Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES December 11th Release

Review of VINTAGES Dec 11th Release: Ontario Restaurants Get a Christmas Gift

By David Lawrason, with reviews from John Szabo, MS, and Sara d’Amato (Michael Godel is vacationing)

On December 15th, the Ontario government announced that as of January 1st, licensees will finally get a 20% discount on beverage alcohol they purchase from the LCBO.  Licensees include bars, restaurants, clubs, banquet halls and nowadays, bottle shops selling off-premise, if accompanied by a food purchase (even a deeply discounted lollipop).

It is being called a discount, but everywhere else in the world, it is called a wholesale price. It’s something that Ontario beverage alcohol re-sellers have never enjoyed. It was actually formerly a 5% discount, or, thereabouts.

I have been arguing for a wholesale price for as long as I have been writing about wine in the province – almost 40 years. So, too, have licensees, importers and Ontario wineries. It has taken the hardship of the pandemic to finally move the needle, with politicians pronouncing it is being done to help the devastated hospitality industry. But it is also a permanent measure.  So, this is not just a knee-jerk Santa PR stunt.

It will be very interesting to see how licensees react to having 20% more play space in their alcohol budget. Will they will keep prices as they are (to which Ontario consumers have become accustomed), even though they are among the highest in the world? Many, many consumers, myself included, have always been drinking much more wine at home, rather than pay two to three times the retail price while dining out. (Keeping alcohol consumption lower in public places was always the ‘social responsibility’ rationale for not having a wholesale price).

Or, will they use lower prices to attract more business? I am fine with licensees keeping a decent chunk of the 20%, especially if it helps to improve staff wages and/or keeps tips higher. But I am hoping that we will see some creative reduction of prices, too. Especially, on more expensive wines to make them more accessible, and bring people in. And, although it is a lot to ask, then maybe some chain restaurants can upgrade their wine quality at the same time.

Also, on December 15th, it was announced that “select” LCBO stores will become part of a grand plan for distribution for rapid antigen COVID test kits. It’s a very creative and surprising move by a government that has been so maddeningly reluctant on antigen rapid tests from the outset. And, by the way, there is no truth to the rumour that you will have to walk a straight line before being dispensed.

Last Chance Holiday Wine Gifts

So, on Dasher, Prancer and Vixen: no time to waste during the Christmas rush. Let’s get to our picks from this release. The news is full of the urgency to stock up during supply chain delays and shortages. My inner cynic says all that is rather overblown, but if you are in doubt about whether the wines we recommend below are available in your local LCBO, you can use the store search function on WineAlign, which is directly linked to the LCBO site.

We have organized our recommendations from the Dec 11th release into three Holiday categories – Stocking Stuffers, Host/Hostess Gifts and Entertaining, and Statement Gifts. They are price driven, but always good value. Michael sends his best from Mexico, where he is on his first family beach vacation ever, no doubt sampling some new crossover Tuscan/tequila concoction.

Stocking Stuffers Up to $20


Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2020, Veneto, Italy
$19.95, The Case For Wine
David LawrasonSomething perhaps new for white wine fans, and what a lovely, lively, polished and expressive wine – well into tropical fruit range and subtle spearmint. It is medium weight, creamy yet lively.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc Costières de Nîmes 2020

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc Costières de Nîmes 2020, Rhône Valley, France
$19.95, The Case For Wine
David LawrasonA very fine, detailed blend of grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier – the core four whites of the south of France. It has pretty, almost tropical aromas. It is smooth, rounded and warm good balance. Great sipping stock.
Sara d’Amato –
Here’s a find for just about any occasion. This sustainably-farmed blend of grenache blanc, rousanne, marsanne and viognier grown between the historic city of Nîmes and the marshlands of the Camargue is generously aromatic and energetic. Salty, dry and mid-weight with hints of exotic fruit.

Pieropan Soave Classico 2019

Pieropan Soave Classico 2019, Veneto, Italy
$19.95, Vonterra Enterprises Ltd.
John Szabo –
Another outstanding Soave Classico from Pieropan at the “entry level”, though delivering far above the mean for the price, one of Italy’s best, undervalued whites. Drink or hold into the late-’20s; this is a wine that will age much longer than what might be expected.

Robert Weil Junior Weissburgunder 2020, Rheinhessen, Germany
$20.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato –
A very upbeat and leesy pinot blanc (weissburgunder) with a great deal of personality for the price and variety. Spicy white pepper and earl grey greet on the nose with a palate that features pear and white peach. Punchy, flavourful and attractively packaged.


Rioja Vega Crianza 2017, Rioja, Spain
$16.95, Azureau Wine Agency
John Szabo –
Lovely, well-balanced, juicy and fruity Rioja here from the historic house of Rioja Vega, with impeccable balance and crunchy acids, fine-grained tannins and great length. Really refined and elegant, a real feat to find in this price category.

