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by Gabrielle Taylor

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 they die.

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.

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