Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st, 2020

No Time to Die, Avoid the LCBO, and Support Local

By John Szabo MS, with picks from Sara, David, and Michael

There’s No Time to Die. When I first sat down to write this intro almost two weeks ago, the fact that MGM’s announcement to delay the premier of the new Bond film, titled: “No Time to Die” from April until November seemed one of the bigger inconveniences of the times. To badly understate it, things have gotten a lot more serious. I won’t bother to rehash the absolutely unprecedented near total shutdown of the world. You’ve heard and read it all already. To borrow WineAlign CEO Bryan McCaw’s analogy, “It’s like a giant computer and we’ve got to press reset. And while it’s resetting, there is nothing we can do.”


Things are no different in the wine world. All press trips and wine fairs, from the world’s largest, like Prowein in Düsseldorf or Vinitaly in Verona, to small regional tastings, have been cancelled, postponed or closed, as have all wine courses and masterclasses, winemaker visits, winery tasting bars, indeed any event, place or circumstance where more than a couple of people would be sniffing, slurping, and spitting in close proximity (what could go wrong?). This includes the LCBO Vintages release tastings, which have been shelved until the end of April, at least.

Nonetheless, we have a list of excellent wine recommendations from the VINTAGES March 21st release. But my personal suggestion to you is: DO NOT BUY ANY OF THEM. There are smarter options.

For one, the LCBO front line staff don’t want to see you. While we are all working from home, including the LCBO head office cats, they are still out there packing shelves and operating the cash registers, in direct contact with thousands of consumers and armed with nothing but dwindling supplies of anti-bacterial wipes and Purell. As one cashier (who preferred to remain anonymous) put it to me this week: “unless we show symptoms [of COVID-19] we’re required to come to work. I heard of some product consultants who didn’t show up yesterday at their store, and their jobs are in jeopardy. They were just scared”.

A group of front line LCBO employees even felt strongly enough to air their views publicly on Twitter under the handle @lcbotruth (but remaining anonymous again):

If the world were the Titanic, LCBO staff are the band that keeps playing.

All non-essential services are on pause. So why is the LCBO still open? It pains me to admit it, but booze is not essential.

And secondly, while I’m not an alarmist, going out and sharing close space and surfaces with others increases the risks for all. I’m already tired of hearing about how we can “flatten the curve”, but this is one easy way to mitigate the spread.

So my recommendation is to avoid the LCBO.

What we should instead be doing is supporting Ontario wineries and private importing agencies. Don’t worry, LCBO employees will still get paid whether you show up or not – we’re paying their salaries.

But unlike the LCBO, if wineries and small importing business stop operating, employees DO NOT get paid. They go out of business. It’s parallel to the sensible idea of supporting local restaurants instead of Chef Boyardee. You can also help your community by getting your wine fix – and Lord knows we can all use a glass of wine – delivered directly from a local winery or small business in need.

What’s more, the smart ones have implemented free delivery, giving you a pain-free option without leaving the house – see partial lists of import agents and wineries offering free delivery below. You can purchase mixed cases from wineries, while agents are required by law to sell by the full case (6 or 12, depending on how they are shipped). But the system restart is going to take some time, several months according to the World Health Organization, so extra bottles will be necessary.

Import Agents offering free delivery

Wineries offering free delivery

Those of you concerned that provincial coffers will run dry should not fear either; the LCBO, and the government, still take their healthy cut from all wines traded in Ontario. You’ll still be supporting critical services such as Ontario’s excellent Health Care system.

We have published thousands of Ontario wine reviews on WineAlign to help guide your purchasing, with more to come (see my latest picks from Prince Edward County, for example). And through our research for the WineAlign Exchange wine subscription service, we have recently tasted hundreds of private import and consignment wines, and posted our reviews. Just click on the Wine tab along the top of the website and use the filters to search for your parameters (price, variety, region, etc.), select “All Sources” in the Favourite Stores section, and you’ll see the top-rated wines and the agencies that import them.