Château de Nages Heritage Costières De Nîmes 2019

Château de Nages Heritage Costières De Nîmes 2019, Rhône Valley, France
$20.95,  Du Chasse Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason –
This is showing considerable peppery lift, with floral lilac and slightly confected plummy fruit. It is, firm, juicy and edgy with that peppery and garrigue Rhone notion ever-present. The length is excellent for the money.

Orestiadi Ludovico 2015

Orestiadi Ludovico 2015, Rosso Sicilia, Sicily, Italy
$19.95, Rogers & Company
Sara d’Amato –
This upbeat blend of nero d’avola with a dash of cabernet sauvignon has a festive feel, brimming with pepper, tobacco and wildflowers. Grown in the black soil of the hills of the Trapani hinterland, this full-bodied, youthful and exceptionally balanced, this Sicilian red is aged in a mix of steel and French oak barrels that contribute an elegant background of spice.

Host/Hostess Gifts and Group Entertaining under $40


Huber Obere Steigen Grüner Veltliner 2020, Traisental, Austria
$22.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
John SzaboLovely, fresh, herbal, lentil and citrus-inflected grüner from the deep loess soils of the Traisental and one of the region’s most celebrated producers. I like the green apple and the crab apple flavours, the tangy acids and the fine length. Classic stuff, ready to enjoy or hold 2-4 years.
Sara d’Amato –
An undeniably lively and widely appealing find for the holidays, this crunchy, aromatic and pure grüner is a steal at this price and should prove exceptionally versatile at the table. Notes of elderflower, green apple skin, white pepper, pear, persimmon, lemon curd and blanched almond. Elegant but characterful with memorable length.

Selva Capuzza Selva 2019

Selva Capuzza Selva 2019, Lugana, Italy  
$23.95, Ian J Campbell & Assoc.                
John Szabo – From old turbiana vines (aka trebbiano di Lugana) from the hills overlooking Lake Garda and the Alps, this is a ripe and fragrant, richly endowed Lugana, almost late-harvest-like in its intensity and depth, though fully dry. The palate is round and creamy, fullish, with creamy-fresh acids and terrific length. Drink or hold 2-4 years, or even more.

Rapaura Springs Rohe Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Rapaura Springs Rohe Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Marlborough, New Zealand
$24.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason –
This is a lively, pristine and polished sauvignon blanc with all kinds of citrus, tropical fruit and fresh mint/spearmint.  It is medium bodied, crisp, thinnish and very lively.

Muddy Water Growers' Series Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Muddy Water Growers’ Series Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Waipara, New Zealand
$29.95, The Living Vine Inc.
David Lawrason
Not expensive but idiosyncratic and intriguing for those who think they know NZ sauvignon blanc. Rich, deeply coloured, organically grown sauvignon fermented with wild yeasts in old neutral barrels which explains the colour and rich texture and toned down fruit exuberance and complexity. Fullish and creamy yet well structured – on a white Bordeaux track.


Xavier Vignon Lirac 2019, Rhône Valley, France
$23.95,  Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David LawrasonFrom an underrated, small region astride Tavel near Chateaunneuf-du-Pape, this has generous pepper, garrigue, licorice and plums. It’s very smooth, dense and quite refined, with excellent focus and length. Delicious.
Sara d’Amato –
Heady and exotic, this extra-dense but and chalky Lirac, features an abundance of black fruit and some pleasant jaminess. The intensity is very good and is not over-the-top when it comes to oak spice.

Château La Garricq Cru Bourgeois 2015

Château La Garricq Cru Bourgeois 2015, Moulis en Médoc, Bordeaux, France
$38.95, The Case for Wine
John SzaboAnother great vintage in a name-brand appellation, with high quality and strong regional signature, so a perfect gifting option for the classic, old world wine lover on your list. Complexity is high in the price category, and structure is impressive, meaning this will continue to evolve another decade, although it would also be enjoyable now if decanted an hour or so ahead and served with salty, fatty protein like roasted leg of lamb or lamb chops for a classic.
Sara d’Amato –
No slouch at any holiday party, this excellent vintage from Bordeaux is showing its pedigree in this blend from Château La Garricq. A very licorice dominant Cru Bourgeois with a sensual musk, sandalwood and cocoa. Cabernet and merlot are enhanced by a petit verdot component that makes up 20% of the blend that has contributed to the slow maturation of this compelling classic.

Viña Real Gran Reserva 2015, Rioja, Spain  
$37.95, FWM Canada
John Szabo – Really well-balanced, succulent, juicy Rioja Gran Reserva here, much fresher and with better integrated wood than many, and fine fruit-evolution balance. I feel this was released at just the right time. Terrific all around, and smart buy for classic Rioja lovers with time for the modern styles as well.

Garage Wine Pirque Vineyard Lot 90 Cabernet Franc 2017

Garage Wine Pirque Vineyard Lot 90 Cabernet Franc 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile   
$37.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
John Szabo – A wine to change opinions on what Chile has to offer. It’s pure cabernet franc for starters, unusual in itself, but also a very long way from more typical jammy, commercial styles. The Garage Wine Co.’s 90th wine since the company’s launch in 2001, it’s a wild aromatic ride from old vines farmed regeneratively, aged nearly two years in old wood. I love the herbal nature, not green, but resinous, and the fresh fruit absent any obvious wood impact. I can’t call this ‘classic’, but I can call it delicious, and well worth a look. Drink or hold mid-term.

