Out of the wreckage of lockdown came two great restaurant initiatives.
The first to materialize — upscale takeout — was the most popular and arguably the more useful. For it bolstered more restaurants’ bottom lines and provided a greater number of people with an essential service (good food that they don’t know how to cook) than did the second. But this other corollary initiative, which saw restaurants getting into the business of selling wine and booze to go and for delivery, is the one that we dearly hope is here to stay.
Any chipping away at the powers of our ridiculous provincial liquor boards and their associated rapacious monopolies is something we applaud, and loudly — especially as we know that whatever special rights to sell alcohol were surrendered during the pandemic will later prove to be all but impossible to claw back.
It helps that the general public is on the right side of the scuffle. Sophisticated consumers reasonably expect choice. They finally have one and it’s stark.
In a metropolis the size of Toronto, would you rather buy a $50 bottle of wine from some disinterested, unionized frozen- dinner-scoffing hack at the LCBO who can’t confirm with any certainty whether Sancerre is a varietal or a region in France or maybe Portugal? Or would you prefer to defer to the passionate sommelier at your favourite local restaurant, eagerly steering you towards something new, like maybe a 2019 Hofgut Falkenstein Niedermenniger Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett Feinberg AP 15 from Mosel?
In Montreal and other cities like it, consumers are facing a similar, easy choice. Unfortunately, there are some jurisdictions, like Nova Scotia, where restaurants are unjustifiably forbidden from earning some profit from their oenophilic expertise. And there are others, like Alberta, where a preponderance of independent wine merchants detracts from a restaurant’s potential bottle-shop appeal. But we should all be able to agree that at least some wine sales belong in the domain of those who know the product best, are invested in its importation, have tasted it frequently, understand the product and what it should best be served with. Read: accomplished, restaurant-employed sommeliers and their ilk.
We’re grateful to every restaurant across the country that has successfully fought for the right to incorporate a smart wine program into the takeout offer. And we’re especially enamoured of those places that made the jump to full-on bottle shops with wine clubs — like Larrys in Montreal and, to varying extents, Primal in Saskatoon, Bar Lupulus in Ottawa, Von Der Fels in Calgary, Dachi in Vancouver, and many others.
Thank you for upgrading the Canadian idea of normal.
📷 Will Trow