And I lost in a sprint to the finish line. But it was a distinguished loss. May you too hang on to your dignity.
The wine shoppers who won know who they are. Their credit card companies know who they are too. Those who don't know the full scoop about the SAQ's "wines of prestige" sale that started today -- people like my co-worker Susan, who emailed me at 2:28 pm...
Marcus,...for those people, this news may seem a little late: It's over. You missed it.
Have you seen anything about this sale? Got any recommendations?
I exaggerate. I missed Château Fonplégade Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé 2001 after spending practically half the night up, planning my attack on the province's chain of wine stores based on the official SAQ roster of discounted products, which was released on their web site this morning at 12:01 am. Fool am I. I should've been sleeping, knowing that it is the early bird that gets the worm. Especially in sales such as these.
But no, instead I toiled away until the wee hours making a pile of wine crib notes. I came up with a list of the more-budget-minded items (mostly priced around $20 to $30) that intrigued me -- wine bargains all, wine values maybe -- and already I foresaw myself slipping late into work and leaving a trail of ransacked discount shelves in my wake. In the end, I bought nothing. The two main-attraction wines, the Fonplégade Grand Cru Classé as well as a 1er cru Chablis from Domaine Bernard Defaix, were at stores situated at the end of my path into work. Doh! Don't ever save the best for last when dealing with the SAQ!
If you must know the gory details, I phoned one of the two stores with the Grand Cru Classé stock ten minutes after it opened, knowing that getting there in person would just slow me down. They told me their 27 bottles had been sold in minutes.
Then I called the other store carrying the product in much larger quantities. No answer on how many bottles remained on its shelves. I asked if one bottle could be put aside for me until I finished work. They said no, it was their policy not to. That's a unique and trailblazing policy amid a state-run liquor monopoly, I thought. I would know. There's not one store in the greater Montreal area that hasn't assisted me in securing me a bottle or two. All it takes is friendly phonecall. Adding insult to injury this morning, I was especially friendly... for nothing. And this particular SAQ outlet is in the middle of a vast industrial-commercial wasteland that requires a car and an hour and a half of your free time. They expect shoppers to flock all the way there in disappointment. About 30 minutes after they opened for business, moments after I had called, I got confirmation that the store sold out of cases and cases of the stuff -- that's less than the average time it takes to park your car at the Marché Central on a Saleday. Yes, I'm talking about the SAQ Dépôt store. Avoid it!
I wasted about 35% of pillow time cross-referencing reviews on sale items and was about to waste 35% of my evening going cross-town for a Chablis from a winemaker and vintage I've never tasted. Susan, what I have seen about this sale will keep you up at night for weeks.
But not everyone is a crazy doktor. So with sane folks like Susan and her husband Frank in mind I pass along my cheat-sheet to the sale -- a list of the most promising wines, many of which still are available, itemized with Michel Phaneuf's wine guide notation. As I said, I have not drunk many of these wines (actually, none at all from my list). So they're not really my recommendations per se. Cheat-sheet is just the right term.
MY 35% CHEAT-SHEET
There is one bottle on sale that I have tasted and liked, but strangely I didn't put it on the list. It is the Australian dessert wine De Bortoli Black Noble. Heavy, wooded and pungent, this is an after-dinner treat that is not for the faint of heart. A half bottle is down to $28.10 from $37.50.
Here is that listing (click the image at top to search the SAQ and verify availability):
New reduced prices appended to end of each item line
(star ratings and numbered wine evolution scale from Michel Phaneuf's guide)
@ = travel to the ends of the earth to find / sold out
Gd'O = Phaneuf's special Grappe d'Or designation
1 = drink now / yesterday
2 = drink soon
3 = drink or keep
4 = keep
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey sauternes grand cru classé 1996 ***** 2 - 37.00
DiVino Spadafora sicilia i.g.t. 2003 **** 1 - 14.15
Château Le Sartre pessac-léognan 2002 *** 2 - 19.45
Chablis Pascal Bouchard 2003 *** - 18.95
Chablis premier cru Beauroy Pascal Bouchard 2001 (7/10, Keep) - 26.25
@ Chablis premier cru Côte de Léchet Domaine Bernard Defaix 2001 **** 2 - 21.70
Chablis premier cru Fourchaume vieilles vignes P. Bouchard 1999 (7/10, Keep/Drink) - 28.85
Chardonnay Vineland Niagara Ontario 2002 *** 1 - 13.40
Chablis grand cru Bougros William Fèvre 2001 **** 3 - 36.25
Tannat Premium Casa Filgueira canelones 2002 ***+ 3 - 20.70
Château Prieuré Malesan premières-côtes-de-blaye 2000 *** - 21.05
Château Plince pomerol 2002 *** 2 - 31.00
Château Lanessan haut-médoc cru bourgeois 2000 *** 2 - 36.00
Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta sicilia i.g.t. 1999 **** 2 - 36.75
Domaine de la Solitude châteauneuf-du-pape 2003 ** - 31.25
Fixin premier cru Clos Napoléon Pierre Gelin 2001 *** - 31.50
Pinot noir Tarrawarra Yarra Valley 2000 ***+ 3 - 36.75
Riserva di Fizzano chianti-classico 2001 **** 2 - 27.75
@ Château Fonplégade st-émilion grand cru classé 2001 **** Gd'O 2 - 34.25
Gevrey-chambertin premier cru Les Champeaux Pierre Bourée 2001 ***+ 3 - 42.75
There are mistakes in the list above that I myself have discovered since sending it out (another reason not to let wine sales keep you up all night). It's a small mercy that my unsuccessful bid for Fonplégade Grand Cru Classé turned out after all to not be a missed opportunity for a bargain-priced Grappe d'Or. I slipped up and confused the $53-a-bottle Ch. Fonplégade with the $52-a-bottle Ch. Fonroque. You would too at 2.30 in the morning -- they are both Saint-Émilion, both Classé, and both are far from the reach of my corkscrew in 2007 -- but only Fonroque is a Phaneuf Grappe d'Or.
Secondly, there's a mistake that I transcribed based on a Phaneuf guide error: The Guide du Vin 2007 includes an entry that reads "Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet Domaine Bernard Defaix 2001". Upon closer inspection, in the tasting notes it becomes clear that Phaneuf is writing about a different vintage, declaring "this excellent 2003". The 2003 is the current vintage already on sale in Europe but yet to arrive at the SAQ. Don't let Phaneuf's seemingly favourable review help the SAQ sweep out the old while they usher in the new -- 2001 is a somewhat shabby year for Chablis, and with 35% off or not, Chablis shabbiness is never smart shopping.