And/or you can sign up to receive a case of the WineAlign critics’ curated selection of the best through the Exchange, also delivered to your door.

For those insistent on braving the wilds, see the buyer’s guide below. In the name of restarting and novelty, we have created a list of the best new wines to come through VINTAGES, which include both local and imported wines.

Additionally, the release features “Classic Regions”, as well as BC and Nova Scotia. Regarding the latter selections, David Lawrason had this to say when I requested his picks for the report: “Sorry there are no Nova Scotia or BC wines to put forward. VINTAGES buyers have really not done their homework. Their picks are so seven years ago”. Michael, Sara and I, however, had some nostalgia for a few.  BC has also announced a new Sustainability certification for wineries – better late than never. Starting April 1, 2020, earth-friendly vineyards and wineries will take stock of their sustainability efforts and apply for certification, with BC Certified Sustainable Wine hitting the shelves as early as January 2021. Read about it at

At the time of writing the LCBO is still open, so you can pick up any of these recommended wines to get you through. Better yet, pre-order online so they’re ready to pick up when you get to the store, or have them delivered through Foodora (yes, you can in some parts of Toronto).

This is easily the most surreal experience I’ve ever lived through. The entire planet is concerned. So, as we stare at the spinning wheel on the computer screen waiting for the world to restart, let’s do our part.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: New at VINTAGES – White

Adamo Estate Riesling Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
John Szabo – Of the three rieslings produced by Shauna White of Adamo, this bottling from the Foxcroft vineyard in Vineland is the sweetest, made in a sort of medium-dry, spatlese style, but really well balanced at that. Cellar for another 1-2 years; I like the direction this is heading. Drink 2021-2027.
David Lawrason – Adamo has riesling planted in its brave, young Hockley Valley vineyard near Orangeville in central Ontario, but this is sourced from much older vines in the Foxcroft Vineyard on Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench. It has a full-on, ripe and complex aromas set in a medium weight, off-dry and quite rich style.

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve White Meritage 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25.95)
John Szabo – One of JT’s best white blends to date, this sauvignon blended with 20% semillon delivers quite impressive depth and flavour intensity on the palate, with a nice mix of citrus and green tropical fruit. Acids are ripe and round, while length and overall depth are above the mean. Drink 2020-2024.
Sara d’Amato – As we stay close to home, why not drink close to home too? A widely appealing blend that won’t break the bank, this lively white Meritage benefitted from some skin contact early on. Blended from sauvignon blanc (80%) and semillon (20%) and cool fermented in stainless steel in order to preserve the notable aromatic exuberance. Lees ageing lends a light toastiness to the palate. A fleshy, flavourful pick-me-up.

Mega Spileo Cuvée III White 2018, PGI Achaia, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)
John Szabo – Aromatic malagousia meets acid-structured assyrtiko and chardonnay in this inviting white blend from the Northern Peloponnese, a fine patio sipping-type wine that will take you seaside with its fine-tuned salinity, driving desire for additional sips. It’s also high on the intensity scale with plenty of sweet green herbs and flowers, honeysuckle, and green orchard fruit, almost muscat-like. Drink 2020-2023.
David Lawrason – Here’s an inventive blend based on the aromatic malagousia grape that is making some of the finest whites of Greece in my view. The nose blooms.  It is quite full bodied, fleshy, warm and dry with a very spicy finish.
Sara d’Amato – A charming aromatic blend of malagousia, assyrtiko and chardonnay. Light-to-mid weight, unoaked and refreshing. Tender rose petal and peach dominate the palate which offers a balanced degree of acidity. Try as a solo sipper or pair with roasted artichokes drizzled with lemon and olive oil.

Dr. Loosen Erdender Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2017, Mosel, Germany ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a textbook riesling that has found that unique, pitch perfect Mosel balance of racy acidity, moderate sweetness, minerality and ripe fruit. The frame seems so narrow and light-hearted, the flavours are so intense, and the length excellent.

