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The Key to Greek Wines

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I’ve written an article for oenopole‘s new Boire vrai blog: The Key to Greek Wines.


Written by carswell

June 30, 2017 at 11:50

Posted in News, Wine travel

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Rumour confirmed

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For those of us outside the SAQ, trying to understand the machinations, motives and plans of the company’s decision-makers is like being an inmate in Plato’s cave. Sitting with our backs to the entrance and forced to face a wall, we attempt to divine what is happening beyond the cave by studying the shadows the actors cast upon the wall.

For several years now, the shadows have seemed to indicate that the SAQ was preparing to make a major shift in its sales model: to begin selling private imports directly to consumers (instead of forcing them to pass through an agency) and to stop requiring that all private imports be purchased by the case.

Though rumours to that effect abounded, concrete signs were few. One of the earliest was the announcement that the SAQ intended to double its offer from the current 12,000 or so products to somewhere between 20,000 and 24,000 products in the next few years. How could it quickly and cost-effectively pull that off without massively expanding its store network, sales force and supply chain? Selling private imports online seemed the only answer. That in the neighbourhood of 10,000 to 15,000 products are currently available through the private import channel – exactly the number needed to pull off the trick – lent credence to the hypothesis.

Other signs? The monopoly’s increasing focus on online sales, including its recent introduction of products available only on The roll-out of the Click, Purchase, Pick Up service. Factoids like the Montreal Distribution Centre’s reportedly setting aside a large area for an unspecified purpose.

In an interview with Bill Zacharkiw in today’s Gazette, Alain Brunet, the SAQ’s president and CEO, finally puts the rumours to rest (emphasis mine):

BZ: Now we are seeing a complete fragmentation of the market. Go to any wine bar or fine restaurant, and the vast majority of wines on the list aren’t even available at the SAQ, only as private imports. I don’t even know most of these wines.

AB: The private import market has really developed over the past five to 10 years. Over 70 per cent of the sales of private import wines are restaurants.

BZ: But that’s mostly due to restrictive policies that allow these wines to be purchased only by the case, which limits the individual consumer access to all this choice.

AB: We know this is an important trend and it’s over a $125-million business. We aren’t trying to slow it down; in fact, we want to accelerate it. What we have lacked is an effective way to distribute all these niche products. Now we have the technology, and within two years our goal is to have all wines available by the bottle on

Insiders I’ve spoken to say the target launch date is the fall of 2018.

Agents I’ve spoken to don’t appear particularly excited about the concept. Then again, like the rest of us, they’ve been kept in the dark and have little idea of how it might work. That being said, most feel it is unlikely that every product in the private import channel will be available through

This change and the overall push toward online sales will probably have major implications for the SAQ’s store network. Look for some thoughts on that in a future post.

Written by carswell

February 25, 2017 at 11:23

Posted in Commentary, News

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Cellier, take two

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The SAQ’s Cellier magazine and associated releases are about to undergo a major overhaul. Here’s a passage from the Forum SAQ newsletter just sent to the monopoly’s suppliers and their local agents:

Cellier magazine will be transformed and published twice as often, that is, eight times a year. Two of the issues will keep the current format while the six others will inform readers of specialty wine arrivals. Each issue will feature two product releases scheduled for the two weeks following distribution of the issue. The magazine’s content and look will also be revised.

The six new-format issues will reportedly resemble the LCBO’s glossy Vintages circular, i.e. a slick promotional tool focused on the wines in the upcoming releases and little more. The new format is supposed to be rolled out after the last old-format Cellier – devoted, as usual for the spring issue, to Italian wines – is published in late February.

The stated goal is to expand the magazine’s appeal beyond the so-called Connoisseur customer segment and to boost traffic and sales through a combination of more frequent and visible releases, events like the recent Wine Spectator Top 100 promo and more emphatic merchandising of the Cellier section in outlets and of products within the section.

Written by carswell

December 21, 2012 at 00:39

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Salon des vins d’importation privée: 2012 edition

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The dates have been announced for this year’s private import wine expo, the Salon des vins d’importation privée. This is always the best wine show of the year – less crowded and unwieldy than the Grande dégustation de Montréal, filled with more interesting wines, populated by friendlier winemakers and agents, attracting a higher proportion of wine geeks and a lower proportion of tipplers.

The Montreal dates are Saturday, November 3, from noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 4, from noon to 7 p.m. The venue is the Marché Bonsecours.

The Quebec City date is Tuesday, November 6, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the place is the Espaces Dalhousie.

Admission is $15. Coupons exchangeable for tastes can also be purchased, though not every booth requires them.

