Alcoholic rarities and delicacies

By Kyle Young

If you’re not quite satisfied by the large and in-depth exploration of Calgary’s bar scene, or if you simply prefer somewhere with a little more refinement, the Gauntlet has found the perfect place for you.

Hidden away under the old Alberta Hotel building on Stephen Ave. and 1st St. rests a somewhat unknown yet spectacular wine boutique, which is at once the most beautiful and least intimidating wine shop in all of Calgary.

Opened in late November 2001, The Cellar remains one of those obscure little jewels along Stephen Ave. Once inside, you bear witness to the exposed walls of a building named Alberta before the province. In fact, on the tasting bar you can still see the signature of the original carpenter from 1888.

"The visual aspect is definitely a large part of the ambiance," explains Sandra Neill, Vice-President and proprietor. "We tried to fuse the old-world look we’d been given to work with while adding a more modern finish."

Most of the woodwork throughout the store, including the tables and counter tops, is made of the original wood beams that were removed when the service elevator was installed.

More impressive than the design is the selection. With over 900 wines laid out by style, The Cellar offers a something for everyone.

"Everything we bring in here has to score at least 85 points from a reputable source," continues Neill. "That ensures that if you go out on a limb and try something new, you know that you’re getting a quality product."

The same principle applies not just to the wines, but also to the ports, spirits and beers. Boasting a selection of 102 ports and sherries, and around 80 whiskeys, The Cellar has far more to offer to the adventurous or refined drinker than simply wine, including a $122 Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila, which I’m told goes down like silk.

"Our goal is to offer quality across the board, so we didn’t limit ourselves to wines," Neill elaborates.

This also includes offering everything you’ll need to fully enjoy your wine, from the best glassware you can buy to corkscrews you’d sooner frame than use.

Management students should take note that a large portion of corporate Calgary shops here. Everyone from Chief Executive Officers to investment bankers to wealthy eccentrics.

"Our average clientele is the downtown business type, but plenty of tourists and suburbanites venture down all the time," says Sarah, one of the many friendly faces you’ll run into on the floor. "During the g8 we had a swarm of reporters down here, on top of the fact that we also provided ten bottles out of the rarities room to the delegate’s banquet."

Ten happy world leaders can’t be wrong.

Of course, the staff makes up the most important part of The Cellar experience. They can give you advice on everything from food pairings to cellaring.

"It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere here," states Al, another member of the helpful floor staff. "We try to avoid snobbery and pretentiousness."

"The staff is incredibly well trained," explains Neill. "We try to ensure that everyone that works here gets an accelerated education of the products we sell.

"Just about every week we have a meeting to go over a different style or aspect of wine, and we also have wine makers come in from all over the world and tell our staff about their products.

"It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it."

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