A Wine Lover’s Guide to Montreal

Dusk street scene from Old Montreal
Old Montreal / Getty

It may be just 39 miles from the U.S. border, but with its French-speaking populace, cobbled streets and cosmopolitan culture, Montreal feels worlds away. Home to more than 6,000 restaurants and iconic fare like poutine and smoked meat, it’s considered Canada’s premier food city. Despite a dearth of independent wine shops due to Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), Quebec’s liquor retail system, Montreal’s growing wine scene, which champions natural wine, only helps to establish the city’s distinctive culture.

“Montreal has become a natural-wine lover’s city,” says Martin Juneau, co-owner of Cul-Sec, a wine bar in the city’s La Petite-Patrie neighborhood. “The movement is bigger than it ever was before, and it’s only continuing to grow. There is no serious wine list in town right now without natural wine on it in some fashion.”

Lindsay Brennan of Alma, a Catalan-inspired restaurant in Outremont, agrees.

“In the last few years especially, we have seen natural wine dominate the top wine lists in Montreal, and the amount of private importation companies that are focusing on natural wine has multiplied rapidly,” says Brennan, who has founded her own importing company, Vin i Vida. “The access to natural wine is at its peak, and diners are not only open to discovering it, they are readily seeking it out.”

Just one of those importers, Julie Audette of Le Vin dans les Voiles, has seen firsthand the growing demand for rare and offbeat wines. “There has definitely been a shift in the scene and an increased interest and curiosity from the general public in natural wines and conscious drinking,” she says. “In almost 10 years of being in the natural wine business, I have never seen such an enthusiasm.”

Montreal’s proximity to Canada’s Eastern Townships, a rural region with more than 20 wineries and sprawling hillside views, offers another way to get a taste of natural winemaking. Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, a 37-year-old winery along the Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route, was a pioneer in natural winemaking for the area.

“Montrealers are seeking more and more local wines, and our industry is growing because of it,” says Edith Ducharme, marketing director at Vignoble de l’Orpailleur. “The volume and quality of Quebec wine is improving every year. We truly believe the industry is experiencing a historic moment.”

Three dishes with two glasses of white wine and a bottle of La Bestia wine
Alma’s wine list focuses on organic and biodynamic wine. / Photo by The SAV Collective

Wine Bars

Cul-Sec

This wine bar gained its reputation for thoughtfully selected pours from small producers in the natural wine movement. Such choices include the Domaine la Bohème Festejar sparkling rosé, Pierre Cotton Brouilly and wines from Abruzzo’s Cantina Indigeno or Catalonia’s Sicus. While you can purchase wines for home, open them onsite to enjoy alongside dishes like bovine tartare, pork ravioli and smoked salmon cakes. Come on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when $1 oysters pair up well with a variety of bubbly options.

Pullman

Knowledgeable wine drinkers will do well to visit this downtown destination, where about 600 bottles are available from France, Italy and major New World countries, but also regions like Israel, Georgia and Slovakia. When it opened in 2004, Pullman was considered Montreal’s first wine bar. In the years since, guests have enjoyed the guidance of a seasoned sommelier team for an array of crowd-pleasing plates like bison sliders, Port-steeped Cheddar grilled cheese and cinnamon churros. To try a few of the venue’s many daily offerings, opt for a themed tasting trio or visit on Sundays, when all bottles are half-off.

Vin Papillon

Sister venue to acclaimed restaurant Joe Beef, this wine bar in Little Burgundy focuses on organic and biodynamic wines in a relaxed, bistro-style setting. Marc-Olivier Frappier’s menu highlights vegetable-focused small plates, and a list of more than 300 wines includes careful choices in the organic and biodynamic categories. Ask about the “off-list” menu, a private selection of rare bottles available upon request.

Rose gold, marble and wood bar with a glass background
The bar at Marcus / Photo by Don Riddle

Restaurants with Great Wine Lists

Alep

This Little Italy restaurant has garnered crowds since 1976 for its Syrian and Armenian cuisine, showcased in flavor-packed plates like falafel, kebabs and moussaka. The wine list is just as intriguing and far-reaching. More than 250 selections are available by the bottle and spotlight countries like Armenia, Slovenia and Serbia.

