VINTAGES Review – May 25th

Ontario Needs a Broader and Bigger Wine Selection

By David Lawrason

This week I attended two large European tastings in Toronto and focused on white wines.

At a glitzy Spanish tasting Tuesday evening at Patria on King St West I was tasting white wines because the Rueda DO (appellation) only makes whites, from a grape called Verdejo, with Sauvignon Blanc also authorized. I really like Rueda whites because they have NZ sauvignon-like energy, brightness and refreshment, with a tropical passion fruit twist. Great warm weather fare at very fair prices.

But very few of the 35 wines poured this night are, or ever will be, available at the LCBO.

Argentina Masterclass-in-a-box 

On Monday I attended the annual Gambero Rosso trade tasting of wines that succeed at Italy’s most important domestic wine awards. As it was a gorgeous spring day I felt like focusing on white wines, and besides, one can’t do everything well in three hours at these huge events.

From north to south in Italy, I tried fine Sauvignon, Friulano and Pinot Grigio from Collio in the far northeast. I tried rare Manzone and excellent Lugana from Veneto, Pecorino from Marche, Malvasia from Roma (yes Rome), Bellone from Lazio, several Falanghina from Campania, and Grillo and Etna Bianco from Sicily. Most were absolutely delicious, pure, unoaked whites at very reasonable prices.

But very few of the dozens of wines presented are, or ever will, be available at the LCBO.

I have been attending tastings like this for over thirty years in Ontario, and it is always the same refrain. Not available at the LCBO!  And Ontario consumers nod sheepishly, bleat ineffectively amongst each other and go on to taste the next wine that they can’t buy at their local store.

I so sympathize with the importers and Canadian winemakers who keep turning up at these events and beating their heads against the wall. Despite it’s puffed up sense of self the LCBO’s selection on a given day is really only as big as the shelf space in its largest store.  It simply cannot handle the massive amount that is available.  And sorry, but On Line availability does not yet count to most Ontario wine lovers.

In terms of wine selection Ontario is one of the most underserviced sophisticated wine markets on the planet. I have 30 years of experience of tasting LCBO offerings, and countless travels to dozens of countries with private retail systems that work, to back up my assertion.

The Case for Change: Increasing Choice and Expanding Opportunity in Ontario’s Alcohol Sector

Recommendation Number 3

While I was tasting this week, the Ford government was busy releasing recommendations for the overhaul of beverage alcohol retailing in Ontario – laying the groundwork to re-tool 90 years of the way we have been doing things here. An appointee named Ken Hughes, who is Ontario’s Special Advisor for the Beverage Alcohol Review (and was in Alberta government when that province privatized), has presented nine recommendations for the future of beverage alcohol industry in Ontario.

Like most Ford policy announcements of late it seems hastily conceived (Hughes was appointed in late March) and either annoyingly or wonderfully vague, depending on your point of view. The recommendations are broad enough to allow all kinds of possibilities, and vague enough to blunt criticism on any particular point.  It is a politically motivated trial balloon. You can read the full report here:

But I would like to focus – in this discussion – on Recommendation #3.  “Take a phased approach toward authorizing new retailers and beverage alcohol products available for sale”

I am very much in favour of broader retailing of wine, beer and spirits, through all outlets –  grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, big box stores and private independent alcohol specialists. Each will serve its own clientele – just as any other retailers of other commodities do. It can and will be by and large responsibly done, as it is responsibly done in most places on Earth.

But what is not being said loudly enough in this process is that the LCBO must not remain in a position that makes it the sole selector and/or buyer of wines available in this province.  And item #3 seems to address this concern.  Private retailers must be able to select and buy the products they want to sell – even if they pass through an LCBO/government distribution facility.  Only then will Ontario start to experience the selection the rest of the world enjoys.

I want to be able to buy Bellone from Lazio, or a fine Spanish Rueda aged on its lees, or nifty Prince Edward County Chardonnay or Vancouver Island Pinot Noir from any retailer who wants to sell it to me, even if there is only one specialist in all of Ontario for each of these wine styles.  I would love to see a store specializing in fine European whites at retail and online. I would be lined-up on opening day, as Ontarians have already done for marijuana.

This idea of choice and selection seems to me to be the whole point of the Ford government’s initiatives in this area. I know revenue is important too, but there is no way government of any political stripe is going to forgo revenues on alcohol.  And I am okay with necessary alcohol taxation going to serve social needs. But that doesn’t mean the LCBO needs to control which brands we drink!

