August 20, 2000
My ex-husband and I used to go with his parents to a place called
Grocery Outlet every weekend
or so. On a given trip we might see margarita-flavoured Haagen-Daaz
sherbet (with actual traces of tequila), Four-Pepper Classico pasta
sauce, or peanut butter and jelly Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Miscellaneous
frozen, instant, canned, bottled, or otherwise preserved foodstuffs.
Then there are household cleaners, toothpaste, garbage bags, und so
weiter. Just like a regular grocery store except everything is discontinued
so the stock changes fairly regularly. The Outlet is not allowed to
advertise what's there at any given time, as that would take business
from real grocery stores, and the point is to cheaply dump goods before
This includes wine. The wine was the real reason my in-laws went;
they'd pick up a bottle of anything between $2-$5, take it home, drink
it that weekend, and go back on Monday for a case or three of anything
particularly good. If it aged well, great, if not, no great loss.
Before South American wines hit it big it was possible to pick up
some damn good stuff for $3 a bottle (though even at $2 a bottle we
avoided the Eastern European reds). I first bought an Oregon pinot
gris at a Grocery Outlet and have been drinking that grape ever since.
Also $3. The best find was an Argentinian merlot called Clos Bob at
$2 a bottle -- we drank that for months.
This meant that even without a lot of money, it was possible to
experiment with wine, and even to have a modest cellar (which might
be a plastic cooler in the closet). It also meant exposure to a lot
of little wineries that couldn't cut it (yet) in the mainstream but
which might -- like the Australians a few years before -- just be
worth noticing. When the Wall Street Journal headlined on the joys of Australian shiraz...
it was time to invest in Chilean merlot.
Whereas in Canada, alcohol is taxed to death and then Provincial
Sales Tax (between 5-10%) and then 15% GST (Goods and Services Tax,
like the UK's VAT) is slapped on top. The cheapest bottle of wine
you're likely to see is $6 + 8% + 15% = $7.45. And that will be bad
wine. The cheapest "bargain" you're apt to pick up is in the $9 range
(or over $11 after taxes) to $12 (or almost $15). Canadian wine was
quite cheap in Canada for a long time because (in keeping with what
was said before) it was extremely bad. Now that it's winning international
awards, it's expensive; no breaks for the home crowd.
Canada also puts a high sin tax on cigarettes (but junk food is
extremely cheap despite that being overweight in Canada is now much
more common than being a smoker; proof that if you quit smoking you
gain weight). Goes with being a socialism; the vague idea is that
if you abuse your body, you should pay extra, because you're going
to need more care later.
One might think that for wine there would be an exception, considering
that Canada was co-founded by the French: the most passionate wine-drinkers
on the planet. Could it be that the real reason Québec wants
to separate is that wine is too expensive in Canada? Beer -- the Anglo
drink of choice -- is comparatively cheap and every pub worth its
salt offers at least a few UK imports at a modestly greater price.
Conversely few pubs have imported French champagne on tap.