Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES September 28th: Holding the LCBO Accountable

Are the LCBO Buyers doing a good job?

By John Szabo MS, with notes from Michael Godel, Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

Another near perfect, 99-point wine (via the distorted palate of Italian reviewer Luca Maroni) hits the shelves this week. Don’t tarry!

It’s no wonder the new LCBO Press Office is so keen to reduce the number of new releases put out for Ontario media to taste. Which local writer will top that? Or other big scores cherry picked from the world media and plastered in the Vintages circular and on shelf talkers? Search widely enough, and you’ll find someone, somewhere, tasting in a vastly different context and with no knowledge of our market, who has showered accolades on any wine you wish.

It’s alarming that every other crown corporation operates with some form of independent oversight and public scrutiny, yet the LCBO buyers, who’s salaries we pay, are free to select the wines that 10 million Ontarians are essentially restricted to buying, while keeping a now growing number of these purchases out of the glasses of the local watchdogs who are there to ensure the buyers are doing a good job.

The LCBO is accountable only for the profits it turns in to the province each year, an important raison d’être to be sure, but not for whether Ontarians are offered the best possible ‘assortment’ for our collective money. Former health minister David Caplan lost his job in a scandal over wasteful spending and untendered contracts by eHealth Ontario. No LCBO buyer has lost his/her job (yet) for buying crappy chardonnay.

Shouldn’t independent experts with the interest of Ontarians in mind be permitted to comprehensively review and comment upon the purchasing decisions of our government employees? If you think so, send a quick note to the LCBO Press Office and ask for transparency on all purchases, not just the bottles they want the critics to see: [email protected].

So we can’t say we’ve comprehensively reviewed the September 28th release; less than 40% in fact, as only 50 of the 139 wines in the release were available for media tasting. The wines that were made available to taste are predictably ho-hum (why put out the already super-high scoring or expensive wines?).

However, a handful nonetheless stand out. Oregon is a theme region of the release, with particular strengths in the pinot noir category. It’s Oregon’s most widely planted grape, grown in a range of soils from sedimentary to volcanic, each with its own twist on flavour. A pair of very fine examples make the list this week.

Ontario also steps up with a strong pinot of its own from the Niagara Bench, while a pair of alluring albariños/alvarinhos from either side of the Minho River separating Spain and Portugal help to further solidify the grape’s inclusion on the list of classic varieties.

Sustainable South Africa 

Buyer’s Guide September 28th: Oregon

Pike Road Chardonnay 2017, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($23.95)
Michael Godel – Now here is a fresh, crisp bite from a green apple and just the right amount of freshness meeting ripe fruit and acidity. Really well-managed, stoic even and comfortable well within its skin. Terrific intro to Oregon chardonnay unencumbered and free from overbearing barrels.

Alexana Terroir Series Pinot Noir 2016, Willamette Valley ($47.95)
John Szabo – This is pretty pinot, floral, elegant, fleshy, generous but still properly proportioned, with excellent length. Best 2019-2026.
David Lawrason – A toss-up between two excellent pinots, so buy both if you can. This is an exuberant and attenuated pinot with very lifted, impressive aromas of red fruits, spice and woodsy smokiness. It is mid-weight, intense flavoured, just a touch sour edged and warm. Excellent length.

Penner Ash Pinot Noir 2016, Willamette Valley ($59.95)
John Szabo – An example with considerable structure and heft, and more dark fruit-flavour, befitting a warm Willamette vintage mold. I like the ripe, supple tannins and the ripe-balanced acids, not to mention the long finish. Best 2019-2026.
David Lawrason – This is a richer, riper pinot with black cherry fruit effortlessly inlaid with wood smoke, cedar, vanilla and forest floor. Very concentrated, very Oregon and very well done.
Michael Godel – If you don’t know this winery you need to because in their hands pinot noir is lifted to the heights and executed for all the right reasons. Extraction, concentration and acidity are all on the same page, of complex mathematical design, theory and relative equilibrium.

Foris Rogue Valley Pinot Noir 2017, Rogue Valley ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Straight ahead lush and ripe pinot from Rogue Valley, quite pure, honest and in control. If not the complete package (and admittedly a touch sweet) there is certainly a step up in quality from other truant and less altruistic outfits so for the cost this is a proper deal in Oregon pinot.
Sara d’Amato – The Foris pinot noir expresses “forest” floor abundantly with notes of mushroom, dried leaf and earth but is anything but dirty. Red plum and cherry linger on the finish of this solid offering at an entry level price.