Ruhlmann Coteau Du Blettig Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2016, Alsace, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A fine illustration that Alsace continues to produce exceptionally undervalued wines. The old vine (30+ years) riesling for Ruhlmann’s Côteau du Blettig is sourced from calcareous and clay-based soils with a sunny exposure. Rich and oily with petrol-dominant nose, the wine is impressively concentrated and just off-dry.

Montemajor Greco Di Tufo 2018, Campania, Italy ($23.95)
Michael Godel – Good greco is hard to find because it’s hard to make. Not a fruity wine by any means and as far as southern Italian whites are concerned this is a must try. Singular saltiness incarnate.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: New at VINTAGES – Red

Le Riche Richesse 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($23.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an accomplished, concentrated, balanced and nicely evolving cabernet sauvignon-based blend, with above average complexity and composure. Tannins are supple and polished and the length is impressive. Really nails it for the price. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted March 2020.

Mustilli Cesco Di Nece Aglianico 2015, DOC Sannio Sant’Agata dei Goti, Campania, Italy ($25.95)
John Szabo – The historic Mustilli estate’s vineyard called Cesco di Nece sits at about 300 meters, in a relatively cool, wind-influenced zone in the Sannio appellation, where harvest for Aglianico begins about mid-October. It generally doesn’t produce wines with the same structure as, say, Taurasi, but about 40 year-old vines deliver a classically swarthy, earthy aglianico, fully dry, tannic, quite dusty and herbal, the way it should be. There’s a terrific amount of personality on offer here for the money; decant and serve with some rustic salty protein, preferably off the grill. Drink 2020-2025.

Mazilly Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune 2017, AC Bourgogne, France ($28.95)
Michael Godel – If you’ve not yet heard of or delved into the world of Bourgogne’s Haut-Côtes appellations than you have yet lived. In this from Beaune form there is Villages level promise and with lieu-dit specifics, in this case Clos du Bois Prévot. The idea is older vines from hills or extensions beyond the nearest village and not ubiquitous Bourgogne. Mind blown? No. Perfectly proper Haut-Côtes example? Absolutely.
John Szabo – Here’s a really lovely red Burgundy from the Hautes Côtes, where in earlier decades ripeness was marginal, but is now increasingly a source of fine wines. This example has classic sour cherry and raspberry flavours, marked sapidity and salinity, and terrific acids, in other words, textbook Burgundy at an approachable price. Drink 2020-2025.

Château Vieux Chaigneau 2015, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($34.95)
David Lawrason -This is from a six hectare plot in Lalande, neighbouring its more famous Pomerol neighbour this maturing 76% merlot is quite plush, almost velvety if a bit hot on the palate. The tannins are just right. Enjoy this over the next two to three years.

Domaine De La Baume Les Thermes Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This would not be lost in a flight of California cabernets worth three times the price. From the sunny south of France it is a nicely ripe, almost charming offering – fairly fleshy and juicy – ideal to drink now with unexpected flavour depth.

Casa Ferreirinha Papa Figos Tinto 2018, Douro, Portugal ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This large Douro house is making very good value, approachable yet still distinctively Douro reds. And this one at $16 is very good value indeed. It is full bodied, open knit, jammy and warm and the fruit concentration is very impressive.

Finca Casa Balaguer El Vivero De Usaldón Colección Origen 2018, DO Alicante, Spain ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – Compelling, generous and impressively complex, this amphora-fermented 25-year-old grenache features mineral and earth on its fruity palate. Extra grip is added with the vinification of 30% whole clusters and its natural feel is due to a minimal interventionist approach using wild yeast. Authentic, unadorned and a real treat at this price.

Trecciano I Campacci 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Still firmly structured, this Tuscan blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% merlot is chalky and flavourful. Offering notes of licorice, pepper, earth and wild berries on its plump palate that is juxtaposed by a nervy backbone. Hold another year or two for best expression.