For more information, see the RASPIPAV site:

Written by carswell

October 2, 2012 at 16:21

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Clos Ouvert and Hôtel Herman

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As the tasting of Péron wines at Hôtel Herman wound down, business at the restaurant began picking up and, like several other tasters, I decided to stick around and have a bite, a decision made easier by the convivial setup, small plate approach and appealing by-the-glass selection of wines. That other friends and acquaintances – a MWG member, an SAQ wine advisor, a reporter from La Presse, staff from nearby restaurants, a cohort from Rézin – began trickling in only sealed the deal.

Installed on the other side of the room, the Rézin gang appeared to be focused on a half dozen bottles they had brought with them and a 20-something guy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word Morgon. Glasses were being poured for some of the staff and several patrons. Eventually, Rézin rep Steve came to our end of the bar and explained that the t-shirt wearer was a visiting winemaker who was friends with Mathieu Lapierre and we shouldn’t miss his formidable old-vine cuvée – old here meaning from stock first planted 350 years ago – made from a forgotten grape variety.

Glass in hand, I introduced myself to the winemaker. His name? Louis-Antoine Luyt. He reached for the bottle of the formidable wine and poured me a taste, explaining that it was made from Païs grapes. That brought to mind another wine made from an obscure grape, the 100% Fer Servadou MarcillacLo Sang del Païs.” While Luyt’s Païs smelled and tasted nothing like a Gamay (or a Marcillac, for that matter), the similarities with a Beaujolais cru were obvious. “This is the first I’ve ever heard of a Païs grape in the Beaujolais,” I mentioned. “What’s the back story?”

“Beaujolais?! My wines are from Chile. Pais was brought to the Americas by Spaniards in the 16th century and planted to make sacramental wine. It’s probably the same as California’s Mission grape.”

“But, but the Morgon t-shirt, Mathieu Lapierre…”

“Well, I’m from France, I love Beaujolais and I went to school with Mathieu. When I decided to make my own wine, I set out looking for a challenge and ended up in Chile.”

He went on to explain that he and partners eventually found a vineyard to lease in the Maule valley. Located about 35 km from the coast at an altitude of between 300 and 700 m, the vineyard was already planted to several varieties, all ungrafted. The parcels are dry farmed and manually worked in compliance with organic principles. The wine-making is natural, the sulphur regime minimal. The domaine is called Clos Ouvert, a name nearly as sweet as Domaine du Possible‘s.

I wasn’t taking notes but, assuming I’m remembering this correctly, Luyt offered tastes of two vintages of the Pais de Quenehuao (the 2010 for sure and maybe the 2011). Both were riper than a Bojo and had a completely different flavour profile, yet the weight, acidity, structure and sappiness were very Bojo-like, due surely in part to a similar wine-making approach that includes carbonic maceration. Also poured were samples of: the 2010 Cinsault “Quella”, which can stand comparison with Languedoc Cinsaults; the 2010 Primavera, an easy-drinking, Carignan-dominated blend; and the 2011 Carménère “Cauquenes”, the first and only wine made from that grape that I’d ask for a second glass of. There may also have been a Cabernet Franc. None of the wines were fruit bombs. All were balanced, more savoury than sweet and possessed of a minerally streak that was unlike any I’ve encountered in Andean wines and that had me thinking terroir, especially since the wines weren’t slavish imitations of their French homologues. Most of all, they were food-friendly and drinkable – what the French call digeste.

“Don’t take this wrong,” I said, “but I’m not normally a fan of Chilean wines. They often taste like tomato – the plant, not the fruit – and seem devoid of finesse. So, I mean it as a compliment when I say I’d never guess these wines were from Chile.”

“I don’t like a lot of Chilean wines either. That was a big part of the challenge I mentioned earlier.”

Rézin is bringing in the wines, which will begin arriving in November when the 2010 Pais hits our shores. All will be available only in cases of 12 bottles and through the private import channel. Prices have yet to be determined but should run under $25 a bottle for individuals and even less for restaurants. I look forward to spending some quality time with them and you should too.

My mini review of Hôtel Herman is after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

September 24, 2012 at 21:19

Fall 2012 Cellier release: listing

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My copy of the fall issue of the SAQ’s Cellier magazine arrived today. As none of the other wine geeks I’ve spoken to have received their copies, as none of the local wine boards have any discussion of it or the associated releases, as the staff at the SAQ Sélection outlet I called seemed clueless about the releases and as currently has no mention of them, I’ve typed up the list of wines involved. You’ll find it after the jump.

The dates of the two Sélection releases are September 13 and 27. The Signature release is on September 20. (I cannot fathom why the dates are kept secret until a week or two before the first release, which greatly complicates the planning of Cellier tastings. The editorial staff must know the dates many weeks if not months in advance. Would it kill them to share that information with us? Announcing the dates and maybe the themes – not the wines – a month or so out might even create some sorely lacking buzz around the releases.)

