Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 18 Release

A Critic’s Tour of The VINTAGES New Release Catalogue

By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato, Megha Jandhyala and Michael Godel

This newsletter is often a platform for in-depth articles on wine regions, issues and trends in the wine world — especially from the highly charged pen of colleague John Szabo. But every once in a while I like to use this space to comment on the VINTAGES catalogue, a glossy, expensive, 54-page mail-out and in-store magazine that the LCBO uses to market its VINTAGES products and activities twice a month. It markets well, but our job is to explain and critique.

The cover of the February 18 edition looked different, sparking this entire article. It took a couple of minutes to realize that the words “New Release Collection” were running as a sub-head. Flipping inside to page 31, I found an explanation that VINTAGES releases are now organized into “Collections”. First, there is the “Essentials Collection” of higher volume, moderately priced wines always available through all VINTAGES stores. Next, we now have the “New Release Collection” of medium-volume mixed-price wines released every two weeks through most VINTAGES stores. And, finally, there is the new “Cellar Collection,” formerly called the Classics Collection and, before that, the Classics Catalogue. These are small volume, higher-priced offerings sold through VINTAGES Online, the unsold bin-ends sometimes ending up on shelf at the larger “Flagship” stores.

New VINTAGES magazine layout.
Click on image to enlarge.

Online and Flagship Exclusives

Which brings us to the odd duck, hybrid category within VINTAGES retailing matrix called “Online and Flagship Exclusives.” To make things more conceptually streamlined, shouldn’t these have been called a “Collection,” as well? The Exclusives Collection or the Flagship Collection or the Collection Collection?  These are smallish lots of more expensive wines sold online or on-shelf at VINTAGES’ 10 largest “flagship” stores, eight of which are within Toronto’s city limits, with one in Oakville and one in Ottawa. I can hear the booing as we speak from wine lovers in London, Kingston, Niagara and North Bay. In any event, we think that these wines are important enough to our readers that we are going to note them in our reviews below as “Online/Flagship.” This the best place to find some of the most interesting wines in each release.


By the way, we will not be organizing our reviews in this newsletter by Collections, because that is not how our readers purchase wine. They just want good quality and fair price and knowing where the wine is from.

A Festival of France

VINTAGES releases usually feature wine styles, countries and regions. The actual selections around the feature theme are a shade deeper than the country might normally be accorded, but most features simply bundle a dozen or more bottles for the purpose of creating splashy, photography-driven marketing travelogue pieces, with some semi-educational/contextual copy. The 17 wines in the France feature occupy 20 pages of real estate in the catalogue. As a former wine magazine editor I can tell you that this is a very expensive proposition. And, by the way, there is no matching in-store promotion or grouping of the products. It’s all about the show on paper.

The wines promoted in the themes are priced within a $20 to $50 band, which is VINTAGES retail playpen. This price range, of course, no longer accommodates the top wines of France, which long ago moved up into the realm of the Cellar Collection. Still, there are a few gems that are highlighted below. So good on the VINTAGES buyers in these instances, and, of course, to the agents for knowing which wines to put forward to those buyers.

Local Talent

Every edition of the VINTAGES magazine includes a feature on Ontario wines, which is the right thing to do. I would like to see more than four pages given to local wines, but there is a reality that Ontario wine is (and has always been) only about 10 percent of VINTAGES volume and shelf space. So, the LCBO can argue that this reflects its historic sales of Ontario wines. It can also argue Ontario consumers can access Ontario wines directly from the wineries, online, and in private stores owned by the larger wineries. All this is true. What may be less known is that Ontario wineries would rather not sell through VINTAGES, as they make considerably more per bottle by selling direct. So, it is unlikely we will see a larger Ontario share at VINTAGES.

