Malcolm Jolley buys a couple cases of wine…

Over the past few months my wife and I had tried to tighten our belts. Nothing drastic, but we’d ask ourselves if we really needed something, or if some small luxury was really necessary. We weren’t forced into austerity by bad fortune. Quite the opposite, we had planned a big family trip to Rome and Naples over the kids’ March Break, and we wanted to save money to spend it in Italy. Needless to say, we didn’t end up maxing out our credit cards on the Via Condotti, and spent our holiday in self-isolation at home.

I’m not complaining. We’re lucky. We’re healthy, we’ll be financially okay, the kids are academically fine. The circumstances in this house are about as good as it gets these days. And yet, it’s still a little stressful, and as much as I admire the women and men who have spent the second half of this month in constant contact with their immediate families unmedicated, I can tell you that six o’clock in the evening has become a very important hour among some of us at this address. And yet, as sweet as that first sip of wine may be, it is tinged with the bitter thought that the women and men who worked to get to my house are having a hard go.

The end of restaurant wine service in Ontario (which has thankfully been somewhat relieved with the allowance of take-out booze) has been a dramatic blow to the business of wine agencies and local producers. Smaller operations, the ’boutiques’ that make or bring in some of the most interesting and delicious wines, are especially hard hit. Jamie reminded us last week in this post that the wineries and importers that support GFR (yes, there is some enlightened self-interest in this post) are ready to deliver wine to our doors, and I thought I’d take some of those “savings” from the missed trip to Italy and spend on a few cases of wine.

I don’t regularly buy wine by the case for a bunch of reasons. One is that I live half a block away from one of the province’s biggest liquor stores, and I like to browse and shop the shelves. I also like the instant gratification of buying a bottle and trying it later at dinner. I taste a lot of wine for work, though, so I know that there are some really great wines that can only be bought “on consignment” from agents. The trouble is, they tend to be a little more expensive. These are mostly targeted at restaurants, and sommeliers buy wine differently than punters. For one thing, to a restaurant, buying wine is a business expense, and an investment in a future profit. For another, there’s a special occasion (or dozens of them) in a restaurant every night, customers will pay more out than in. But even when consignment wines are comparable to what I might by at the LCBO’s Vintages (around $20 a bottle), there are added costs to buying wine by the case: shipping fees and HST. These days no one is charging for delivery, and who knows how long agents will have to charge HST. If there was ever a time to buy wine by the case this is it, I decided, and so far its been great.

I bought a case of 2016 Niagara Pinot Noir from a Good Food Fighter, that’s showing beautifully. And I bought a case of a red wine blend from Piedmont from a producer (represented by a Good Food Fighter agent) I’ve met there and here and really like. I paid a bit more for each than I would’ve if I was making a case up at the LCBO, but I am enjoying the wines that much more for the personal connection. Also, the cooking game in my house these days is strong. We’ve been going deep into the cookbooks and making some pretty delicious dinners: they deserve a fine wine. When were close to getting through them, I’ll order a case of something else. And maybe a save a bottle or two of each to drink when we’ve happily crossed over to the other side of the COVID-19.