The main theme is 2009 red Bordeaux. There’s also a handful of purportedly oyster-friendly whites, four non-Bordeaux reds for cellaring, a mini-vertical and a couple of big bottles.

Upmarket Bordeaux being fantastically overpriced, the Sélection releases focus mainly on lesser appellations; there are lots of cru bourgeois wines, Médocs and Haut-Médocs, Pomerol satellites, etc.

The alcohol levels are startlingly high. (In the list, I’ve boldfaced the 14%, 14.5% and 15% wines.) It’s telling that the only Bordeaux under 13% is also the only old wine in the bunch (the 1990 Château Les Ormes Sorbet). Yes, 2009 was a very ripe vintage but there’s obviously something else going on here (Parkerization? New Worldization? Global warming? All of the above?). Interestingly, none of the pricey Signature wines clock in at more than 13.5%.

The Mo’ Wine Group usually holds a tasting in conjunction with each Cellier release. This time around, I’m not sure. While it’s true that the group should probably be tasting more Bordeaux, on first glance I’m finding it hard to muster much enthusiasm for this lineup. Unfortunately, that’s beginning to seem like a trend: Cellier releases used to generate a lot of enthusiasm online and in the stores. These days, not so much.

UPDATE (2012-08-30): The “Bravo Bordeaux” listing is finally available on Going by comments online and off (here, for example), I’m not the only person who finds it lacking.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

August 23, 2012 at 17:31

Posted in Commentary, Events, News

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Be there or be square

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The 2010 edition of Raspipav‘s Salon des vins d’importation privée, the city’s most enjoyable wine show, is taking place this Sunday and Monday, November 14 and 15, at the Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal. The doors are open to the general public from noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday. $15 gets you admission, a tasting glass and a few coupons you use to pay for the wines you taste. Additional coupons are available for purchase, though in practice few booths charge for tastes if they see that you’re serious about wine appreciation.

More than 500 wines, none of them available at the SAQ, will be poured. A pride of visiting winemakers will also be on hand to present their products and answer questions.

Several agencies have events with winemakers planned in the days before and after the salon. For example, on Sunday evening, La QV will be holding what looks like a fun and affordable cocktail dînatoire with Spanish and French winemakers in their new space on Beaubien. Rézin is organizing several events, including a dinner on Thursday featuring some of the delightful wines of Gaillac’s Domaine de la Causse Marines at Les Trois Petits Bouchons. And oenopole is hosting François Barmès of the biodynamic Alsatian estate Barmès-Buecher for a “six à sec” at Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins on Monday and a $90 (taxes included) four-course, six-wine meal at Au Cinquième Péché on Tuesday.

Written by carswell

November 10, 2010 at 15:23

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Cold in them thar hills?

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Albertans leery of Quebec booze monopoly.

Quebec’s liquor board has new deal to purchase and distribute Bordeaux wine in Alberta, a move that isn’t going down well among Alberta’s private alcohol distributors. They’re upset the SAQ is able to do business out west while Quebec’s government-regulated wine and spirits market is closed to outsiders.

Written by carswell

October 30, 2010 at 11:15

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Marcel Lapierre n’est plus

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Marcel Lapierre, a leading figure in the natural wine movement, passed away on Sunday.

In September, his 2009 Morgon generated the kind of local buzz usually reserved for pricey cult wines; the SAQ sold its entire shipment of 1,800 bottles in less than a day. Pouring and discussing his 2008s at the natural Beaujolais event last spring, he was affable, down-to-earth, knowledgeable, articulate and seemingly indefatigable. And his wines, even the humble vin de France, were pure and beautiful. RIP.

Natural winemaking pioneer and Beaujolais producer, Marcel Lapierre passes away (Cork’d)

I love Marcel Lapierre (Facebook)

Marcel… (Le blog d’Olif)

Three TéléRézin videos made during Lapierre’s recent visit to Montreal:

Lapierre sur les tablettes de la SAQ

Château Cambon

Vinification du Beaujolais : Classique ou thermo ?

Written by carswell

October 11, 2010 at 11:19

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Gold in them thar hills?

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Quebec’s population is one of the fastest aging in the world. As people grow older, they tend to drink less. It follows that liquor sales in the province are likely to decline in the coming years. Yet the SAQ has committed to maintaining the dividend its pays to the Quebec government. Caught on the horns of this demographic dilemma, SAQ management has decided to look afield. Yesterday the SAQ, the Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Fondaction CSN announced they will be forming a limited partnership to sell various services to liquor retailers outside the province. The services will include selecting and buying products, quality control (including laboratory analysis), distribution, marketing, merchandising and sales network management, and it looks like they’ve already found a taker.

Quebec Liquor Board Is Stepping Out (Financial Post)

Quebec government news release (in French)

Written by carswell

October 5, 2010 at 08:53

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