Controversial Quebec Wine Selections

montrealI just read a very provocative article in the Montreal, written by freelancer Bill Zacharkiw. He is ranting (not that there’s anything wrong with that) about a recent promotion by the SAQ, which is the government-operated wine/liquor monopoly in Quebec, Canada. The promotion seems to have been instigated by James Suckling, former Wine Spectator magazine columnist who has gone “freelance” with his own subscription-based wine blog/website.

Suckling has built quite a name for himself in the U.S., where his former publication has a big following among wine drinkers from beginners to geeks and collectors. But in Quebec, he’s relatively unknown. As Zacharkiw points out, there are many Canadian and European critics and wine educators who have had a substantial influence on the Quebec wine world. None of them were given the distinction that Suckling negotiated for himself: he tasted and rated 200 wines, and 50 that received 90 points or higher were released into SAQ stores. Suckling wasn’t paid for this work, but received publicity in return for himself and his subscription website.

Here’s Zacharkiw :

So what bugged me about this? Well, one is the lunacy of the 100-point scoring system for “judging” wines. The SAQ basing a promotion around this inane system simply lends it more credence. I have already written about the SAQ’s buying policy, which despite its insistence to the contrary, favours wines which have received these high scores from American-based magazines, whose taste profile I feel is out of whack with the Quebec reality.”

“Out of whack” is right. Magazines such as Wine Spectator have been dinged for favoring a rich, opulent style of wine — New World lushness, not Old World elegance. And Quebec, Canada is all about Old World elegance. Their food and wine heritage is decidedly European, and the wines Quebec wine drinkers would favor are likely not James Suckling’s 90-pointers.

I know this from personal experience. I spend a lot of time in Canada, and when I bring my big, lush California or Australian wines to the table, I inevitably hear, “Oh, that’s very intense.” And not in a good way.

To add insult to injury, Zacharkiw points out:

“What I found even more disappointing is that instead of giving all this free publicity to a local hero, they chose to give it to someone not only from outside of Quebec, but someone who is known to relatively few people.”

I’d have to agree with that, too. Canadians are rightly touchy about Americans parachuting in to show them how to do something they already do as well or better than the Americans. Suckling couldn’t have stepped in it any deeper if he’d tried.

We won’t get into the virtues or lunacy of the 100-point rating system. That’s a long argument that we can explore another day.

In the meantime, I’m gonna head up to Canada, read some of the local wine critics, and go taste some of their recommendations. Sounds like a fun project, don’t you think? Cheers…

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4 Responses to “Controversial Quebec Wine Selections”

  • What a great article. Very inspiring !!!

  • Good internet site! I thoroughly enjoyed your content …very nicely written.

  • I do understand why Zacharkiw isn’t happy but on the other hand, I think it’s great to see Canadian wines get some spotlight on the world stage. And true, no use debating the 100-point system. It’s like the movie rating system – it’s just one man’s or publication’s opinion. Lots of people love films that a critic hates; same with wine.


    • Thanks for your reply. I was also glad to see Quebec make the international wine press (I picked up the article from The article wasn’t specific, though, about which wines Suckling rated. Were they Canadian wines or just wines stocked by the SAQ? I’d be interested in knowing…
      As for the 100-point system — it’s how most of the wine world works now and I can’t ignore it because I have too many customers who live by it (I also own a wine shop).
      Thanks again, and Cheers!
      The WineLady

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