Meanwhile, here are some additional recommendations from Vintages May 25 release. Yes, there are some good wines here. But how many more might I be recommending if the selection was not restricted to one retailer

VINTAGES Review May 25th – Whites and Rose

Tyrrell’s Semillon 2017, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia ($28.95)
Tyrrell’s is one the classic producers of the Hunter Valley, and age-worthy semillon is one of their calling cards. This is an excellent example! It is medium weight, taut, dry and grippy with mouth-watering acidity and wet stone on the finish.

Feudo Antico Biologico Pecorino 2017, Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy  ($15.95)
This is a quite fine, organically produced pecorino from Italy’s Adriatic coast. It is mid-weight, lively and a touch spritzed, with a bitter lemon pith finish. The energy and length are very good, especially at $15.

Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2018, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
This is a really lovely, refined yet generous and always underrated white with lifted sub-tropical and citrus aromas. It is slender, fine and nicely intense. Sauvignon fans will approve.

Moulin De Gassac Classic 2018, Pays D’Hérault , Languedoc, France  ($12.95)
What a great buy!  There is an interesting backstory to this wine in my review, but what you need to know is that it is a spiffy little tropical white. It is medium weight, nicely lively and tensile.


Tyrrell's Hunter Valley Series Semillon 2017, Hunter Valley, New South Wales  Feudo Antico Biologico Pecorino 2017, Igp Terre Di Chieti  Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2018, Doc  Moulin De Gassac Classic 2018, Igp Pays D'hérault

Beauvignac Picpoul De Pinet 2018, Languedoc, France ($14.95)
Picpoul de Pinet is both a variety and an appellation centred on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France. It’s local usage and culture is intertwined with oyster farming off shore. Muscadet of the Mediterranean. It is a light to medium bodied, fresh white with simple aromas of yellow apple, grapefruit and subtle florals.

Balthasar Ress Hallgarten Riesling 2016, Rheingau, Germany ($19.95)
This dry, fine summery, garden riesling shows a classic, well-integrated nose of peach, gentle spice and honey notes. It is light bodied, fresh, firm and lively with very good flavour intensity.

Waterkloof Circle of Life 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
A bit of bomb! It is rich, rounded and powerful blend of sauvignon and chenin blanc that has seen some oak. Expect generous, ripe melon, avocado, lime fruit aromas with considerable toast.

La Crema Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, Monterey County, California ($27.95)
Nice to see California attempting serious dry rose instead of gummy sweeter versions of White Zinfandel. This is a mid-weight, fresh indeed almost lean edition from cooler Monterey-grown pinot noir.  Pricey but well done.

Beauvignac Picpoul De Pinet 2018, Ap Balthasar Ress Hallgarten Riesling 2016, Rheingau   Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2015, Wo Stellenbosch  La Crema Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, Monterey County

VINTAGES Review May 25th Reds

Leonardo Rosso 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($14.95)
Cantine Leonardo da Vinci extols all things Leonardo, who apparently took an interest in viticulture and winemaking throughout his life. This is a very drinkable, smooth yet fresh Tuscan red sour cherry/tomato sangiovese and well integrated barrel spice and leafy/herbal notes. House Tuscan.

Rockcliffe Third Reef Pinot Noir 2017, Great Southern, Western Australia  ($18.95).
From the farthest southwestern point of Australia, this offers some cool clime pinot cran-cherry fruit aroma with mint/menthol and nicely managed oak toast. It is mid-weight, fairly rounded, smooth and richly fruited.

Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2017, Barossa, South Australia  ($21.95)
This deeply coloured, hefty red shows generous, typical Barossa shiraz aromatics of cassis, black plum, menthol, moss and American oak vanillin and wood char. It is full bodied, thick, soft and sweet edged but avoids confection.

Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico 2015, Tuscany, Italy  ($19.95).
A nicely typical Chianti Classico in a warmer softer vintage, It is showing generous currant-cherry fruit, subtle violet, herbs, plus dusty and slightly meaty nuances. It is medium weight, fairly open although still showing fairly firm tannin.

Leonardo Rosso 2016, Igt Toscana  Rockcliffe Third Reef Pinot Noir 2017, Great Southern, West Australia  Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2017, Barossa, South Australia  Castello D'albola Chianti Classico 2015, Docg

And that’s a wrap for this week. Tune in next Thursday for the first look at the June 8 Release with Sara d’Amato at the helm.

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

John’s Top Picks
Lawarson’s Take

New Release and VINTAGES Preview