The starting point for most purchases, whether domestic or foreign is the
LCBO. The LCBO
is the largest single purchaser of beverage alcohol in the world, purchasing
fine wine, spirits and beer from more than sixty countries. Over 4,000 products are available in
more than thirty stores across Toronto. Products are categorized either as
General Listing or VINTAGES.
If a product is classified as General Listing, it is available on a year over
year basis subject to reaching sales volume targets. All non Canadian wines are represented by an agency. If a wine is
added to the General Listing, the sales volumes are likely to increase
substantially so agencies are always trying
to get more of their products listed. General Listing wines are more
geared to day-to-day drinking although some can be cellared.
is a business unit of the LCBO that
sells finely crafted wines and spirits from around the world.
All products are
hand-selected by VINTAGES
buyers who search the world for wines and spirits of exceptional quality
and craftsmanship. In the VINTAGES section
of LCBO stores, there are two
main product lines / collections:
1. New Releases:
an assortment of wines and spirits bi-weekly, every other Saturday.
There are approximately 125
products with each new release. Quantities are often limited. Products are listed in a bi-weekly magazine
which is also available online. The magazine also does in-depth
features on selected products, wine regions, trends and winemakers.
2. Essentials: A
small collection of 100 “Essentials”
is always available. These
products offer exceptional quality-to-price value and tend to be from
world-renowned / reliable brands.
There is a VINTAGES section at most LCBO stores
in the Toronto area and a
separate location at Cooper's St at Queen's Quay. Other major VINTAGES
locations in the Toronto area are 10 Scrivener Square at Yonge and
Summerhill, Bayview Village Mall (Sheppard and Bayview) and Crossroads at 2625D Weston Road
(Weston and 401).
you want to build a cellar, VINTAGES is
a good place to start, and if you don't have other sources for wine wisdom
such as a Rating Service, it is a good idea to
build a relationship with an LCBO consultant in your local store. In my experience, they are extremely professional and love to
If you know what you are looking for, the LCBO
site has a very helpful product search feature which allows you to find a
product via name or product number and then drill down by location to
A second option for buying wine is to deal directly with an agency.
Agencies have a dual role. As well as supplying wine to the LCBO and Vintages,
they also sell to restaurants, hotels, casinos and private clubs on a
"consignment basis". Many restaurants, particularly the
higher end ones, prefer to list non LCBO products so as to have relative
exclusivity. If you have particular tastes in
wine or you like the idea of getting a more exclusive product, it is well worth your while to build
a relationship with an agency. They can also help you order wine from overseas if you know exactly what you want. Pricing
is regulated by the LCBO however so it's not really a way of saving money.
Many agencies will now deliver to your doorstep
however note that you
have to buy a minimum of a case. Comprehensive information on all Ontario agencies including a wine
"search" feature is available from Drinks
Ontario, formerly the Ontario Imported Wines Spirits and Beers Association.
If you are interested in starting up your own agency in order to import
wine, spirits and beer into the Ontario marketplace, I highly recommend Steven
Trenholme's course entitled "Importing Wine for Pleasure &
Profit. Steven is a 30 year veteran of the Canadian beverage alcohol
industry. Refer to his website
for further details and the date of the next seminar.
A number of agencies offer a free e-newsletter to keep their readers up
to date on new product offerings. See below for links. Some also
hold an annual tasting to showcase their products.
A third option,
applicable specifically to Ontario wineries, is to visit to the winery or buy the wine at
one of their stores. The majority of wineries are located in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
There are an increasing number in Prince Edward
County some in the Lake
Erie North Shore/Pelee Island region of Essex County, and a few in the Toronto area.
If you don't have much time for shopping, online ordering may be of
interest. Currently, this may only apply within Ontario. The
Federal government decriminalized shipments across provincial borders in
2012 but the legal situation in Ontario is a bit murky as the province has
yet to clarify its position. See Shipping
Laws on Wine for a fuller discussion.
See below for five companies that specialize in delivering wines
directly to your doorstep. The only catch is that by law, the minimum
order is six or twelve bottles depending on the packaging. See also Vintages
On Line above.
the pioneer of online wine sales and specializes in Ontario products that
are generally not available at the LCBO because of production
limitations. This effectively allows the small boutique winery and/or
small lots of premium products to reach a wider audience. They sell
more than 400 listings from over forty Ontario producers. You can sign
up for a variety of monthly packages or pick and choose from the site.
The wines on offer have been sampled and endorsed by David Lawrason and Tony
Aspler thus substantially increasing your chances of liking it.
works with the
finest Ontario wineries to bring premium, limited edition (non-LCBO)
wines to its customers. Wines are hand-picked by a number of wine
experts. They currently have approximately 60 listings.
main focus is premium wines that are not available at the LCBO. They
currently have approximately 140 listings of which 78 come from Ontario They sell wines via their website or by phone and deliver to your home or business.
They also sell glassware and other accessories.
Wine Guru sell top quality wines from around the world.
They currently have approximately 60 listings. They sell by the case lot, usually 12
bottles but sometimes 6, and deliver to most parts of Ontario.
offers customers in Ontario a convenient online ordering mechanism to
purchase case lots of wines directly from independent wine agents.
WineWire acts as a marketing representative for the wine agencies listing
their products on our site and does not directly handle any part of the
actual buyer-seller transaction.
Marketplace provides an online trading platform which facilitates the
direct sale of wine from one individual to another. Many bottles
listed come from the private cellars of wine lovers who use the company's
free web-based cellar management software, Vincellar. Inventory can be
tracked via bar-coding and is accessed via the internet. Vinfolio also
has an online wine store.
Say you discovered a fabulous wine as part of an idyllic overseas holiday
and you want to bring a case back to Canada. If you've decided to
brave bringing it back in your checked luggage, be aware that the combined effect of
Duty & Excise taxes, LCBO markup and HST is over 70%. See Personal
Importations for further information.
As an alternative, the LCBO has a Private
Ordering feature through which you can order a wine that you discovered
outside Ontario but is neither on the General Listing nor is available
through VINTAGES. The
catch is that, according to the LCBO, the cost is typically three to
four times the retail price in that country and it can take up to six months.
Refer to Bringing
It Back by Girvan Patterson for a specific calculation.
Personally, I think it is uneconomic to order only one case because the
transportation costs are relatively fixed. If you can form a syndicate
and get up to five or even ten cases, the cost per case will be more
See Other Wine Shows for the annual Vintages Auction & Gala
and Charity Functions in the Toronto area,
many of which feature an auction. If price is no object, this is where
you can pick up the "crème de la crème" offerings.
The Opimian Society is
primarily a non profit wine purchasing cooperative. Members get a mailing of
eight offerings during the year through a newsletter, which contains 40 to
50 wine listings, complete with tasting notes. The wines are picked by
independent experts and sourced through the LCBO. You are not
obligated to buy anything but if you do, there is a minimum order size of
either six or 12 bottles, depending on the wine, when you do place a
affiliated with Iron
Gate – Private Wine Management, are a wine buying club where Master Sommelier
John Szabo chooses wine for the members that is not
available at the LCBO. Each case contains ten bottles of five
different wines and is shipped to the member's door every 1, 2, or 3 months.
de Garde Club is also affiliated with Iron Gate and sends an offering of
non-LCBO wines every month to members. Any quantity can be shipped to the door, almost anywhere in Ontario.