Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – August 6, 2016
While We Summer Snooze Ontario’s Wine World is A-Changing
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel
It’s August. The wine industry in the Northern Hemisphere goes into summer slumber, awaiting the harvest in September. (Maybe even before Labour Day in Niagara if this heat keeps up). But this is the most active, change-filled summer I can remember, especially right here in Ontario. And it’s all being generated by the LCBO, or at least within the LCBO as it pushes forward to expand selection and shopping convenience – en route to the arrival of wine in the first 70 supermarkets by the end of October.
I will get to our dozen picks from the August 6 release in just a moment, but first an update for those of you who might have missed current events while jumping off of docks or paddling in Algonquin Park.
For starters, the LCBO has soft launched a game-changing on-line ordering and direct delivery e-commerce site at LCBO.com. You can now go on line and punch up an order ($50 minimum) to be delivered via Canada Post to your address ($12 fee), or to the LCBO store of your choosing (no fee). Delivery times vary depending on what you order and where you direct it to be shipped (within Ontario only).
There are 5,000 brands listed now, including most on-shelf general list and VINTAGES items, plus several hundred not in stores that can unfortunately only be purchased by the case (with much longer delivery times). Into 2017 the LCBO is promising, projecting and/or presuming 16,000 brands, which is more like the selection in any major private market in the world.
This will include an open selection of BC, Quebec and Ontario wines, thanks to an agreement signed by Ontario, BC and Quebec in Yellowknife in July, to allow shipping of each others wines between the provinces. Details are scarce, and those BC wines are not yet listed on the site.
I also draw your attention to the fact that the LCBO continues its vastly under-promoted program of creating ‘destination stores’ for wines of various countries. These locations carry all General List and VINTAGES listings from the ‘destination’ country, plus selections from the Consignment Warehouse, from which importing agents supply restaurants. These extra wines now also appear on LCBO.com
Last weekend the Australian store opened in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto (Laird and Eglinton East). To recap other openings: Greece on the Danforth, Spain at Bloor and Royal York, Portugal at Keele and St. Clair, New Zealand on Avenue Rd north of Lawrence, Argentina in Aurora and Chile on Erin Mills Parkway in Mississauga. And South Africa comes to Pickering in September.
This is a great idea – fostered by the LCBOs George Soleas before he became CEO – that moves us ever closer to a private model, where specialization is key. The lack of promotional enthusiasm from the LCBO and countries involved so far is mind-boggling. It’s like no one knows what to do with it, somehow paralyzed by lack of precedent.
Anyway, here are some picks from John, Michael and I from the August 6th release. John also picked some of his favourites in a preview last week.
Colli di Lapio 2014 Fiano di Avellino, Campania, Italy ($30.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an exceptional example of Fiano from the small village in Avellino – Lapio – where the grape is believed to originate, and in any case the origin of some of the appellation’s best and most age worthy wines, from volcanic ash-sprinkled soils. I’d rate Romano Clelia as one of the finest vignerons in the region, and this is clearly made with care and ambition, very ripe and smoky, dense and concentrated, with a fine amalgam of orchard and tropical fruit, lightly salty. Length and depth are exceptional. Drink, or better yet hold another 2-3 years to experience the full development of minerality.
Michael Godel – Pitch near-perfect seafood companion from Campania, briny, stony, rock crag-crunchy and oyster shell myopic. Fiano that gets to the crux of its own austerity is a beautiful thing as witnessed in the pure open vitality of this Colli di Lapio.
Thorn Clarke 2015 Eden Trail Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Represents arid riesling from Eden for all the right reasons and succeeds without compromise. Tremendous entry-level value offering a similar level of quality as do the single-vineyard and special selection courtesan kind from the Eden Valley.
Wither Hills 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Consistently one of my favourite NZSB styles – this slender, crisp but intensely flavoured sauvignon does a nice job of balancing passion fruit ripeness with flecks of fresh dill, asparagus tip and green pepper. It has a leaner, more compact feel than many. Great summer quencher.
Domaine Lafage 2014 Cadireta Blanc, Côtes Catalanes, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a tidy little value from this perennial good value operation in southern France. Predominantly chardonnay, it’s is a lovely, floral, sweet lemon-citrus scented white blend, remarkably fresh and refined, with no wood influence.
Château Gassier 2015 Le Pas Du Moine Rosé, Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – One of the finest roses of the summer in my books. It is a very pale silver-pink, dry Provencal style with a subtle, lovely nose of saffron, pink grapefruit, crab-apple jam and faded roses. It has more weight and viscosity than the colour suggests. Classy stuff.
La Cadierenne 2015 Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé, Provence, France ($20.95)
Michael Godel – Boozy (listed at 14 per cent) and beautifully balanced Bandol with terrific mouthfeel and elongation. Built on a slow developed variegation of flavour in a pink tonic that is perfect for your summer health.
Moraine 2014 Cliffhanger Red, Okanagan Valley. B.C. ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This silver medalist from the National Wine Awards of Canada is a malbec/merlot blend from a single vineyard on the Naramata Bench. I have tasted several Moraine wines this summer and like their energy. It has quite lifted floral, almost geranium like nose thanks to the malbec with lilac/violet, some oak spice, chocolate and herbs. Quite delicious and not heavy.
Mullineux Wines 2014 Kloof Street Red, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – A six varietal blend led by shiraz, with bits of grenache, mourvedre, tinto barocca and cinsault. Chris and Andrea Mullineux are here represented at modern South Africa, Swartland Revolution, ground level with pure, unadulterated red wine joy. Everyone must spend $20 over and over to enjoy what this will offer.
Vignoble Des Robinières 2012 l’Alouette Bourgueil, Loire Valley ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This mid-weight cabernet franc has a very lifted, woodsy/leafy nose with juicy blackcurrant, red peppers and evergreen notes. Very countryside fresh and authentic. It’s quite tart-edged and dry but juicy generosity floods the palate.
Monte Del Frá 2013 Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($20.95)
John Szabo – Monte del Frà makes an exemplary version of ripasso, not exaggeratedly raisined, but rather focused on the vibrant fruit that Valpolicella does as well as any in Italy. This is bright, spicy, balanced and still very fresh, and silky smooth – a really pleasant, succulent wine.
Damilano 2011 Le Cinque Vigne, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($46.95)
David Lawrason – This a compelling, engaging Barolo combining elegance, charm (not often said of Barolo) and structure. It’s mid-weight, even and quite fine, with excellent length. It should live a decade with ease, and you don’t have to wait all that long to enjoy it. Start in 2018.
Bodegas Balbas 2006 Ardal Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This mature blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon shows a quite fragrant rich nose of black cherry nicely fitted with damp wood, coconut, vanillin, licorice and herbs. There is life and energy here, especially for its age and price. Ready to roll.
Torres 2013 Cos Perpetual, Priorat, Spain ($49.95)
John Szabo – I think the (regular) Torres Salmos Priorat is exceptional, but this recent flagship bottling, made “in homage to the old ‘vinos de guarda’, wines capable of defeating time” is in another league. A blend of old vines cariñena and garnacha from both terraced vineyards on slate soils and more coastal-influenced sites, it’s exceptionally dense, rich and ripe in the regional idiom. Yet it retains a sense of balance and even elegance, if such a thing can be said of such a powerful wine, and 15%+ alcohol is worn surprisingly well, buoyed by genuine acids and firm, honest and grippy tannins. Hold for another 2-4 years at least for a more mature expression, or leave in the cellar until the late-twenties, as was the intention.
And on that uplifting note we leave you for another week. I will be authoring the first report on the August 23 release next Friday. Enjoy the dead of summer.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks in our New Releases: