Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Quebec (inc. Montreal) >
Nov 17, 2009 04:14 PM

Why no quality wines at deps?

This question has confounded me for the past number of years. If deps are permitted to sell wine, why is it of only a certain *ahem* "caliber"? IE you will never, ever see more of a varietal indication than "red". I really can't understand how the distinction is laid out, or if there isn't one, why any enterprising dep doesn't carry a few bottles of something more quaffable than the standard plonk? Apologies if this has been answered before; I searched to no result.

On the same note, anyone have any recommendations on choosing the best of the worst, when one's at their last wine-purchasing resort? I'd love to see an enterprising, steel-gutted blogger systematically review all the dep wines out there and see if there wasn't something drinkable hiding amongst the antifreeze. I think it would be pretty hilarious.

Who's up for the challenge?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Recycling an earlier comment re this topic: "The sorry state of grocery and dep wines isn't the SAQ's fault but rather has to do the requirements of the WTO and various trade agreements. Only non-vintage wines bottled in Quebec and not bearing the names of the grape varieties used to make them can be sold; if the rules were changed, Quebec would be forced to allow any producer to sell its wines in grocery and convenience stores, effectively breaking the SAQ's monopoly. That's not going to happen, thanks to political pressure from the SAQ employees' unions (which already view the groceries/deps as the thin edge of the wedge of backdoor privatization) and the producer-bottlers of the plonk." That came from the Independant Wine Merchants in Quebec thread:

    For dep wine reccos, check out the Dépanneur Wines thread:


    Good Wine in Montreal?

    Gourmet Provisions

    Toronto Drinker Wants to Throw Off LCBO Shackles

    3 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      Thanks for the links and answer; I really need to refine my search techniques!

      1. re: carswell

        Not sure I see why this is the WTO's fault? Seems like it's the SAQ and it's unions that are the cause...

        Note that in more remote areas of the province, there are privately operated SAQ concessions. (The gas station in Lac Superieur, on the road to the north side of Tremblant, for instance, sells hard liquor and vintage win.)

        1. re: mtlalex

          I think if you poke around the threads carswell linked in his post you'll find an explanation of why and how international trade agreements affect the retail situation here in Quebec. I know he's explained it in detail before, so it's not fair to ask him to do it again.

          The existence of rural grocery stores that sell from the regular catalogue is an exception that doesn't have much bearing on the big picture, in the sense that it doesn't represent a precedent that would allow your corner dep in Montreal to start selling whatever wine it wants.

      2. It's really a compromise situation. SAQ outlets are everywhere.
        But if you're hurried for a quick bottle you can get a quick pickup wine on every corner of the city until 11 pm. You can get good stuff off hours, absolutely. I'm sure there are distribution issues as well. No corner store would be able to handle high end deals unless they turned into liquor stores.
        I mean we could ask why all alcohol- - liquor, beer and wine aren't available 24 hours a day at private retailers. It's just the way our society has organized itself. Seems to work.

        1. I've recently moved to Montreal from the US and genuinely want to cry when I see wine and alcohol prices here (with a few rare exceptions). I believe strongly in being able to have table wine, that is, wine for under $10/bottle that is decent quality. Wine should be something everyone can have on a regular basis. SAQ seems to disagree. I and my better half are working working our way through their >$10's.
          In the grocery/depanneur, being a sauvignon blanc drinker, I don't mind the Wallaby (Wallaroo?) Trail, white. it's still a bit more than I'd like to spend, at $11/liter, plus sales tax, but still comes out equal with SAQ prices of $9/750 mls, which includes tax. In the US, our table wine was Yellow Tail, any of the red blends, which we bought for $13 for 1.5 liters (plus tax). The couple grocery store reds I have tried here were truly awful, like 7th-graders making wine for a MADD-sponsored science project.

          I welcome any and all "bargain" wine recommendations. I am a huge wine drinker, huge, and not one speck a wine snob. It would be nice to get some meaningful recommendations.

          18 Replies
          1. re: 1toomany

            I dislike Yellowtail (but have only tried the shiraz), so tastes may not be in tune here, but some less expensive wines that I would buy again...

