Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16, 2020

USA Spotlight Comes at a Rough Moment
By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel and John Szabo

There are two features to this Vintages release: Women in Wine and Spotlight USA.  Both themes were plotted months ago, pre-Covid. But of course all the best laid plans have fallen apart. We have not been able to taste all the wines in these features – although some below have risen to notice.

To continuously inform our subscribers – and the increasing number of new subscribers in the online wine era – we are no longer preview tasting Vintages releases at the LCBO HQ, and I doubt this format will return until a vaccine is universal. So with every Vintages release we are going out to wineries and importers with a selection of wines that look most interesting to us, buying them on release (which delays our reviews by a week), and asking for reimbursement for the trade samples. I also personally buy a handful that interest me. Most importing agencies are good with this program, a few are not for whatever their reasons.  This makes the selections less universal which is unfortunate, but we seek out a wide range of styles, price ranges and regions, and it doesn’t change our assessments of what’s in the glass by one iota.

Vintages USA spotlight takes a broad look at America – not just California – and even the California selections are non-Sonoma and Napa. It includes two wines from New York as well, rounding out a recent LCBO online offering of eight other New York wines: Destination Collection – Explore the Wines of New York. It looks like this collection might also be offered in a mixed-case WineAlign Exchange offering in the weeks ahead.

Ironically, and so unfortunately, the USA spotlight comes at a time when the Canada-USA border is closed, and according to a poll this week the vast majority Canadians want it to remain that way indefinitely to help slow the spread of the virus.  But wine has always been a vector for political dissent. So some will choose not to buy American wine as form of protest over the political situation in the U.S., which is their right. Our job is to review what’s available to you and what you might want to have in your glass.

Attems 2019 Pinot Grigio

Sara d’Amato and I have had the opportunity to taste and review all the New York wines. It is an interesting selection from the Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley and Long Island, the three main regions of New York. Actually there are eleven AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in New York, with a handful being just across the border on the south shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. So no big surprise that the close proximity means the grape varieties and styles tend to be very similar to what Ontario is producing – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc leading the way. I view this as an interesting opportunity to compare notes.

New York sommelier Paul Grieco, who was born and raised and did his first wine schooling in Toronto, is the “General and Manager” of Terroir Wine Bar in Manhattan. He was very impressed by the selection being released in Ontario. “I am buying wine in a market that has 55,000 brands, so New York wines are not that easy to find here either. I don’t think I could go into a store and find as good a selection of New York wines as the LCBO has put together. If I were a somm in Toronto looking to offer something familiar yet new I would list them all”.

Yet another rough downside is that the weak Canadian dollar has made the wines fairly expensive. That affects all the wines from the USA of course, making American wine in general the least good value proposition of virtually any country in the world today when it comes to buying them in Ontario. But what is interesting about Vintages spotlight is that the wines are less expensive because they are not Napa or Sonoma – the famous north coast appellations that have driven pricing to the moon. Most of the USA Spotlight Selections are under $25.

So here we go with our value-based global picks from the May 16 release, plus some more expensive wines of interest to collectors.

Whites & Rosé

Jean Luc Colombo 2019 La Dame du Rouet Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Absolute classic southern French rosé styling with light hue, herbal fruit and salty veins. A step up, forward and positive in that is does not settle for disparate notes that do yeoman work but the added bonus is complexity and character. Leave it to the house that Jean-Luc Colombo built to take a tried and true if at times tired style and elevate the game.
John Szabo – Celebrated Northern Rhône vignerons and négociant Jean-Luc Colombo purchased several parcels of land and planted vineyards in 2009 near his birthplace in the Côteau d’Aix-en-Provence, and the result here, among others, is a stellar rosé on the sapid, flinty side, with complexity far above the mean – a superior wine in the category. I love the saltiness, driving desire for additional sips. Worth the premium; drink or hold short term – there’s no rush.

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And that is a wrap for this time. Enjoy our first blast of summer weather and we’ll be back in two weeks with our review of Vintages May 30.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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