Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES September 4th Release

Review of VINTAGES Sept 4th Release – Buying with Smarts

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

By my count there are 158 wines in the very large Sept 4 VINTAGES release, padded perhaps by 25 wines in the Smart Buys feature, of which more in a moment.  There are 19 Flagship Store Exclusives found only in larger LCBO stores, and another eight are listed as VINTAGES On-Line Exclusives, which is a new retail venue appearing in the Catalogue in recent weeks, and expected to grow.

Partially due to the Smart Buys feature, a large number of the offerings are notably inexpensive, and frankly less interesting. This builds on a sense that in recent times Vintages is increasingly low-balling and becoming less relevant to wine enthusiasts. I have had people ask me if I think this is case, and others say they really don’t shop Vintages anymore. That of course is empirical evidence, but on this release in particular I found myself struggling to break the 90 point barrier and get very enthused.


Low price is of course one factor that might make a buy smart. But what we are really after is value, so the quality has to be better than expected from the price, no matter the price. And finding value takes some “smarts”.  Knowing which wines tend to be historically good value based on their region or grape variety.  Knowing which producers are overdelivering in terms of value.  Knowing how to taste the quality in the glass, and knowing that it will impress.

None of this knowledge comes easily or quickly, taking years of tasting experience. Certainly LCBO buyers are in a position to acquire the ‘smarts’ because they are continually tasting. Six of them are scantily introduced in the Sept 4 VINTAGES catalogue by inclusion of a photo and their name.  They also contribute quotes about why they bought certain wines, but they all sound very much as if they were written by the same person in Marketing.

When we media used to taste alongside Vintages Consultants pre-Covid we got to know many of VINTAGES staff, and I enjoyed that. The LCBO seemed less monolithic and more human. So why not do a better job of introducing the Buyers. There are six (perhaps more) people choosing which wines over 12 million Ontarians get to purchase, and I would think readers would really enjoy getting to know them, and why they have the “Smarts” for the job.

Before launching into our ‘smart buys’, a note that this release also features four wines from Hidden Bench Winery on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench – which for fans of premium cooler climate, limestone driven wines are perhaps the smartest buys of all. It is great to see Hidden Bench continuously doing so well, staying focused in terms of its labels, and constantly drilling into improving the viticulture.

Hidden Bench Estate Winery

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2019, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$29.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – Jay Johnston is doing great work with chardonnay, with much credit going to the fine organically farmed vineyards of the Beamsville Bench as well. This is so fine, taut, solid and balanced with complex and detailed aromas of apple, apple blossom, lemon, hazelnut and barrel toast. The underlying minerality adds to the sense of crunch.
John Szabo – 2019 is shaping up to be a glorious chardonnay (and pinot) vintage in Niagara, the cooler conditions lending a steely, minerally edge to the wines. It’s rendered here by Hidden Bench into a chiseled wine with terrific relief and depth; I love the precision, the perfectly integrated wood influence, the genuine depth and complexity. In an international context, this is one exceptional value chardonnay, easily equal, or superior to, wines at twice the price from more name-brand regions. Chapeau bas to the Hidden Bench team, also for the dedication to organic farming and low carbon footprint ethos. Best 2022-2030.
Michael Godel – Something feels right, just and purposed in this Hidden Bench 2019, very much in line with the recently tasted Felseck. Yes the past and current winemakers have and continue to make it so, but so do these remarkable blocks of terroir tucked and rolling within the nooks of the Escarpment.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2018

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2018, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$24.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – Such a solid riesling, made in a barely off-dry style balanced by firm acidity. The fruit is ripe with pear-pineapple, spice, a certain fresh mint/herbal undertone, lemon, waxiness and a touch of petrol. It is medium bodied, broad shouldered and complex, with excellent flavour intensity and length.
Sara d’Amato – This classic Beamsville Bench riesling is all tang and tingle, striking a tense chord between acid and sweetness. Chalky wet stone, lime, grapefruit and wildflower are all at play on the palate. Highly memorable.