Mariflor Malbec 2015, Vista Flores, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rather elegant malbec from flying winemaker Michel Rolland planted in 1999 at 1100 meters in the desirable Uco Valley sub-appellation of Vista Flores. Offering a notable floral expression with delicate spice on the palate, high acidity and a mouth-filling tannic texture. Not demure but with enough energetic restraint to ensure excellent balance.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: BC and Nova Scotia

Jost Tidal Bay 2018, Nova Scotia, Canada ($20.95)
John Szabo – Archetypical Tidal Bay from Nova Scotia pioneer Jost, light-bodied, off-dry, crisply acidic and uncomplicated, designed for immediate enjoyment, well-chilled.
Michael Godel – Always the richest, creamiest and fruitiest on the Tidal Bay scale with just then slightest spritz of CO2, more than neutral citrus and never wavering Bay of Fundy marine saltiness. Seems to draw and accumulate flesh and weight from the deep red Fundy clay.

The Hatch Gobsmacked Cyclops Love 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($22.95)
Michael Godel – From winemaker Jason Parkes, in this case not the musician but the Gobsmacked winemaker. The hatch has been opened and the oddities revealed from this rarity of odds, of muscat, pinot auxerre and a “dollop of the G.” So what does it all mean? Shut up and drink, I think. Deiss would concur.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($39.95)
John Szabo – A powerful and muscular version of merlot, quite typical for the Okanagan Valley, here rendered dense, very ripe, slightly raisined, with a maturing fruit profile alongside roasted vegetables and a healthy dose of toasted oak. Decant, and drink 2020-2026.
Sara d’Amato – An elegant, stand-out merlot from a classic vintage in the south Okanagan. Note of graphite, dried herbs, plum and moderately grippy tannins. Full-bodied although far from soft due to the underlying freshness.
Michael Godel – Plant more merlot, rip out the merlot, blend the merlot. The topic is a heated one in B.C. and that’s why the Owl’s year after year stunner makes the discussion even harder. One of the Okanagan’s model outfit of varietal consistency. Well done again Chris Wyse. Take a bow.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Classic Regions


Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne 2012, AC Champagne, France ($79.95)
Michael Godel – The structural aspect of this vintage dated Champagne grips the palate with great force. Champagne with notable dry extract and tannin is a revelatory thing and this P-H has just got the notion. Great Champagne and well-priced. You can age this for 10 years easy.

Langhe Hills, Piedmont

Renato Ratti Ochetti Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Here the light, joyous and on the road to Barolo fruit is perfectly reasoned and seasoned in Ratti’s Langhe. It’s a nebbiolo that speaks to what young vineyards and not quite ready for grippy prime time nebbiolo is supposed to think and feel. The Langhe Nebbiolo DOC is exactly this. A wine of moderate acidity and pleasurable tannins to drink and enjoy.
David Lawrason – I am all in for less expensive, delicious modern versions of nebbiolo from the Langhe Hills. Barolo and Barbaresco are not the whole story. It is a quite supple, juicy and lively example with a certain slim and juicy feel. I have always been a Renatto Ratti fan.
Sara d’Amato – This nebbiolo is all class, spirited in nature and supremely mineral. Licorice, red fruit and a delightful crunch characterize the palate. Tannins are relatively mellow for the variety and the sweetness of fruit is reminiscent of grenache.

Southern Rhône Valley

Le Ferme Du Mont Vendange Châteauneuf Du Pape 2017, Rhône, France ($52.95)
Sara d’Amato – An unfiltered and delightfully juicy grenache-dominated blend by winemaker and négociant Stephane Vedeau, sourced from biodynamically grown fruit. The grenache used is very old (75+ years) and is complimented by mourvèdre aged largely in concrete. Ample, powerful and with great depth for the price.

Xavier Vieilles Vignes Côtes Du Rhône 2016, Rhone Valley, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Xavier is delivering tasty, rounded and ripe Rhone reds, but this goes a stage beyond. It has a cool, quite floral peony and peppery nose atop plummy fruit. Open knit, smooth and peppery with well managed alcohol. Focus and length are excellent.

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

John Szabo, MS

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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
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview