For the first time in the 18 years that Wine & Spirits magazine has been tracking wine consumption in the nation's restaurants, cabernet sauvignon is the most popular varietal among diners, knocking chardonnay from the top spot it has held since the survey began.
What's more, chardonnay has slipped all the way to third, with pinot noir moving into second place.
Cabernet sauvignon accounted for 17.5 percent of restaurant wine sales in the last quarter of 2006, followed by pinot noir at 15.2 percent and chardonnay at 14.8 percent. Collectively, three styles of white wines generally lighter and crisper than chardonnay - sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and riesling - accounted for 15 percent of wine sales in restaurants. Merlot has plunged to 5.5 percent of sales, its smallest share since the start of the red wine boom in 1991. The findings are based on a poll of sommeliers at top restaurants across the county as determined by the Zagat Survey.
The poll also found that Italian wines are more popular in restaurants than French wines (15.2 percent to 14.7 percent), and that sales of Spanish wines and sparkling wines have registered strong increases, up 2.8 percent and 2.9 percent respectively over the past five years.
The three most popular brands in restaurant sales are Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Cakebread Cellars and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards.
Complete results of the survey are to be in the magazine's April issue, to be at newsstands and bookstores next Tuesday.