            Under $10 (yes, it's a very short list...):
            - Fuzion shiraz/malbec (Argentina)
            - Finca Flichman malbec (Argentina)
            - Castillo de Monseran grenache (Spain)

            Around $10-14
            - Meia Encosta (Portugal)
            - Medoro sangiovese (Italy)
            - Tsantali Rapsani (Greece)
            - Chatons du Cèdre malbec (France)
            - Chateau Montauriol Tradition (France)

            List is shorter in whites, has only one under $10, and goes up to $17:

            - Fuzion chenin/torrontés (Argentina)
            - Brumont gros manseng/sauvignon (France - Gascogne)
            - Dr. L. riesling (Germany)
            - Genoli viura (?) (Spain) - may appeal to the sauvignon-lover
            - Anselmi San Vincenzo (Italy)

            1. re: Mr F

              The Fuzion wines are drinkable, but only just.

              For cheap table wine that matches well with light food, I often go for a vinho verde. I know that some people consider them plonk, but I think they are just snobby.

              1. re: The Chemist

                This was covered in one of my university classes (mid 90s), I don't think the rules have changed. All the wines sold at deps and the supermarket are labeled as "bottled in Quebec", take a look at the labels next time you're at the dep. They are wines from all over the world but they are transported here in huge vats and bottled in the province, this is the only way non SAQ outlets are allowed to sell wine.

                1. re: The Chemist

                  I agree on both points -- should definitely have included vinho verde (specifically Aveleda), and Fuzion is just this side of drinkable. Sadly, that puts it ahead of many wines up to $15 or even $20, IMHO. I find it hard to beat in the $8 range... but then again it's rare that I'm not willing to spend at least $12-15, so I don't buy it often.

                  However, I have not tried many on Campofiorin's list of under-$10 picks. Of those that I have (Chevalier, Duque and Tocado) I'd probably only buy the Duque again.

                  1. re: Mr F

                    Fuzion has been the best seller at SAQ for a couple of years now. What amazes me is seing people shelling $13-$14 for grocery store plonk when they can get Fuzion or Finca Flichman (better than the former IMHO) for almost haflt he price.

                    Quebecers are said to be more knowledgeable about wine but I still think that there's a lot of work that remains to be done. My idea would be to put SAQ Express in some grocery stores. That would enable people to widen their horizon and allow the SAQ to ride around the issue raised by Carswell.

                    1. re: Campofiorin

                      There's so much overpriced wine at the SAQ that one doesn't have to go to a grocery store for head-scratching moments. It's beyond me why Georges Duboeuf Brouilly keeps selling, apparently very well, at $19 (easily $8 too much) -- can the distinctive bottle be that powerful? Or consider the Barefoot wines: these could just as well be grocery store wines, but the SAQ carries them and people like them (the red, at least, is dreadful). And on and on...

                      Re placing Express outlets within grocery stores: there are probably complications galore. To satisfy the union, they'd have to be SAQ-staffed. To satisfy the grocers, there'd have to be compensation for loss of their wine sales. No doubt the purveyors of grocery store wines would have something to say, not to mention those grocers *not* blessed with an in-store SAQ outlet. What happens with beer? etc. etc.

                      1. re: Mr F

                        This past summer I encountered SAQ wines and several basic hard liquors at a Metro store (I think) in Eastman, QC... So it does exist.

                        edited to add- it is an IGA Tradition banner store.

                        1. re: C70

                          Yes, in places where there aren't enough people to justify a standalone SAQ outlet. Different story in the city.

                          1. re: Mr F

                            Like Mr F says, those are "concessions" given by the SAQ to grocery store or dépanneurs in "remote" areas where a SAQ store isn't justifiable.

                            As for the SAQ Express in a grocery store, I wouldn't mind having it staffed by SAQ employess just as the banks have their own employees working in some grocery stores where they have a small outlet.

                            If I'm not mistaking, I do believe that the SAQ was exploring that possibility.

                            1. re: Mr F

                              At about the same price as Fuzion, Giacondi Nero d'Avola is quite decent plonk (though of course it is plonk).

