Get Stuffed - Breaking out of the bin 

New wines breathe new life into the wine world

Earlier this year, Wine & Spirits Magazine published the results of its annual restaurant poll, the 15th such survey undertaken by editor and publisher Joshua Greene to poll America’s top restaurants/sommeliers.

The results won’t shock a lot of Canadian wine drinkers, especially here on the West Coast, if only because it confirms what we’ve already experienced. According to the 350 leading restaurant sommeliers polled, diners are more adventurous than ever before when it comes to wine selection.

I mean, who’da thunk – Americans are rediscovering foreign wine. More to the point, America’s wine drinkers are beginning to realize that there is life after California wine.

According to the report, consumers are experimenting with wines from southern Italy, parts of Australia and other lesser-known regions at the expense of more familiar choices. This makes total sense when you imagine soft, rich and round, inexpensive reds from Apulia in southern Italy pushing, skinny, thin, over-priced Chianti from northern Italy off the nation’s wine lists.

In fact, the whole concept of a national wine list (which, by definition, appeals to an entire nation) seems so outmoded, I’m surprised any winery would want to be on one.

The report points to Italian wines superseding those of France as the leading import on America’s wine lists. But the big contender here is anything Australian, which is busy muscling everything from Central Valley California and/or France and Italy off wine lists nationwide – and it’s happening at a record pace.

It’s been said, with some monotony, that if you build it they will come. Well, it would appear that the evangelical wine work of getting consumers to make wine part of everyday life, undertaken by California wineries in the 1970s and carried on through the ’80s, ’90s and now the 2000s, is about to change forever the way America drinks wine and, as mentioned, the way some of us already do.

Cheap wine is better than ever and you need only to witness the success of Two-Buck Chuck, Yellow Tail and their dozens of imitators. Better farming, lower yields, more flavour and wines designed for early drinking have all played a part in making wine, particularly foreign wine, more mainstream.

Since there are no secrets in the wine business, no one should be surprised Americans are becoming brighter more inquisitive wine drinkers. In British Columbia we simply call it the savvy wine consumer syndrome, and in less than 25 years it has made parts of the province among the most exciting food and wine markets in the world.

The survey also points out that "the grip of the large, once-dominant restaurant wine brands is weakening. Price consciousness was one of the most significant trends to emerge, underscoring the consumer’s interest in identifying wines that present the greatest value in each category."

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