Hidden Bench Estate Gamay 2019

Hidden Bench Estate Gamay 2019, Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario
$29.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – This is the Hidden Bench debut of gamay, from an organic vineyard in Lincoln Lakeshore planted in 2017. The nose is complex with sweet, floral cherry/strawberry fruit, a touch of meatiness and almost lavender florality. This is a real delight and so great to see another serious gamay arise in Niagara.

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2019

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2019, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$34.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – This has become the standard for really well grown (organic) and made Bench pinot noir. The rating here is all about balance, fine mouth-watering acidity, firm tannin without astringency and moderate alcohol. It has a lifted, classic cool climate strawberry/red cherry nose nicely fitted with toasty oak, cinnamon spice and subtle herbs.

Other Whites & Rosé

Pocas Reserva White 2019

Pocas Reserva White 2019, Douro Valley, Portugal       
$19.95, Majestic Wine Cellars               
Michael Godel – A different sort of blend here, of codega and arinto, well suited to one another in the Douro Valley. Makes for a very crisp Branco, crunchy, fresh, spirited and alive. Lovely white table wine, suitable for any and all situations, apple crisp, fruitful and mineral enough to call terroir. Great buy all in all. Sushi and grilled fish all the way.
John Szabo – A blend of local varieties arinto and códega (and other co-planted old vines) from the higher elevations of the Douro Valley, this is appealingly fragrant if subtle, floral and white-fleshed orchard fruit flavoured white wine, featuring pear and Golden Delicious apple with gentle sweet baking spice from ageing in new 300 litre barrels. The palate is balanced and saline, with some appealing phenolic (tannic) grip, and long finish on lemony acids and yeasty lees notes. A solid wine to be sure, drinking well now but likely to improve over the next year in bottle. Sharp value.
David Lawrason – From local varieties arinto and codega, this is full bodied, well structured white with all kinds of Douro minerality. It has compact yet complex nose of yellow pear/plum fruit with gentle spice, white flower and wet stone.
Sara d’Amato – This dynamic, head-turning blend of codega and arinto is made by one of the few independent Port producers that was born Portuguese. A wine whose flavours and textures will stick with you. Chalky and salty with delightfully tart citrus and floral notes along with pear and passion fruit that linger on the finish of surprising length. A crowd-pleasing top value.

Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon-Uchizy 2020

Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon-Uchizy 2020, Burgundy, France
$18.95, Glencairn Wines
David Lawrason – Here’s a great value Macon chardonnay under $20 with lovely aromas of ripe yellow apple, gentle wood spice, vague butter and a hint of wet stone. It is medium bodied, fleshy yet underpinned by fine acidity and a touch of youthful spritz.

La Fralluca Costa Toscana Bianco 2017

La Fralluca Costa Toscana Bianco 2017, Tuscany, Italy
$21.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines
Michael Godel – Change is a good thing and the Bianco has surely morphed since last visit. More oxidative and yet the acidity thrives. the skin-contact feel is tops now, elevated to edgy, structurally sound while also keeping the textural faith. So interesting and in so many ways.
Sara d’Amato – A gregarious skin contact blend of viognier and vermentino that should please lovers of chardonnay who want to expand their drinking horizons. The fruit is sourced from the Tuscan hills of Suvereto, surrounded by Mediterranean scrub land on limestone soils. A texturally edginess gives the wine dynamic appeal.

Estancia Los Cardones Anko Torrontés 2019

Estancia Los Cardones Anko Torrontés 2019, Cafayate Valley, Argentina
$16.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – This burst like sunshine in the glass. It has  a very bright, lifted grapefruit, lime and mandarin aromas – a citrus salad –  ginger, muscat-like grapiness and lily-like florality. Chill well. Sunday brunch?

Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016

Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, Swartland, South Africa
$19.95, Appellation Wines
Sara d’Amato – A mature, nutty, oak-tinged chenin blanc with an ample degree of mouth-filling pleasure. Lammershoek’s terroir-focused range employs minimal-interventionist techniques to old vines between 30-50 years of age to showcase regional expression. Yet the bottle-aged character is beginning to trump terroir here, bringing with it complex character and memorable length. Great value.

