Montreal, Canada’s French Canadian metropolis will this spring (June 6, 2012), and for the third consecutive year, be among those cities featured on the coveted list of North American destinations for Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri international wine fair, after San Francisco, New York, and Chicago.
In recent years, Montrealers have received worldwide attention for their growing knowledge of wines—a striking change for a population that a mere forty years ago was more accustomed to drinking beer and hard liquor. This revolution in tastes was in part spearheaded by an impressively high concentration of restaurants, a unique state-owned alcohol distribution network – the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ)-, and an increase in the number of talented wine stewards such as François Chartier (known for his work with Ferran Adrià and named the world’s 3th best sommelier in 1995) and enthusiastic journalists like Jacques Orhon (Premio Masi 2011).
The policies sought to promote ‘high-quality’ rather than ‘quantity’ drinking, implemented in the early 2000s by former SAQ General Manager, Gaëtan Frigon, paid off and dramatically changed the province’s alcohol consumption patterns. In 2009, wine consumption in Quebec eclipsed the Canadian average by 5 litres with an annual per capita consumption of 20.1 litres. Today, not only do the Quebecois consume a greater proportion of wine, they also purchase bottles in a much wider price range.
While French wines, traditional favourites of Quebec consumers, recently suffered from the fierce competition from wines from the ‘New World’, Italy, on the other hand, has been able to maintain, and even slightly increase, its market-share in Quebec. These encouraging results are mostly related to the Bel Paese’s many unique varieties of grapes and the high quality of its wines at all price points. As a result, in 2009, 2012 Italian products were listed at the SAQ, up from 1632 as late as the year 2006.
No wonder Italy fares well in Quebec. Taking 23% of the wine market (nearly one out of every four bottles), it places right behind France’s 30% market-share. Even in the rest of Canada, one notices similar results with Italian wines making up around 20% of all wine sales (one out of five bottles).
But, Quebec remains by far the biggest consumer of Italian wines in Canada; consuming 47% of all Italian wines, the province far exceeds others like Ontario (36.1%) and Alberta (10.5%).
Quebec’s love affair with Italian wines is attributed in part to its large Italian community and its many restaurants. Italian immigrants are usually among the most passionate promoters of Made-in-Italy; so, it is no wonder that Montreal, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago were selected for the event by the Gambero Rosso team, since these cities all carry a strong population of Italian decent.
Without the involvement and the passion of Moreno De Marchi (former owner of Latini restaurant, reputed to hold one of North America’s best Italian wine cellars), Gambero Rosso’s wine tasting event in Montreal would probably never happened. His self-confessed objective was to outdo the other Tre Bicchieri events held elsewhere in the world. The gamble seems to have paid off: in only five hours, the 700 wine lovers that took part in the first edition of the Montreal tasting managed to drink 3000 bottles, with a combined value of $170,000.
Last year’s success showed similar results and succeeded in elevating Tre Bicchieri as the most prestigious Italian wine fair in Canada. In addition, the event reiterated the SAQ’s status as a consummately professional operator, and an invaluable partner and organizer. The participating producers were also quite pleased by the turn out and impressed by the strong level of knowledge of participants, galvanizing Montreal’s well-deserved place on Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri’s international itinerary.
Sources : SAQ, Italian Trade Commission in Canada
Legend: Tre Bicchieri Montreal 2011, Bu Wine Bar, Latini Restaurant, Buonanotte restaurant