Alma

After she traveled through Catalonia and worked in several of its vineyards, Alma sommelier Lindsay Brennan realized there was limited access to these wines in Canada. She created a portfolio of natural winemakers from the region whose wines she now imports. The list of organic and biodynamic wines is nearly exclusive to the restaurant. The selections inspire much of Juan Lopez Luna’s Spanish-centric dishes, from Cantabrian anchovies with housemade butter and toast, to grilled octopus with patatas bravas.

Marcus

Well-heeled diners flock to this recently opened restaurant, situated in the new Four Seasons Hotel. It’s the first Canadian outpost for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who intends to make a splash with seafood-driven starters likes sashimi, oysters and tartares. Fear not, land lovers. Lamb chops and steak are also available.

Head sommelier Gabriel Bélanger has curated a selection of more than 300 bottlings, 80% of which are organic. While some of the wine is purchased via SAQ the majority of the list is acquired through private importers. This allows Bélanger to land more rare Bordeaux and Tuscany back vintages than ever before. (Hint: Looking for something special? Just ask.)

Restaurant in an old brick warehouse structure
Grumman 78 / Photo by Mickaël A. Bandassak

Foxy

Book ahead at this cozy Griffintown spot, where hip Quebecers gather for seasonally-driven plates cooked over an Argentinian grill and in a wood-burning oven. Dishes include grilled honey and mustard sausage, wood oven-roasted lobster and ember-roasted mushroom flatbread. Sommelier Kaitlin Doucette forges a list of about 180 bottles from around the globe with a focus on small producers and terroir-oriented options, from Giovanni Canonica’s 2015 Grinzane Barolo to Gérard Schueller’s 1996 Réserve Pinot Gris from Alsace.

A Whisky Lover’s Guide to Montreal

Grumman 78

Originally a mobile locker room for the Hemmingford fire department, Grumman 78 is a food truck turned restaurant that’s gained a following over the past decade for its chill ambiance and upscale takes on street food. Don’t let the low-key, former garage environs fool you. Wine director Hilary McGown put much thought into this 100-plus list that rewards those who seek a bit of fun in the pairing experience. “We encourage our guests to try their Chablis-Burgundy-Barolo with a piece of fried chicken and to enjoy it in a Riedel Ouverture, while they’re at it,” she says. Be sure to visit on Sundays, when all wines are 40% off.

Lush flat vineyards with barn structures in background
Vignoble de l’Orpailleur / Photo courtesy of Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est

Local Wineries

Domaine Bergeville

For 12 years, Marc Théberge and Eve Rainville spanned the globe and visited vineyards until they determined a winemaking approach they could employ in Quebec. Their focus: an organic and biodynamic vineyard that could produce traditional-method sparkling wines. The result is Domaine Bergeville, which crafts sparkling wines from grapes that thrive in Quebec’s cool climate, like Frontenac, St. Pepin and L’Acadie Blanc. Sip through the portfolio Wednesdays through Sundays during the summer and fall, and explore the tasting room and idyllic property, complete with a gazebo and pond. Groups of four or more can book a guided tour, which provides a tasting experience and in-depth look at how the winery grows varieties like Frontenac Noir, Frontenac Gris, Radisson and Marquette.

Vignoble de l’Orpailleur

An hour east of Montreal, the Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route spans 85 miles and 23 wineries, including one of the region’s most historic: Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, founded in 1982. Fourteen years later, it became one of the area’s first operations to embrace sustainable winemaking, and has produced nearly a dozen selections that include an award-winning Icewine. Plan to stay a while: Activities range from the tasting room and full restaurant to sabering classes and helicopter experiences.

Vignoble Rivière du Chêne

This winery spans 90 acres in Saint-Eustache, a town in the Lower Laurentians that’s 20 miles from downtown Montreal. Those vineyards yield more than 200,000 bottles per year, which break down into 19 award-winning red, white, rosé and Icewines. Daily through mid-October, the winery welcomes guests for guided tours complete with a five-pour tasting. For those with more of an independent streak, assemble a picnic at the vineyard shop and head to the property’s pergola, where panoramic vineyard views await.

Published on August 29, 2019
Topics: Travel


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