My latest wine story in the newly-minted Edify Magazine talks about the changes that local restaurants are making in light of the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 lockdown/shutdown and subsequent restrictive re-opening. Scroll down for the link.
The TL;DR is that restaurants all benefited greatly from the AGLC’s legislation change to allow liquor sales with delivery/pickup orders, and most places are scaling their wine lists back to some degree.
There were so many other angles to this story that I simply couldn’t explore due to word count restrictions. For example, wine menus now have to be either single-use disposable paper lists, laminated lists that can be disinfected between guests, or written on a central chalkboard or something similar. You can’t reuse lists like in the past, which is something that Caitlin Fulton from RGE RD told me “hurt [her] soul” a bit because she had just invested in beautiful embossed leather wine booklets right before COVID hit. Now they have to use laminated menus, à la Denny’s. This might seem like an insignificant change, but it serves as a subtly pernicious reminder that things are still not at all normal. (As if the masked faces everywhere didn’t do that already.)
Another unusual thing that I couldn’t explore too much in the story was the phenomenon of people drinking surprisingly good bottles of wine, for no reason other than simple pleasure. Both Caitlin of RGE RD and Patrick Saurette of The Marc have noticed this, and gave stories of people ordering fancy Brunello or Burgundy on a random Tuesday. This makes a lot of sense to me, though – many people, who would normally spend money dining out frequently and/or travelling, have cash to spare. Plus, there’s something to be said for celebrating just making it through another day.
Another item that I only briefly mentioned in the story is that there seems to be less appetite for taking a risk on really “out there” bottles. After this story came out, I got an email from Rob Filipchuk, owner of The Glass Monkey. As a side note, Rob was my former boss way back when I started my career in the wine industry at Cristall’s Wine Market, which he used to own. (Cristall’s no longer exists as Rob sold it a couple years after I left; it’s currently a Liquor Depot.)
Rob mentioned that he thought it was interesting that some places are scaling back their wine lists and taking less risks, and said that at his restaurant they think it’s important to continue offering a “large, diverse and interesting list, especially as we welcome our guests back to a dine-in experience.” He’s not wrong, and I think most (if not all) wine-centric places will continue following the same philosophy they always have, which is invariably a focus on interesting, good-value wines.
However, I also think we will see a reduction in really bizarre or unusual wines (not that there was a lot of those out there anyway), like super funky natural wines or bottles from obscure regions. Mike Angus at Pip mentioned that they’ve had a big focus on natural wine for a long time, but COVID forced them “to reconsider [their] customer’s appetite for expensive, weird wine.”
On a personal level, I’ve been sticking with the comfort of familiar, tried-and-true favourites for a while now. I still force myself to try something new every now and again, but These Unprecedented Times™ certainly have me seeking whatever comfort I can find. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
Anyway, give the story a read and let me know what you think!