Alberta is squandering the benefits of privatization

By / Magazine / October 2nd, 2018 / 8
Alberta privatization

I received an email recently that made me sad, angry and frustrated. It was the list of the 20 top selling wines in Alberta.

I’m not naïve. I knew that the list would (and it did) contain a plethora of the sugar-laden, manufactured soda pop wines flogged by every liquor chain, corner liquor store, pseudo wine shop, banquet facility and most chain (and too many independent) restaurants. The list, though, represents something worse. The list sends a message that Albertans are squandering the benefits of privatization.

Alberta changed its liquor industry in 1993 with both the importation and retailing of alcohol becoming the domain of the private sector. But the list of the top selling wines shows that the selection in Alberta may be no better than in the liquor board dominated provinces across Canada. I don’t blame the consumer for this. Full responsibility is on the shoulders of the wine industry. We are our own worst enemy for perpetuating the sale of these sugar-laden wines that pretend to be dry. It’s not the consumer who asked the industry to create Apothic and Bodacious Smooth Red. It is the industry that drives their growth.

As I have written and stated on numerous occasions, the issue is about transparency and quality.

I firmly believe that wine labels should include nutritional information, the amount of residual sugar in particular. While labelling requirements are the domain of the federal government, both the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) and Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) now include information on a wine’s sugar content on their websites.

The significance of this cannot be overstated, particularly with the popularity and proliferation of sweet red wines. Even if we ignore for a moment the discussion of whether these wines serve a valid purpose (personally and professionally, I don’t believe that they do), the issue is about transparency and the consumer having ready access to accurate information about the wines they are drinking. With the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in our society, the amount of sugar we consume should be a significant concern.

I have had numerous consumers tell me that if they knew the amount of sugar contained in some of these wines, they would not drink them. Conversely, if the actual sugar content was readily available and consumers still chose to consume these wines, that would be their prerogative. The issue (and I will say it over and over again) is transparency and truth in labelling.

According to European Union standards, a wine is considered dry if it possesses not more than four grams per litre of residual sugar (the equivalent of one teaspoon).

Although now includes a category to list sugar content, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) has not mandated importers to list sugar levels or even established that the sugar levels must be accurate (i.e., truthful). The sugar content for Apothic Red, for example, is listed as “n/a”. So, I sourced it from the LCBO and SAQ websites.

The top 20 list for Alberta reads like a sugar lover’s dream (or coma inducing nightmare):

  • Apothic Red 17 grams/litre of residual sugar
  • Bodacious Smooth Red 25 g/l
  • Apothic White 19g/l
  • Barefoot Moscato 65 g/l
  • Yellow Tail Shiraz 10 g/l… and the list goes on.

We are all more concerned with the origins and ingredients of the food we consume. Shouldn’t that concern extend to the wines we drink?

As an industry, it’s time we took greater responsibility for the wines we offer and recommend to consumers. As consumers, it’s time we take greater responsibility for the wines we consume and the wine producers we support.

It’s time Albertans truly took advantage of privatization by asking that ALL retail shelves and restaurant wine lists be filled with great quality wines from around the world. Price is not a barrier. Don’t just do it for your pocket book. Do it for your health (physical, emotional and psychological).

As a point of comparison to the wines listed above, I’ve listed some great value, great quality wines below that retail for less than $20 along with the residual sugar levels (sourced either directly from the wineries or from liquor boards that make this information available).


Protea Chenin Blanc 2017, Coastal Region, South Africa (< 5 g/l; $17)

Fresh aromas and flavours of citrus and stone fruits with nice texture on the palate, a crisp, tangy vibrancy and lively acidity on the finish.

La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Curico, Chile (4 g/l; $15)

Clean and fresh with lemon, tropical fruit and a refreshing minerality.

Tenuta Sant’Anna Bianco di Lison Pramaggiore 2017, Veneto, Italy (3.8 g/l; $16)

Bright and floral with melon and fresh herbs on the nose and a hint of blanched almond on the finish. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Tai.

Marotti Campi Albiano Verdicchio 2016, Marche, Italy (1.4 g/l; $18)

Floral with bright peach, green apple and mineral notes, fresh, fruity and lifted.

Don Aurelio Verdejo 2016, Valdepeñas, Spain (4 g/l; $16)

Tropical fruit, floral and citrus character with a full mid-palate and persistent juicy acidity.

El Petit Bonhomme Blanco 2017, Rueda, Spain (2.5 g/l; $17)

A fun, fresh quaffer with peach, mango and nectarine flavours, hints of almonds, soft, round texture, a pleasing minerality and a clean finish.


Navarro Lopez Old Vines Tempranillo Pergolas 2014, Valdepeñas, Spain (1.8 g/l; $14)

Balanced and expressive, offering bright flavours of cherry, vanilla and a hint of earth and spice with a soft texture and lively finish.

Navarro Lopez Rojo Tempranillo 2015, Valdepeñas, Spain (3.9 g/l; $15)

Intense aromas of red and black fruit, elegant and fresh with a firm backbone and a lingering, slightly earthy finish.

Altos las Hormigas Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (1.8 g/l; $18)

Fresh and lively with bright, exuberant fruity flavours of raspberry, red currant and cherry, spice, juicy tannins, earthy minerality and lively acidity on the lifted finish.

Punto Final Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (2 g/l; $16)

Juicy and bright with red currants, blackberries and plums, pepper and spice and soft tannins.

Don Rodolfo Tannat 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (2.25 g/l; $16)

Dark and brawny with grippy tannins, lots of blackberry and dark cherry flavours with an intriguing edginess finishing big, but juicy.

Tenuta Sant’Anna Rosso di Lison Pramaggiore 2016, Veneto, Italy (3.4 g/l; $16)

Vinous and fresh, juicy acidity, cherries, currants, plums, fresh herbs and a bright finish. A blend of Merlot and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso.

De Angelis Rosso Piceno 2016, Marche, Italy (1.8 g/l; $16)

Youthful and fresh with bright cherry aromas and flavours, meaty and smoky, juicy tannins and a pleasing edginess.

El Petit Bonhomme 2017, Jumilla, Spain (2.4 g/l; $17)

Rich with cherry, spice, plums, dried herbs; full but soft tannins and balanced. A blend of Monastrell, Garnacha and Syrah.

Protea Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Coastal Region, South Africa (< 5 g/l; $17)

Juicy blackberry and spice with soft, supple tannins and a fruity, bright finish.


Editor-in-chief for Quench Magazine, Gurvinder Bhatia left a career practising law to pursue his passion for wine and food. Gurvinder is also the wine columnist for Global Television Edmonton, an international wine judge and the president of Vinomania Consulting. Gurvinder was the owner/founder of Vinomania wine boutique for over 20 years (opened in 1995, closed in 2016) which was recognized on numerous occasions as one of the 20 best wine stores in Canada. Gurvinder was the wine columnist for CBC Radio for 11 years and is certified by Vinitaly International in Verona Italy as an Italian Wine Expert, one of only 15 people currently in the world to have earned the designation. In 2015, Gurvinder was named by Alberta Venture Magazine as one of Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People. He is frequently asked to speak locally, nationally and internationally on a broad range of topics focussing on wine, food, business and community.

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