Anyone who has been in Montreal long enough quickly discovers that this is one hell of a foodie town. Amazing oysters. Incredible artisanal cheeses made right outside the city. Organic pork, duck, venison, you name it. And yes, despite the harsh winters, in the lush valleys just south of the city, some very decent wines and ciders are being produced…
If I may be perfectly honest, the reds are nothing to write home about: you’d need a whole lot more of sunshine and warm temperatures for that to happen. But the whites are perfectly drinkable and often quite delicious – as long as you know what producers to seek out. Top wineries are the very small Les Pervenches and the bigger L’Orpailleur, both located in a region called the Eastern Townships, a mere 45 minutes outside the city.
That’s not all: Québec wineries are actually better known for push-the-envelope sort of products that are sure to impress your wine snob friends back home. Ever heard of honey wine? How about ice cider? Both are local specialties that are much more refined and “grown-up” than one might guess.
Honey wine is still produced in miniscule quantities, and a bit of an acquired taste – although the Macle family in the Laurentians does a great job at keeping it low on the sugar content and high on freshness and acidity.
Ice cider, in the other hand, has recently become somewhat of a Québec specialty, sipped chilled or used to spike up fancy cocktails on both sides of the border. Bottles are expensive because of how labour-intensive it is to produce (apples must freeze on the vine and be picked at a very precise temperature, so they can be pressed immediately to retrieve their frozen nectar). Think of it as a cousin of Niagara’s better-known Icewines, but just as interesting and complex as a dessert wine that also pairs beautifully with strong cheeses, like a Roquefort. Get started by trying some of the award-winning Neige and Domaine Pinnacle products.
You can try all these things at local restaurants, but if the idea is to buy some to take back home, you’ll have to visit one of the city’s several SAQ wine boutiques (the only ones allowed to sell fine wines in the province). But here’s the catch: not all SAQs are created equal. The so-called SAQ Express or SAQ Classic stores are more basic and have few offerings of specialty products.
When shopping for Québec products, go instead to the outlets at the Atwater or Jean-Talon markets (which have what are called Terroirs d`Ici corners stocked with local stuff), or to the bigger SAQ Sélection right downtown, on De Maisonneuve street near the Quartier des Spectacles and The Bay department store.
There you’ll find local gems like the cassis liqueur made by a French expat and his daughters on the beautiful Île d’Orléans, or the apéritif La Marquise, which comes in such a pretty sculpted bottle that it wouldn’t even need to be so tasty to be a perfect gift. And if there’s ever anything specific that you tasted somewhere and want to bring home, be sure to check their website. Type the name of the wine (or cider) in the search box and it will tell you which store in town has it in stock.
SAQ Sélection, 440 De Maisonneuve West, (514) 873-2274
SAQ Atwater Market, 110 Atwater Avenue, (514) 932-2574
SAQ Marché Jean-Talon, 200 Jean-Talon East, (514) 276-1512