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2019

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2019, Sonoma County, California           
$29.95, Andrew Peller Limited    
David Lawrason – Here’s a very pretty, lively zinfandel from a Sonoma master.  It is soft, smooth and seductive. Love the generous nose of raspberry/brambly fruit with cedary oak and spice. It is mellow and warm.

Francois-Xavier Lambert Prestige Des Dentelles Gigondas 2019, Rhône Valley, France    
$34.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo– Classic and evolving, spicy, garrigue-inflected Gigondas here, broad-shouldered, large-scale, concentrated wine, yet with balance fully intact, and a satisfying degree of complexity, length and depth. It’s the sort of immediately engaging wine you can enjoy now (with a splash decant), or cellar another 5-7 years.

Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2018

Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2018, Tuscany, Italy
$23.95, Du Chasse Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Very approachable Chianti thanks to the warmer vintage and modern producer. Expect pretty, complex, well integrated aromas of sour cherry/raspberry, florals, meatiness and herbality. It is, smooth and warm with firm acidity and tannin.

Statement Gifts $50 Plus


La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2012

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2012, Rioja, Spain
$55.95, Roy + Co. Selections Inc.
David LawrasonSuch a classic, elegant and expressive traditional and mature Rioja! A very complex matrix of red cherry fruit, cedar, resin, leather, herbs, etc. etc., that flow together effortlessly. It is perfectly pitched, smooth and balanced.
Sara d’Amato –
From the coveted region of the Rioja Alta, where some of the longest-lived and complex wines originate atop the cooler reaches of Sierra Cantabria hills, this grippy and naturally spiced tempranillo features notes of juniper, white pepper and licorice. The juxtaposition of youthful fruit and mellowed tannic presence due to age makes this a delight to enjoy now.

Signorello Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Signorello Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Napa Valley, California
$124.95, Barrique Wine Imports Ltd.
David LawrasonFor the collector on your list!  From a classic small Canadian-owned property in the heart of the Stag’s Leap appellation this is powerful, compelling, well-structured cabernet for the cellar. It is full bodied, dense, firm and very balanced but needs age. Best 2025 to 2040+.
Sara d’Amato –
Sourced from 28-year-old vines, this cabernet sauvignon exhibits the class one would expect from Margaux. Complimented by cabernet franc, (12%), merlot (6.5%) and malbec (0.5%), this wild yeast fermented blend aged in French oak for 20 months, shows considerable concentration and balance but is restrained at present. Padrone may be the peak of Signorello’s Cabernet Sauvignon pyramid, but this cabernet is undeniably stylish and more inviting at present.

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet/Shiraz/Malbec 2017

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet/Shiraz/Malbec 2017, South Australia
$119.95, Mark Anthony Group
Sara d’AmatoThe 2017 incarnation of Wolf Blass’ Black Label marks the 45th vintage of this iconic cabernet (55%), shiraz (44%), and malbec (5%) blend that hails from the vineyards of Barossa valley, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek. After extended maceration to extract colour and tannin, the wine is aged 17 months in new French and American oak.  Its inky purple colour and exuberant nose is evidence of its vigor. Enticing, seductive and softened enough to enjoy now or be tucked away for another special occasion.
David Lawrason –
The top drop from Wolf Blass, and the 45th vintage of wine that along with a handful of greats put premium Aussie wine on the world wine map. Despite its size and depth there is a real sense of poise here, that great wines often display. It is dense yet streamlined with fine tannin. So well put together that is approachable now, but it will live well into the 2040s or beyond.

Aurelio Settimo Barolo 2016, Piedmont, Italy
$51.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – This is a beautifully perfumed, traditionally-styled Barolo from classicist Tiziana Settimo in a great vintage, delivering textbook nebbiolo aromatics in a complex and beguiling expression. Tannins are already fine-grained, making it a bottle to either drink now or hold late into the decade.  Name-brand quality at an attractive price.

Contucci Pietra Rossa Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2015, Tuscany, Italy
$49.95, Kylix Wines
Sara d’Amato – A very compelling wine, with some lightly evolved character, nicely developed and with a great tannic grip. Evolving slowly and gracefully lovely.

And, so that is a wrap for 2021. A year like no other for me and many. We hope we have helped make it normal, real and enjoyable by bringing on excellent buys week after week, and entertaining via Think You Know Wine, which we are bringing back soon in 2022.  As John explained in the last review, VINTAGES is also changing things next year. We have a plan to deal with this, but much is yet to be ascertained. So, join us again in January, and don’t forget John’s Annual Fizz Guide coming next week. We thank you for your continued support and wish you an extra special Holiday season and much more hopeful New Year. 

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

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