                              I love the Château Pajzos's Tokaji (Furmint) - guess it really depends on our taste.

                              A cheapo white that I find fine for bulkish purposes is the Citra Chardonnay - on sale for $8,65 a litre until tomorrow. But I'm not talking chowish, of course.

                              There is also a Hungarian Riesling in a litre bottle for just over $10 - so that is under $10 a bottle (750ml). It is very hard to find - they do carry it at SAQ Beaubien but you have to ask for it - it is kept in the backstore.

                              Riesling Jaszberenyi 2008
                              Code SAQ : 00000836
                              CUP : 05998815 733273

                  2. re: Mr F

                    Here are a couple more choices for under $10 at SAQ

                    These are all reds:

                    Los Molinos (Spain)
                    Santa Florentina (Argentina)
                    Tapeo (Spain)
                    Tocado (Spain)
                    Chevalier de Dyonis (Romania)
                    Duque de Medina (Spain)
                    Merlot/Syrah O'Terra (France)

                    These are not amazing by any means but quite honest and decent for a week night.

                    That being said, aside from top notch Bordeaux and american wine, I've come to realize that the price of wine is usually cheaper here than in the US and the choice in the same location is wider.

                    SAQ has the quality of its defect, meaning that yes, it's uniform, but you're pretty sure to find what you're looking for whereever youg o.

                    1. re: Campofiorin

                      The only not bad one I have tried at a dep would be silverthorne, a red Australian. It tastes a lot less like vinegar than the other ones I have tried.

                      1. re: humbert

                        I was told by a sommelier friend of mine that the SIlverthrone was the exact same wine as the Lindeman Bin 50 Shiraz sold at SAQ. Since then, it's the only one I'D buy if I was stuck in a positino where I didn't have good wine on hand after the SAQ closing hour.

                      2. re: Campofiorin

                        I agree with Campofiorin. I used to believe that wines were almost uniformly cheaper in the US. So after leaving Chicago to come back to Montreal, whenever I found an interesting wine at SAQ, I used to always go check US online retailers, to see whether I could get some friends or family down south to bring a few bottles back for me. I eventually stopped checking, because it turned out that in general the prices were very similar, and often cheaper at SAQ. As a result, I had to tone down a little my complaints directed at our dear state monopoly... ;)

                      3. re: Mr F

                        Another drinkable white, although it's almost $12, is the Albis (Portugal - the full name is Vinho regional Terras do Sado Albis).

                        1. re: Mr F

                          thanks a ton for these suggestions. I have the Fuzion shiraz/malbec on my shelf right now, waiting for me to try. I am going to print out this list so I can go one-by-one.

                          I am also a huge fan of vinho verde's in the summer - a great, light wine that is perfect in warm weather, and the price is wonderful (I paid $5-$8 on average in the US). I have seen a couple here but again, priced about 25-50% higher than in the US. annoying, but they're still only $10 wines, so this I can live with.
                          cheers and thanks again for the reco's!

                          1. re: Mr F

                            Good list.

                            A thread on the Wine board brought to mind Szekszardi's Kékfrancos (the grape variety known as Blaufränkish in Austria and Lemberger in Germany and the US), an honest, drinkable red that runs $11.15 a litre (SAQ code: 00000794).

                            While it's hard to find an appealing white under $10, the choice becomes more interesting in the $10-15 range. I'm partial to Château Pajzos's Tokaji (Furmint) and the Albariño-Chard blend (Costers del Segre?) from Raimat. And while it comes in at $0.05 under the upper limit, no excuses need be made for the white Graves from Château de Roquetaillade La Grange.

                            1. re: carswell

                              It seems that Szekszardi is never in stock where and when I want it -- I see there's a fair bit around these days, but not at my local outlet, so I haven't had it lately. Also, I have my doubts that it will be to 1toomany's liking, but could be wrong.

                              Looking forward to trying the Raimat and Roquetaillade; IIRC the Pajzos was one that really didn't do it for me. I think I need my Furmint botrytized, but good.

                        2. I like Toro Loco white,

                          but it seems to be getting harder and harder to find. I certainly didn't know Kruger has a wine bottling division...