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 Americas top restaurants/sommeliers.
The results wont shock a lot of Canadian wine drinkers, especially here on the West Coast, if only because it confirms what weve 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, whoda thunk Americans are rediscovering foreign wine. More to the point, Americas 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 nations wine lists.
In fact, the whole concept of a national wine list (which, by definition, appeals to an entire nation) seems so outmoded, Im surprised any winery would want to be on one.
The report points to Italian wines superseding those of France as the leading import on Americas 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 its happening at a record pace.
Its 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 consumers interest in identifying wines that present the greatest value in each category."
According to Greene, "Economic and political factors have instigated some of the changes weve seen over the last two years, but a more fundamental shift is also at play. Restaurateurs and their patrons are considerably more confident in their personal wine choices. The sophistication of the market is showing in more diverse wine lists, and a greater willingness among consumers to order a Barossa shiraz, an Austrian grüner veltliner, or a primitivo from Apulia."
Its enough to make sommeliers (and maybe wine writers) weep, given theyve been talking about such wines for years only to be rebuffed by consumers who couldnt get enough of their favourite bulk-brand chardonnay.
No one should lament the good old days of wine because frankly the wine wasnt that good. New wines from new places are breathing life into what had become a listless business. Curiosity about where wines come from is driving young chefs out of the kitchen and onto the road. Imagine a North American dining landscape that looks like Spain where the food and wine changes every 100 kilometres.
Its call diversity and its what makes wine so special.
Id hate to usurp next years poll, but you can bet on the red wine numbers falling (60.3 per cent of wines sold in restaurants last year were red) because you cant eat everything with red wine. Besides, if it aint riesling, grüner veltliner or viognier (with a screwcap on it) it aint happening.
Along these adventuresome veins, here are just a few of the labels that are changing the way Canadians approach wine, and no doubt the way our friends south of the border will do so in coming years:
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin 2003. It starts with a bright red screwcap and a clean lifted fruit nose of guava, lemons and lime. This is prime time Kiwi summer sipping. $19.95
Pepperwood Grove Syrah 2002is the new face of California. Its a fun, forward-thinking red with silky smooth and peppery fruit that slides down effortlessly. Simple affordable, hip, tasty and wrapped in a seriously good-looking package. $18.95
Smoking Loon Viognier 2002is another California wine thats pure fun. Honey, mineral, orange, cream and spicy mango fruit flavours make this a delicious drink. $17.75
Evans and Tate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Margaret River 2003. Western Australia wines are all the rage especially when they come with a smoky, canned jalapeño, grassy, green olive nose and bags of grapefruit flavours. Think pad Thai or a Greek salad. $18.99
Dr. L Riesling 2003is a serious but fun wine. Look for round, ripe and fresh juicy red apple, fruit mixed with honey, white peach and mineral flavours. Fabulous with spicy Indian food or a pulled pork sandwich. $16.95
Castaño Hecula 2002is delicious mix of black cherry licorice smoke and saddle leather on the nose and black cherry-black raspberry jam in the mouth. Barbecued anything works here. Viva España. $15.95
Marqués de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2002is the Spanish version of cool sauvignon blanc made with verdejo and viura grapes. Passion fruit, gooseberry, and green apple flavours. Tasty summer sipper, perfect with most seafood. $15.99
Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir 2002is all about fun. Well-balanced, tasty California pinot noir selling under $19 in B.C. is a rare experience for British Columbians. $19.95
Yalumba Shiraz Y Series 2001is the kind of inexpensive Oz shiraz that deserves all the fuss the rest are just pretenders. Licorice, mocha chocolate and black fruit from the front of the palate to the back. $17.99
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com