Ken Forrester Petit Rosé 2020

Ken Forrester Petit Rosé 2020, Western Cape, South Africa
$14.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Proper, sharp, pale and dry rosé, well-made, without pretension, balanced and fresh. Chill, crack, enjoy, and also enjoy the positive environmental efforts that Forester employs, including this lightweight bottle to reduce carbon footprint.

Other Reds

Losi Querciavalle Chianti Classico 2015

Losi Querciavalle Chianti Classico 2015, Tuscany, Italy
$19.95, Vin Passion
Sara d’Amato Characterful, authentic and spirited, this salty Chianti features a delightful swagger and is drinking optimally right now. Captivating aromas and plenty of natural fruit spice are enhanced by an stylish dusting of oak. Quite the deal at under $20!.
Michael Godel No shocker to note that 18 months have helped to soften the Alberese grip in a sangiovese crafted by a family that knows about time, essence and change. The Losi’s 2015 is a pure example of land and place, a rapturous to glycerin Classico that has just hit its stride and opened wide.
John Szabo – Maturing, classically-styled Chianti Classico here from the Losi family, complete with plenty of old wood spice, dried and dusty red fruit, pot pourri and more in a complex ensemble, especially at this price. The palate is beautifully mid-weight and zesty, with fine-grained tannins and succulent acids, framing more red cherry fruit and appealing stoniness. Great length, too. Sharp value for classicists.

Jim Barry Single Vineyard The Farm Ca

Jim Barry Single Vineyard The Farm Cabernet/Malbec 2018, Clare Valley, South Australia       
$29.95, Family Wine Merchants               
David Lawrason – From Jim Barry’s Lodge Hill Vineyard in the Clare Valley this neatly administers cabernet blackcurrant and malbec mulberry, with fine herbs and very well integrated oak spice. It is medium-full bodied, a bit chewy and tannic, but not to the point of austerity. Drink over the next decade.
Michael Godel – Classic Clare Valley joint, if you must or didn’t know, pairing cabernet sauvignon with malbec, as per Jim Barry and also, if one remembers, Leasingham’s Bin 56. A style of wine from the past that in the ever warming Clare valley may just be a darling of the future.
Sara d’Amato – Cool Clare Valley fruit is responsible for giving this rich and dry Bordeaux-inspired blend a zesty edge. You can expect blueberry and blackberry bud along with a hint of fresh mint on the palate. An inherent vibrancy keeps the wine from feeling weighty. To boot, the length is excellent and the oak treatment is stylish and refined.

Michele Chiarlo Reyna Barbaresco 2016

Michele Chiarlo Reyna Barbaresco 2016, Piedmont, Italy
$36.95, Univins And Spirits Canada Inc.
John Szabo – Not a single parcel wine, but rather a blend of grapes from vineyards in the communes of Barbaresco and Neive, aged 18 months in large cask before bottling, this is perfumed and fragrant nebbiolo from the stellar 2016 vintage. The palate is sleek and juicy, with fine, gently dusty-grainy tannins, lively acids and lovely flavour development. It’s drinking well now, though no rush – this should hold into the late ’20s without concern. A classic nebbiolo on the lighter side of the spectrum, well-priced in the context.

Piattelli Reserve Malbec 2019

Piattelli Reserve Malbec 2019, Salta, Argentina
$16.95, Imprese Inc.
David Lawrason – From the heights of the northern Salta province, this offers up very ripe jammy fruit, violets and very little oak. So much here for $16.95. It is full bodied, fairly soft but not flabby with just enough acidity and warming alcohol.

Château De Ribebon 2017

Château De Ribebon 2017,  Bordeaux Superieur, France
$15.95, Majestic Wine Cellars
David Lawrason – This quite delicious and superb value is settling into prime time with cedary, leathery notes joining the berry jam fruit and generous oak spice. It is medium weight, almost plush and quite spicy with good acidity and quite fine, dusty tannin.

