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.

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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

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