by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
Last week’s post generated a few comments of interest pertaining to why most restaurants serve pretty uninteresting, if not downright piss-poor, wines. One from Beth caught my attention:
It’s true, many restaurants serve sucky wine, but it’s not because they aren’t interested in serving better wine. It’s because they believe their customers aren’t interested in spending the money to buy better wine. They say their customers are more concerned with price point than with quality.
I’m a wine industry member who represents a fantastic portfolio with great values. The biggest challenge I have in selling to casual style restaurants is the buyers are looking for wines in the $3-$4 acquisition range for which they charge $5-$6 a glass. Between the profit margin they make and the inexperienced wine drinkers frequenting these establishments, they have no motivation to serve better wines - even at a 2nd tier price point.
It’s easy to blame the restaurant, which is what I guess I did, but in many ways it does make more sense to blame the consumer. I think Beth is right—the restaurants are simply responding to what the consumer demands. And for many (not all) restaurants, the demand is for something cheap, and quality comes in second. And if you can sell a bottle you buy for 3-4 dollars for 5-6 dollars a glass, then maybe there’s not a whole lot of motivation to try to put something a little more interesting out there.
No small winery can make a wine that can be sold by a distributor for $3-4. So that market goes by default to the megawineries that can churn out plonk by the tankersfull.
But I do have to admit that I truly wish restaurateurs which would at least make the effort to push something a little bit better. Even in the $6-9 wholesale price category, you can find interesting wines. Maybe no one is getting rich at those price points, but the wines are there to be had.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows I’m not a believer that you need to pay a lot of money to get a truly good wine. But you do have to pay something, and few if any $3-4 bottles of wine pass muster. I’m not even sure why that is, because I do believe it’s possible to make a decent wine at that price point, though again it will take a large winery to do it. But while I believe it’s possible to do, no one seems to be doing it.
Which gets me back to my original point—if you want a decent glass of wine, you have to pay a little more for it. In my experience, at most moderately priced restaurants, you can get a pretty decent wine in the 8-10 glass range, but not in the 5-6 dollar range. At least that’s my experience.
To my mind, those extra few dollars are well worth the expense. Personally, as much as I like wine in theory, in actuality I really don’t enjoy drinking a insipid glass of plonk at all. I’d just as soon drink a decent beer (in fact would prefer one), or even a glass of water. Bad wine just doesn’t give me any pleasure. So if I can pay a little more and get something I truly want to drink, why wouldn’t I do that?
Obviously, there are many more people who feel differently, so I think we’re in for more of the same—second rate wines dominating the restaurant scene.