Your experience of Europe is certainly different from mine or my friends'. One of said friends, in fact, is heading to his home town of Bésançon (population 220,000) this Friday and, as he does every visit, he'll be taking with him a few bottles of European wine purchased at the SAQ because his family there can't buy, for example, decent Chianti (his choice last visit).
As for the availability of some categories of wines you mention, saq.com currently lists 350 South American wines (113 Argentinean, 203 Chilean, 2 Peruvian, 31 Uruguayan and 1 Brazilian) and 77 South African wines. (These figures are approximate, since reserved bottles, lost bottles, bottles poured at staff tastings, etc., that haven't been removed from inventory are still listed and since a wine available in more than one vintage is listed as only the latest vintage.) There are 63 Riojas, a few more than "two random bottles" you claim. You're absolutely right about the current total lack of Cretan wines, though there are 53 wines from elsewhere in Greece. The Hungarian (15) and Austrian (20) situation is pretty dismal, I'll concede. And while New Zealand has only a less-than-inspiring 35 wines, the selection is constantly changing and the choice is far better than the five wines the monopoly stocked a couple of years ago.
That points to another issue: there's not -- or hasn't been -- a huge market here for New Zealand, German, Hungarian or even California wines. (US wines may gain in popularity if the prices drop due to the strong Canadian dollar, but don't hold your breath.) Part of the problem is a Catch-22 lack of exposure: the SAQ doesn't import many Austrian wines, so people aren't familiar with them, so there's not much demand for them, so the SAQ doesn't import many. I think the SAQ's monopoly status behooves it to be more educational, to stock wines that may not meet sales targets but that are representative of the world's production. That said, it's hard to blame them for not carrying stuff that doesn't sell.
"And, the main difference, in EU, if you can't find the wine you need in your local wine store, you just call another one."
The SAQ will do store-to-store transfers. This is useful, since some stores specialize in wines from certain regions: 900 Beaubien, for example, always has a broad selection of Italian wines, Jean-Talon Station one of the better assortments of Greek wine, etc. SAQ.com is your friend.
"And here, if it's not in SAQ, well, you have to fly for it to Europe or the US."
Not true. Individuals can buy wines from the so-called "private importers" (technically, they're agents, since the SAQ does the importing). I'd say a quarter to a third of my purchases for personal consumption are private imports these days. What's more, it's recently been made easier. You order the wine, giving the agent your address and telephone number and (assuming you're based in Montreal) specifying which of a half dozen or so outlets you want it delivered to. A week or two later, you get a call from the outlet telling you they've received the wine. You pick it up and pay at the cash. Not surprisingly, many agents now how websites that list their private imports.
"local wine prices (about 2-3 times more expensive then in EU) [...]"
Quite possibly. But not so for North America, though these kinds of comparisons are screwed up by the recent rise in the Canadian dollar vis-à-vis its U.S. counterpart. Case in point: I recently read a tasting note on Bruno Clair's wonderful 2005 Marsannay rosé from a guy in Minneapolis. He gave the price as US$25 (I assume that's before sales taxes, usually the case in the U.S.); the same wine sold here for around C$22. Yes, Ontario is often 5% or even 10% cheaper, especially at the low end, but other provinces (with the possible exception of Alberta) are usually more expensive.
"[...] but even more so by poor choice of wines."
Again, compared with the rest of North America and much of Europe, the choice is hardly poor, especially when private imports are taken into account. SAQ.com currently lists over 7,000 wines. Yes, the selection in NYC, Boston, D.C. Chicago, the San Francisco Bay area and possibly L.A. is broader. But compare what's available in Montreal with U.S. urban agglomerations of approximately the same size -- Dallas, say -- and it's clear we're hardly suffering. Yes, I'd love to put my hands on some Nikolaihof or Domaine de la Pépière wines. On the other hand, there are more interesting wines around than I have the budget to buy or would have the opportunity to drink. And as a regular drinker who regularly organizes tastings, I buy and drink a lot of wine.
"I think the system should be privatized and unregulated ASAP."
As a Montrealer, I'm not necessarily opposed to privatization. If I lived in Baie Comeau or Drummondville or Chibougamau, it'd be a different story. In any case the question's moot: the unions and hence the government would never stand for it.
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