Pike Road Chardonnay 2017, Willamette Valley   Alexana Terroir Series Pinot Noir 2016, Willamette Valley  Penner Ash Pinot Noir 2016, Willamette Valley  Foris Pinot Noir 2017, Rogue Valley

Buyer’s Guide September 28th: Other Whites

Castelo Do Mar Albariño 2018, DO Rías Baixas, Spain ($18.95)
John Szabo – Lovely aromatics here: floral and ripe citrus and orchard fruit-scented in the varietal register. The palate, too, delivers solid flavour intensity with even more floral character and quite dense flavour balanced on ripe acids. Long finish.
Sara d’Amato – A great transition wine from hot weather to onset of fall, this richly textured but not showy, albarino offers a great purity of fruit with little manipulation. Vinous with a solid core of acidity, mineral pep and mineral and a cool climate aromatic appeal. Showing both depth and authenticity with eye-catching packaging to boot!
David Lawrason – Here’s a ripe and quite lovely albarino with lifted floral, fruit and gentle spice. It is medium-full bodied, quite rich and lively with crisp acidity and a touch of spritz.

Deu La Deu Alvarinho 2018, Monção E Melgaço, DOC Vinho Verde, Portugal ($19.95)
John Szabo – A reliable and consistent cooperative from the most prized sub-region of Vinho Verde – Monção e Melgaço hard up on the border with Spain, this is an unusually fleshy and ripe wine, with alcohol tipping in at 13.5% declared, numbers rarely see in the region.  Yet an acid core further enhanced by a pinch of CO2 refreshes the palate. Good length and depth, too; a sharp buy.
Michael Godel – Alvarinho lives and thrives in the northern Monçao e Melgaço clime of Vinho Verde and this 2018 goes into the fleshier, more-developed side of things. Worth the few extra bucks and will reward a few years of aging.
Sara d’Amato – Still in a white wine frame of mind, this high quality 100% alvarinho. Here the Vinho Verde wines have more ageing potential and generally heightened complexity.  The palate offers chalky mineral, plenty of verve and an abundance of fruit. Deliciously tart with a lingering finish.

Castelo Do Mar Albariño 2018, Do Rías Baixas   Deu La Deu Alvarinho 2018, Monção E Melgaço

Julien Schaal Kaleidoscope Riesling 2017, Alsace, France ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Unique to this market are the wines of Olivier Biecher and Julien Schaal from terroir soils that encapsulate the kaleidoscope of Alsace; volcanic, pink sandstone, granite, shist, gypsum and limestone. Great entry point, dry as it needs to be and a 101-teaching moment for sure.
Sara d’Amato – An unctuous, off-dry style of riesling with a gorgeous oily texture and appealing grip. Offering an impressive depth of flavour and power. Rich with authentic flavour and an underlying verve that should result in graceful ageing. Try with soft cheeses or spicy Thai cuisine.

Château De Pont 2018, AC Touraine, Loire Valley, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is not as stridently green as many Touraine sauvignons. There is more richness and leesy complexity, with grapefruit peel on the finish.  It is nicely balanced and drinks with some complexity and very good length.

Muré Signature Gewurztraminer 2016, AC Alsace, France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This has a pure, classic ripe almost buttery, peachy nose with generous florality and subtle spice. It is quite full bodied, supple, off dry and rich with some alcohol warmth (13.5%).

Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2016, Mosel, Germany ($34.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s an intense, quite rich, off-dry to medium sweet Mosel riesling with intense aromas and flavours. Great presence with outstanding length and a slate finish so typical of the Mosel.

Julien Schaal Kaleidoscope Riesling 2017  Château De Pont Touraine 2018   Muré Signature Gewurztraminer 2016  Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2016

Buyer’s Guide September 28th: Other Reds

Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2017, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
John Szabo – Properly firm and dusty, tart red berry-flavoured with a subtle dash of wood spice, and crunchy, tonic acids. Length and depth are good, and the overall structure is impressive in the price category. This is well worth discovering, and keeping a few bottles tucked in the cellar for full maturity in 4-6 years hence (or longer). Best 2019-2025

Lealtanza Reserva 2012, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This an engaging, slightly sweet-edged Rioja with lifted and complex aromas. Really like the nose here. It is mid-weight, refined and warming with easy tannin. Very approachable.

Viñalba 2017 Malbec/Bonarda Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – For those in the mood for something bigger and bolder, this malbec/bonarda blend showcases the fleshy and affable bonarda grape well. A little cedar and plum with plenty of expression and depth for a modest price.

Henry Of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2017  Lealtanza Reserva 2012  Viñalba Malbec/Bonarda 2017, Mendoza

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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.
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommeliers Selections

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