Hi Alder,

You're right in guessing Sauv. Blanc as the #2 favorite white grape variety. I don't know if this was on their site when you posted but Winemetrics lists the top varieties consumed in restaurants:

VARIETY and % DISTRIBUTION
Cabernet Sauvignon 16.2%
Chardonnay 14.9%
Pinot Noir 9.6%
Merlot 9.0%
Cabernet Sauvignon Blends 8.0%
Syrah/Shiraz 5.2%
Sauvignon Blanc 4.5%
Zinfandel 3.9%
Sangiovese 3.4%
Pinot Grigio/Gris 2.8%
Riesling 2.2%
Other 20.2%

Not counting Bordeaux/Cab. Sauv. blends that's 10. Everyone (myself included) keeps referring to the big 6 grape varieties - Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon - but it seems like time for an update. How about the big 10?

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