Recouping lost revenue wasn’t the only reason many of Canada’s finest restaurants began offering takeout wine after the pandemic-induced suspension of in-person dining. With more than 90 per cent of the world’s wines at their best after spending no more than one year in cellars — that’s right, it’s a myth that all wines improve with age — many upscale eateries simply needed to keep vintages moving lest they lose their lustre.
Of course, takeout sales of fine wines pale in comparison to what sommeliers select and pour in fully operational restaurants. The upshot of this two-year sales slowdown: many of the world-class wines stored in the magnificent restaurant cellars explored below have never been more available and accessible.
Barberian’s Steak House, Toronto
For oenophiles, it was worth waiting almost three years for this two-storey cellar to be completed. Crowned by a “magnum mezzanine” stocked with large-format wines, this downtown institution is home to more than 15,000 bottles covering 2,500 selections, with the 110-page “Cellar Collection” wine list featuring a double magnum of 2002 Giacomo Barolo Riserva Monfortino for $11,905, and a 1982 Château Pétrus for $16,215.
Post Hotel, Lake Louise, Alberta
Located in the famous mountain lake’s namesake village, the Post Hotel cellar has an inventory of more than 25,500 bottles, with the 2,300-plus selections including an $8,000 Château Pétrus 1989 and a $6,400 double magnum of Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia 2005. Similarly impressive is the fact that the Post Hotel has received Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since 2002.
Le Coureur des Bois, Beloeil, Quebec
Speaking of Grand Awards, Le Coureur des Bois is the first and only Quebec restaurant to earn three of them — in 2018, 2019, and 2020 — and has since added about 3,500 bottles to its 18,000-bottle cellar. Standouts include a 2002 magnum of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru Monopole priced at $18,900, and a six-litre Methuselah of 1995 Domaine Dujac priced at $7,200. Burgundies are especially well-represented in the stylishly-lit space, with the 4,700-label wine menu including 12 pages of whites and 20 pages of reds.
Opus Restaurant, Toronto
Ranked by Wine Spectator among the Top 100 wine restaurants in the world and earning Grand Awards every year since 1992, this Yorkville mainstay packs more than 52,000 bottles into its vast subterranean cellar. The 76-page wine list, meanwhile, spans about 2,300 labels, the priciest of which is a $60,000 magnum of 1961 Pétrus.
Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, B.C.
Slicing open a bottle of Champagne with a saber is something of a rite of passage in this vault-like space. While the Bearfoot Bistro’s 20,000-bottle collection is said to be the largest in Western Canada, there’s quality as well as quantity here: Eight vintages of Dom Pérignon, for instance, and 18 vintages of Château de Beaucastel. Pass the sabre, s’il vous plaît…
529 Wellington Steakhouse, Winnipeg
With a cellar containing 17,000-plus bottles spanning more than 700 selections, 529 Wellington truly deserves to be the only Manitoba-based winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Its 31-page wine menu lists several show-stoppers, including a Château Mouton Rothschild Pauillac for $3,100, and a magnum of 1995 Château Cheval Blanc Premières Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ for $3,190.
Via Allegro Ristorante, Etobicoke, Ontario
Via Allegro showcases wine in unique fashion by enclosing its 20,000-bottle cellar in glass and making it the focal point of an ornate dining room. The wine menu’s 5,000-plus options include more than 300 Canadian wines — said to be the most extensive list in the country — as well as 85 selections from France’s world-renowned Chateau Latour and, as befits an upscale Italian eatery, several hundred Amarones.
The Pointe Restaurant, Tofino, B.C.
Separated by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, the three recently refurbished rooms of the curvaceous Howard’s Wine Cellar are especially flush with French, Californian, and Italian wines, with the 46-page wine list also highlighting Canadian diversity with bubblies, Rieslings, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, and ice wines. Tastings typically take place around a 20-foot-long yellow cedar table in the middle of the 10,000-bottle cellar, with participants often proceeding to watch the drama of a Pacific storm unfold through the panoramic windows of the Pointe Restaurant in the luxurious Wickaninnish Inn.
Estérel Resort, Estérel, Quebec
Once the property of private collector Champlain Charest, this 20,000-bottle cellar now belongs to this contemporary lakeside resort in the Laurentian Hills north of Montreal. The cellar is especially flush with French wines, such as a $11,255 2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which represent more than a third of the 72-page list offered by the resort’s acclaimed Bistro à Champlain.
360 Restaurant, Toronto
At 351 metres above street level, the award-winning 360 Restaurant atop the CN Tower holds a Guinness World Record for housing the “world’s highest cellar.” Equipped with precision climate and humidity controls, redwood racks, double cherry doors, and a tasting table, the cellar was playfully designed to resemble an underground wine cellar — which is about as far from reality as one can get. It may not be quite as roomy or as well-stocked as the other cellars on this list, but with 9,000 bottles and 500-plus selections, restaurant guests will have no trouble savouring the high life here.
All photos courtesy of restaurants.