Mastroberardino Mastro Aglianico 2019

Mastroberardino Mastro Aglianico 2019, IGT Campania, Italy
$19.95, Du Chasse Wines
David Lawrason From a leading house of Campania aglianico historically makes rugged, tannic wines. This pale version is very floral with peony, raspberry jam and gentle woodsiness . It is medium bodied, lively and fresh with easy going tannin. Lovely fruit here.

Delas Saint Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2019

Delas Saint Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2019, Rhône, France
$19.95, Univins and Spirits Canada Inc.
Sara d’Amato – Fresh and unoaked, this mid-weight Côtes du Rhône from Delas is a consistent value with even more to offer in this 2019 vintage. Chock-full of spicy fruit, black pepper and garrigue. A simple, well-made find best enjoyed now..

Château Les Sablonnets 2019

Château Les Sablonnets 2019, Bordeaux, France
$12.95, PV Wine & Spirits Agency
John Szabo – You’d be hard pressed to find a better quality, regionally representative Bordeaux rouge for less than this, punching far above its modest appellation and especially price. It delivers everything expected and more of a wine nearly double the cost, from fairly dense, rich palate to fine acid-tannin balance and genuine flavour intensity and length. Serve this with pride and don’t reveal the price – your guests will figure you treated them to the expensive stuff.

Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2018

Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2018, Côtes du Roussillon, France
$16.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Yet another sharp value from Saint-Roch (Famille Lafage) from dry farmed old vines of syrah and grenache. I love the polished texture, the generous black fruit, the scorched earth-stony complexity and the fine length in this price category. Acids keep the ensemble framed and lively. Lovely stuffr guests will figure you treated them to the expensive stuff.

Josh Cellars North Coast Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Josh Cellars North Coast Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, California, USA
$24.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
Sara d’Amato – A notably elegant North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon with appealing restraint. Pristine and offering a balanced degree of ripeness yet still with an impactful character that is brimming fruit. There is even a bit of crunch to this pleasantly taught cab with more verve than expected.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2015

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2015, Tuscany, Italy
$74.95, Le Sommelier Inc.
Michael Godel – This Annata carries a lyrical contralto in as much as that is a thing in Montalcino. A Cher, Annie Lennox, Nina Simone voice. It is precise and profound. It will live longer than the men.

Bodegas Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada

Bodegas Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada, (375ml) Jerez Spain
$16.95, All the Right Grapes
John Szabo – An “En Rama” manzanilla pasada, bottled straight out of barrel in 2021, this is equivalent of amontillado-style sherry (or Fino Viejo – a newly established category for Finos aged at least seven years) aged in the coastal town of San Lucár de Barrameda. No matter, it’s a fino that has been aged longer than the mean, to the point where the flor that protects the wine dies off and the wine continues on an oxidative journey. The net result is a remarkable flavour experience for the money – I guarantee you won’t find much more complexity for $17.
David Lawrason – This is a sensational pasada – a longer aged dry fino style with diminished flor protection and more oxidative notes. It has a classic, intense nose of sultana raisin, sourdough, peanut shell and licorice – very exotic. It is medium-full bodied, just off dry warm and rich. This is outstanding.

And that’s it for this edition. John will be back to cover the Sept 18 release. Please note that reviews of the subsequent Oct 2 release will be delayed by about a week as our entire team heads west to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada in Penticton.  The office will be closed September 28 to  Oct 7.


David Lawrason, VP of Wine

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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for the latest WineAlign recommendations, tips and other interesting wine information.

Sponsored Toronto Wine Storage - Fine Wine Reserve

The Fine Wine Reserve provides discerning collectors with the highest standards of fine wine storage in Toronto. Their facilities are purpose-built and specifically engineered to protect your fine wines. With two locations in the GTA, The Fine Wine Reserve offers the widest range of storage options and styles in Canada - allowing them to serve the unique and evolving needs of novice and expert collectors alike.