Montreal doesn’t lack for wine bars, but when you’re looking for a (couple) glass(es) of biodynamic, private import, natural, low-yield or organic wine from small-scale wineries, you could be looking at $10-$15 a glass. Pre-tax and pre-tip.
At Loïc in St-Henri – a rare exception – you can find something in the $8-$9 range and it’ll actually be great quality, but more often than not, it’s going to cost you more than your artisanal charcuterie platter or beef tartare – think Food Lab, Pullman, Philémon, Ludger and any of Montreal’s fine dining or casual restaurants with great lists: Vin Papillon, Toqué!, Accords, Club Chasse et Pêche and its children (Le Serpent, Le Filet), Boccata, Buvette Chez Simone, Furco, Chez Victoire (shout out to the Canadian bottles on the menu – a rarity in Quebec), Barroco, Junior, Nora Gray, etc.
How to Win With Wine Bars
But there’s a way to win with wine bars, to get more bang for your buck. This is going to be controversial, but if you drink half glasses at Le Rouge Gorge (2.5 oz instead of 4.5 oz for a glass), you can try a handful of wines and drink your fill for $10-$11 plus tip and tax.
Step 1: Order half glasses. At Le Rouge Gorge, you can get half glasses of anything offered by the glass. So if you (like me) are a taster not a drinker, you can ask to sample a couple whites before purchasing a half glass of your favourite. Your server might hate you for being either indecisive or cheap or just for making them go get different bottles, but he or she might be happy you’re exploring something new.
Step 2: Then try a few reds before ordering a half glass of one of those. The wine list is gorgeous, mostly small winemakers you’ve never heard of using sustainable or “raisonnable” farming and production methods, and the prices of the half glasses aren’t jacked up to make it worth ordering a full glass. The point here is to taste, to explore new wines.
Not Step 3: If you’re the type of person who always orders a second glass of the same thing, however, you’ll always be better off buying a reasonably priced bottle (or half bottle!). But please, taste!
I know the sommeliers out there are now up in arms, shouting, “The point of tasting a wine before ordering a glass is to make sure it’s not corked!” And it’s true that the point is not to see if you like the wine and to offer you something else if you don’t; rather, when a sommelier opens a bottle and pours a taste for the person who ordered it – or even pours a glass from an already open bottle – the point is to make sure the wine hasn’t gone “off,” aka hasn’t oxidized or experienced bottle shock or now tastes flat. All sorts of things can go wrong in bottling and transportation. That’s why the SAQ used to require that all the wines it sells have sulfites added, which many natural wines do not (I believe this might no longer be the case?). And that’s why private importation (through companies including Rézin, Oenopole and Syl-Vins) used to be the only way to get sulfite-free wines if you are allergic or extremely sensitive or just think they’re better for you.
How Does Such an Affordable Wine Bar Make Money?
Normally, they make it off all the suckers who order full glasses and full bottles. That’s not always true, though, because at Le Rouge Gorge that bottle of Achaia, Noir De Kalavryta from the Greek winery Domaine Tetramythos at $35 is the kind of restaurant deal you think you need to get while it’s hot – until you realize it’s less than $17 at the SAQ. Still, a markup of only double the price of the SAQ is not going topay most wine bar’s rent, especially not on Montreal’s Plateau where rent is high.
Usually at a restaurant you’re looking at three times the liquor store price, if the restaurant wants to make a profit. Rouge Gorge certainly has lots of more expensive options (bottles of Chateaunneuf du Pape and 1500mL magnums of Sancerre – the latter costing less than the former), which might actually be good deals for the money but certainly come with a bigger price tag, and there will always be people who think a more expensive bottle is better, but if you find a bottle of Alsatian Reisling that’s about a decade better than what you think drinking Alsace means (sweet, lychee Hugel, anyone?) and clocks in at $5.50 a half glass, order it.
Then spend your remaining $5.50 on a half glass of Côtes Du Roussillon Villages or 2010 Cahors from Lannac Saint Jean.
Or maybe, if you sample a couple wines and show you’re really into swirling and sipping and figuring out what things taste like, your sommelier/server will give you a taste of something off menu – something that he or she happens to have open, like the biodynamic 2006 Kick Ranch The Litigant red from Renard Vineyards in Sonoma, California, which you’ll then want to visit when you’re in the area this spring. Maybe that’s just me.
So, Again, How do they Make Money?
Happy customers = return customers. The upside of the location in the Plateau makes it a perfect neighbourhood wine bar, and if you don’t have to drop a fortune every time you come, you’ll want to come more often. The prices make it accessible, and accessible means well loved – just look at Buvette Chez Simone!
And most importantly, santé!
Le Rouge Gorge
1234 Avenue du Mont-Royal East, Montréal
Metro: Orange line – Mont-Royal
Hours: Daily 3pm-3am