Of the 400 wines Loblaws offers in its stores, 218 are VQA Ontario wines.
Wine has now been in grocery stores for a week.
I was anxiously awaiting the ability to pick up a decent bottle of wine with my groceries and do my wine and food pairings all in one place. Except for the fact that if you want to find wine at your grocery store, you’ll have to exit the downtown core.
It would seem that as the licences for grocery stores get rolled out, they must be put in locations that may be underserved by the LCBO. Okay, I realize we are a little spoiled in the city of Toronto to have access to as many LCBO locations as we do. (I have four within a 15-minute walk of my house).
The fact that we see none of these stores in the city has more to do with the fact that there are many wine kiosks already in grocery stores. Still, I was a little disappointed that there is no grocery store wine convenient for me.
That being said, I did not come here empty-handed. The licences that were granted to grocery stores guarantee that 50 per cent of the shelf space has been set aside for VQA wines.
This is a fantastic opportunity for the local wineries to finally get some recognition. The LCBO doesn’t have a set percentage of shelf space set aside for Ontario VQA wines, and I can assure you that there aren’t any stores that dedicate half of their space to supporting local.
I asked Loblaws if they felt that dedicating half their shelf space to local wine was going to be a handicap in setting themselves apart from the LCBO. (I can’t say compete with the LCBO, because all wines that make it to the shelves of your local grocery store are still run through the LCBO. But that’s a whole other topic.)
Loblaws said it was the complete opposite. In their first five days of wine sales, 35 per cent of sales have consisted of VQA wines. When they were deciding which products to place on their shelves, they approached the Wine Council of Ontario and the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario for assistance.
The challenge with many wineries in Ontario is that they are small operations producing small quantities of wine. To be able to serve a large entity like Loblaws, Sobeys, or Metro, you need to be producing a large volume of wine to keep the products on the shelves consistently.
So across all grocery stores, you are going to see similar brands in many of the stores. Also, many of the brands currently found in your local wine shops will not be on the shelves next to brands that are usually only found in the LCBO, such as Henry of Pelham and Château des Charmes.
If you’re looking for the best selection in a grocery store, the clear winner right now is Loblaws. Of the 400 wines they are offering in their stores, 218 are VQA Ontario wines. There are wines from 37 different wineries across all three main wine-growing regions in the province.
My largest complaint about the LCBO has always been selection, so having a new player on the market with control of what goes on on their shelves is something we should be excited about as consumers. This is only the first step in seeing wine in grocery stores, with more licences to be rolled out in 2017.
You can check here which grocery stores are carrying wines.
Here are some wines that are not (yet) available in your local grocery store:
2014 Cave Spring Riesling Icewine – Vintages 447441 – $49.95 – ****½ –
There is something really special about this wine. The aroma has this presence of caramel corn, and it’s just so satisfying to have something almost savoury right off the hop. Riesling Icewine tends to keep its acidity and this is no exception. There are flavours of canned peaches, apricot, and honey. Sip deliberately and serve with pâté and firm cheeses.
2013 Creekside Iconoclast Syrah – Vintages 471797 – ****+ – $22.95 –
This is outstanding syrah, but we should expect nothing less from Creekside. There is a layer of black pepper from start to finish on this wine. The aromas are blackberry and raspberry, with a good layer of charred wood. This wine is light on its toes as the fruit dances on your palate only to move to smoke and pepper on the finish, which is long and satisfying. Honestly, this is the sort of wine you might think you’d want to pair with grilled beef or lamb but, frankly, I wouldn’t pair this with anything to risk wiping out the subtleties of this wine.
2013 Marynissen Platinum Chardonnay – Vintages 471532 – $25.00 – **** –
If you’re not a fan of oaked chardonnay, you may want to take a pass on this bottle. That being said, this bottle does offer tropical fruit—oranges with butterscotch and wood smoke. The key to this wine is to be mindful of serving temperature. If you serve this too cold it will come off tasting a little like Popsicle sticks. However, serve this a few degrees below fridge temperature and you will unlock all the fruit in the bottle.
2013 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc – Vintages 391995 – ****+ – $19.95 –
Wow. This is a textbook example of what happens in Niagara during a more typical vintage. This is elegant and approachable right after opening, but there is nice tannin in the bottle so this should age gracefully for five to seven years in a cellar. It has flavours and aromas of licorice and raspberry, and subtle hints of blueberry with a whisper of cocoa and spice on the finish. There is a slight savoury edge to this wine, but it is a shadow under all the fruit, licorice, and spice.