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Buying Wine in Toronto

This page has nine sections:

Rating Services

Wine Align is a community based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine.  It provides a detailed product review of the bi-weekly VINTAGES release.  Wines are reviewed by a panel of expert wine critics (John Szabo and David Lawrason in particular) using the 100 point scoring system.  Also, Steve Thurlow publishes a monthly listing of his top 50 value picks on the LCBO general listing.  A yearly subscription is $40.



Vintage AssessmentsVintage Assessments  is another service providing a detailed product review of the bi-weekly  VINTAGES release.  It is compiled by Michael Vaughan.  Ratings are based on a maximum of three stars ***.  It also provides news of upcoming events.  An annual E-Mail subscription costs $75. 

 

Billy Munnelly publishes an annual guide to the best value wines at the LCBO and a free e-wine letter.  

 

 

 

Natalie MacleanNatalie MacLean offers 50,000 reviews of LCBO wines searchable by price, score, tasting note, region, grape, blend and food match. Natalie also pairs every wine with several complementary recipes. You can look up the inventory level of each wine at your closest LCBO stores according to your postal code and then create a custom shopping list based on what you like that's available. The reviews are also formatted for iPhone, BlackBerry and other smart phones.  If you'd like to subscribe to her free newsletter, follow the link.  For her biography, see the People page  

Vintage Charts

Robert Parker's Vintage GuideIf you are thinking of starting a cellar and want to see the ratings by year of the better known wine areas before you buy anything, refer to Robert Parker's Vintage Chart.  An alternative is Winetasters "Vintage Charts" section. 

 

   


LCBO & VINTAGES

Image of bottles on wallThe 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.  

VINTAGES 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: VINTAGES 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).  

If 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 help. 

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 determine availability. 

Agencies

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 unless the wine is Canadian.  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.  

Ontario Wineries

CN TowerA 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.

 

Online Acquisitions

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, unless the wine is Canadian, the minimum order is six or twelve bottles depending on the packaging.  See also Vintages On Line above.

Winery To Home
Winerytohome is 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.  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.


Kwäf Kwäf specialize in good value Ontario wines.  Their team are constantly in contact with the wineries to find good deals.  When they find one, they provide that information to their customer database. You can order and pay for the wine online and it is shipped via Canada Post.  You can buy just one bottle for a delivery fee of $10.  Delivery is free if you buy six or more. 

 

Wine OnlineWineOnline.ca focuses on premium wines that are not available at the LCBO.  They sell wines via their website or by phone and deliver to your home or business.  They also sell glassware and other accessories.


WineWireWineWire 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.

Vinfolio 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.

Overseas Import

Say you discovered a fabulous wine as part of an idyllic overseas holiday and you want to acquire a case for future consumption in Canada.

One option is to bring it back as part of your checked luggage however quite apart from the excess baggage fees, and assuming that the contents don't break in transit, this is likely to be very pricey.  See Personal Importations by the LCBO and WineLaw for further information.  Also if you acquire the case early in your holiday and you are traveling in summer, the wine may not keep very well.

I think your best bet is to ask if the winery has an agent in Ontario and then order it locally.

Another option is to use the LCBO's  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 LCBO will bring it over at the same time as one of their regular shipments which has the effect of somewhat reducing transportation costs however, according to the LCBO, the cost is still typically three to four times the retail price in that country and the process can take up to six months.

I think it is likely 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 might be be more reasonable.     

Auctions 

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.

Syndicated Buying

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 request. 

SommelierService.com, 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.


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                                                                    Last Updated:    April 11, 2014