It’s a question guaranteed to pop up at this time of year. Where can I buy Champagne, (as in true, French Champagne) for a song? The short answer is “You can’t.” At least not here in BC. Want to buy Big C Champagne at sparkling wine prices? Your best bet is to move to the UK, where liquor discounting is now a blood sport.
That’s no surprise. After all, the Brits are among the world’s biggest consumers of ‘Bubbly’. And the pre-Christmas to New Year’s Eve run-up unleashes a veritable deluge of discounts that can range anywhere from ten to 30 percent—if you pop for a half dozen. One of the first casualties in a recession (the UK’s still having a tough time) is Champagne sales, which in part explains the fancy prices—along with the free market.
Okay then, you might well ask, why can’t BC Liquor Stores be like any other retailer, be less Grinchy and throw the consumer even a small seasonal perk once in a while, and maybe help to rebuild a flat category?
The answer, of course, is never simple.
First of all, supermarkets everywhere are notorious for inflating ‘regular’ prices to make discounts look bigger than they really are. And the UK big players are no exception. But there are Great Champagne Deals to be found all over, including at UK wine shops, so why not here?
Even if BCLS was inclined to show some holiday spirit (beyond Share a Bear), it would be undercutting its private wine store and hotelier customers—who are themselves not permitted to sell for less than government stores, even if they could afford to. (Anywhere else that’s called price fixing. But I digress…)
Also, you need to remember that BC Liquor Stores is required by cabinet to realise maximum revenues in order to maintain a government mandated liquor tax/MU that’s higher per capita than Quebec and Ontario. (As usual, Mark Hicken over at winelaw.ca has the facts…)
In the meantime, our UK cousins (who also pay plenty of liquor tax themselves) are busy grabbing bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut for $19.60 (case price, 42% off, at Tesco on line), or if you’d been quick you could have bought Janisson NV Brut (which we enjoyed on our last trip) from Co-op for the same price.
Meanwhile back on this side of the pond, as usual there may be a few fancy prices floating around Alberta. But the big surprise comes from Quebec, where it turns out there’s plenty of more affordable choices, including some well known marques for around $42-$45. For example, you can buy Drappier Carte d’Or Brut for $41.50. We’re all over that one … .
In terms of looking for attractive pricing to pass onto consumers, I suspect SAQ nowadays is a lot more proactive than it used to be, following the price fixing scandal that broke some years ago.
Some may argue that the cost of shipping contributes to our higher prices. But the fact remains that BC has the highest markup (read tax) of just about anywhere in North America…
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s a couple of effervescent suggestions of note to help get the holiday season started in style …
Easy to find value: We’ve always been a big fan of Lanson Black Label (ever since BCLS actually did discount it to get rid of surplus stock, acquired for the millennium non event. (It was $25!) No surprise that it scooped Best of category in our 2012 Vancouver Magazine International Wine Awards judging (Full results—great reading—here). It has some nice yeasty brioche notes on top and a gently creamy palate; one of the best balanced and food friendly bubbles out there. BCLS $59.99 89 pts.
Grower notch up: Even though we’re bombarded by big brands, it pays to take note of the smaller houses. Alain Sacy, 12th generation owner and winemaker at Champagne Louis de Sacy breezed through town a few weeks ago, with the best across the board range we’ve tasted in some time. It’s rare to find grower Grand Cru wines of this quality at this price.
Arguably the best value, the Louis de Sacy NV Brut Grand Cru sports a clean, fresh citrus toned palate with some mineral and flinty notes and good structure. BCLS $59.99, 90 pts. Oysters, for sure.
Dig a little deeper for the NV Brut GRand Cru Rosé to discover a superb, very pretty salmon colur in the glass, vibrant cherry notes, quite wine-like with a definite mineral streak and dry finish. I could happily drink it with crab—or on its own. BCLS $69.99 91 pts.
Top of the line is the Grand Soir Grand Cru 2003, which takes us into serious vintage territory (although this was one of the hottest, most challenging vintages on record). Rich, layered, mouth-filling and quite leesy, it’s also nicely weighted without being clumsy. toasty, apple and peasr notes with a touch of citrus and that distinct mineral streak through a lengthy finish. BCLS $89.99 93 pts.
(Trivia: “Sacy” is also the name of a heritage grape variety, also known as Tressallier—though no longer permitted in AOC Champagne…)
However, if Big ‘C’ Champagne doesn’t figure into your budget, the wide range of more humble alternatives that can still add sparkle to your party may just surprise you.
Coming soon …
~ Tim Pawsey
*Article originally published at HiredBelly.com