How to beat the Christmas shopping rush: Dupéré-Barrera Les Terres de Méditerranée 2004

"The more the experts proclaim their approval of great wines, the harder it becomes for the consumer to actually drink them."

dupere barrera five star wine  Post updated 061221 in comments


brandolini Vistorta 2003 sold out Phaneuf acclaimI've never seen so many wine shoppers as I have lately. All these new fellow shoppers... is it camaraderie or is it competition?

It's competition.

Despite the spirit of the season, I definitely see it as competition. HUGE competition at that. Bah humbug buddy, that bottle's mine!

The fact is that getting top-reviewed bottles is harder now than I can ever remember. Typically at this time of the year, winning the sought-after cuvée is tough. This particular year it practically takes a Christmas miracle to get your hands on it. Or so it seems to me.

I have seen what it takes to secure those prized bottles when new shipments trickle in and then immediately start selling like hotcakes. When party supplies need to be stocked up and year-end lists encourage further purchases, buying that bottle can certainly appear to be a lost cause.

In Montreal, the main reason they sell like hotcakes is Michel Phaneuf, famed Quebecois wine writer. In my critical review of his Guide du Vin 2007, I suggested readers met with frustration when then opened the wine-buying guide because the annual survey of wines sold in the province was presented this year in a less user-friendly way than usual. I mostly discussed problems with its layout and ordering but one thing that caused me to meet frustration again and again was something I did not even mention. (I didn't mention it because it's the wine lover's paradox -- no fault of Phaneuf or his publishers.)

I'm talking about the well-known fact that the more the experts proclaim their approval of great wines, the harder it becomes for the consumer to actually drink them. Especially in the midst of a Christmas rush.

Recently Phaneuf has given some extremely affordable wines five-star reviews, a fairly unprecedented thing. As a result, it is impossible to get your hands on. When his wine newsletter let the cat out of the wine bag earlier this year, what short supply there was of the five-star Vistorta Merlot 2003 by Conti Brandolini d'Adda (pictured above) fast depleted from SAQ outlets (click on it and see). When restaurateurs buy up the stuff by the case, what chance does the everyday consumer really have?

Slim to none, but with persistence and discipline you can do like I did and score yourself some. But also please learn from my mistakes. Here's what I did in the course of my five-star pursuit:


Since the SAQ, like many wine agencies and retailers, has an online database of their stock, I made a point of checking in daily for any sign of the five-star wine in the province. Occasionally, results show 1 or 2 bottles. Calling the outlet that reports the stock usually is a dead-end. The outlet will reply that the number is an error or is normally-occurring breakage.

9:30 AM

The other day, I got lucky. It was half-past nine, the time outlets open, and I had just returned a search result indicating 8 bottles. This was a good sign. I called immediately. The employee responding to my query went to check on the actual stock and said he could account for 6 bottles. Two must've just sold, he told me. Fine. I asked for two of what was left to be put aside, saying that I was on my way to pick them up.

9:43 AM

I didn't immediately consider asking for more than two bottles because I didn't have access to a car. But then I thought a trek across the city using public transit with my half-case would be worth the trouble. I called back five minutes later to ask for all six bottles. They said that there were now only five bottles, but that I could have those. I said sure.

9:47 AM

An incoming call on my phone. My call display said it was the SAQ. Not a good omen. I answered and they informed me that only the original two bottles I had requested would be available for me to pick up. The other three bottles had been snapped up before they could reserve them for me. Too bad about that -- unfortunately wine lovers, that's what half-measures and hesitation will get you this Christmas in Quebec -- but I couldn't really complain.


g58 said...

The five-star Vistorta Merlot 2003 pictured in this post was not actually the object of my wine-hunt timeline. The timeline carefully details how I came into sought-after five-star wines, but it wasn't the Vistorta I got my hands on, but rather another affordable wine given five stars by Michel Phaneuf: Les Terres de Méditerranée Dupéré-Barrera Vin de pays d'Oc 2004, which at only $13.80 makes it perhaps the hardest-to-find bottle this Christmas in Quebec.

The reason I did not identify it was because I had stealthily tracked it down as part of a gift. Sorry for misleading readers, but this post is about Vistorta too. Now that the gift has been given, I can tell the full story, which has few more twists and turns typical of the Christmas rush. Once again, learn from my mistakes.


Several weeks ago, I thought I had the prized Vistortas all wrapped up. I had seen a huge wall of them at the SAQ du Parc, the only outlet in the SAQ network to have stock. I made a mental note and planned to return shortly to buy some.

A few days later, a 10% off everything-in-store sale started so I thought I would jump on that. But no, the Vistorta wall had disappeared. The employee at the store said that as soon as the sale had started, a bunch of restaurants bought them all up. Cases and cases gone. Foiled.

As I like to say, no half-measures or hesitation with five-star wines is allowed. And so I switched to monitoring the SAQ website as I describe in full in the post.


After the timeline in my post ends, something else happened. The store called me back. Those three bottles that somehow disappeared in the three minutes that elapsed between the time that the employee took my phone request and the time the employee went to the shelf to locate the wine -- those three bottles had NOT been purchased by someone else, as I had thought. Someone had moved them aside somewhere and they were relocated. They still had my phone number on hand and kindly called me to see if I was still interested in them. Indeed I was!

So not only did the recipient of my gift fare quite well, the gift-giver did too. Merry Xmas to me! And, in the hopes of passing along something of value to you, dear reader, I opened the VDP Dupéré-Barrera last night to relay some quick impressions.


This wine is exceptional for its price. Dull red colour, tight nose of cherries, but on the palate the first thing you notice is tremendous structure and smoothness. The bouquet requires time though. At first it conveys the usual Roussillon fruit with no oak and not much extraction, it seems very direct with a strong finish, if a bit thin overall. But then the Cabernet comes in and adds depth and complexity. After about half-an-hour, this wine started pouring like Bordeaux: chocolatey and mineraly echoes, velvety texture, very supple tannins, and a very interesting flavour profile from the blended grapes. Unlike any of the Syrah-Cab blends from the Midi I've been tasting.

Phaneuf gives his take on it in this article. For more on this wine and its winemakers, check out their blog (these French "NOWAT" vignerons seem to really love Quebec -- in one post they actually describe the renovated-train-station-cum-SAQ-outlet that they sent their wine to and where I went to buy it.) They seem to be nice people. They certainly create very nice wines.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Marc! Frances and I will keep a look out for some of your recommendations this year!

g58 said...


Seeing as I have access to Frances's wine rack at the moment... I'll try and spare you all the surfing.

Hope you'll be back in New York soon!


Joe said...

My strategy for the SAQ is simple - read Parker instead of Phaneuf. Not that Parker is better - just less likely to be read here in Quebec. Spectator seems to translate better into la Francophonie. I was lucky today, finding the last few bottles in the city of the 2002 Yalumba Signature. Nice to see a local blog - cheers!