This time, “Local Talent” highlights a new line of mid-priced wines by Niagara’s Trius Winery called Distinction. An accompanying Q&A with winemaker Craig McDonald explains the concept, which is essentially to create a mid-market series that keeps the price lid at $20, but offers very-good to excellent quality — 88 to 91 points in WineAlign’s world. That has been achieved thanks to the breadth of the vineyard and barrel resources available to Trius through the Andrew Peller ownership, and the long experience of Craig McDonald, whose wines have a certain brisk, pure, lighter-touch and easy appeal.  The four wines in this release — a barrel-aged sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon and a baco noir — have exacting varietal appeal and very good complexity and depth for $20. The baco noir is the most intriguing, with all kinds of barrel and residual sugar finagling to deal with the odd, rustic beetroot flavours of Ontario’s most-often seen hybrid variety. It reminds me of South Africa’s attempts to tame its distinctive pinotage grape.

The Main Release

So off we go into bulk of the offerings on this release. I have never quite understood the organization of the wines in the catalogue — but it has been done this way for as long as I can remember so veteran readers have become accustomed. Newcomers however will be scratching their heads. Fortified and sparkling wines lead off, then comes Canada, then comes other New World led by the U.S., then South America, Australia/New Zealand and South Africa. Then over to Europe with countries arranged in alphabetical order, finally.

One of the most useful sections of the VINTAGES catalogue is the two-page Shopping List and index at the very end. You may require reading glasses, but it does provide a handy overview of all the wines, vintages and prices in the release.

So endeth the tour — please exit through the gift shop.

It is time for our WineAlign picks. As our WineAlign Crü of five critics is now back on the road, gathering up the experiences that inform all our work, there will be instances where one or two may not have been able to taste the release. This week it is John, who went from Italy to a vacation in a place where grapes don’t grow, which is a smart family consideration.

White Wines

João Portugal Ramos Loureiro 2021

João Portugal Ramos Loureiro 2021, Vinho Verde, Portugal
$13.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits          
David Lawrason – This is offers bags of character and good style for $14. It is very much in that slimmer and sea salty Vinho Verde idiom, but the fruit is quite ripe and almost tropical. It’s a touch sweet but very good acidity keeps this little, narrow ship upright.
Sara d’Amato – Almost guilt-free, this highly gulpable, low-alcohol, light and perfumed Vinho Verde features the loureiro grape, a competitive front runner to the revered alvarinho grape in the region. Elderflower and honeysuckle along with a hint of saline, passion fruit and candied white grape provide a delectable salty-sweet balance.

Deux Roches Tradition Saint Veran 2020

Deux Roches Tradition Saint Veran 2020, Burgundy, France       
$32.95, Online/Flagship Barrique Wine Imports  
David Lawrason – This has long been a favourite Macon house, so nicely capturing richness, sheen, and poise in the most southerly appellation of Macon. Expect complex peach and lemon with hazelnut, a hint of butter and subtle nutmeg. So smooth and comfortable.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a delightful Saint-Véran, glossy, subtly creamy, yet lively and balanced, with notes of stone and orchard fruit, toast, and spice. The finish is delicate and especially long. It also represents good value for a Bourgogne Blanc.

E. Guigal Châteauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2018

E. Guigal Châteauneuf-Du-Pape Blanc 2018, Rhône, France        
$66.95, Vinexx
Megha Jandhyala – Cast in a lustrous golden hue, it feels like liquid silk and displays impressive integrity, poise, and nuance, including alluring notes of honeysuckle, cream, and succulent ripe fruit. Given its richness, I think this is a lovely white wine for late winter.
David Lawrason – Obviously higher priced, but still decent value, this is a rare opportunity to try white Châteauneuf. It has gentle aromatic sheen with melon, honey, wildflower then buttered toast and vanillin from the barrels. It is full bodied, satiny smooth, warm and intense. A textural masterpiece.

Domaine Des Malandes Chablis Premier Cru Vau De Vey 2020

Domaine Des Malandes Chablis Premier Cru Vau De Vey 2020, Burgundy, France        
$54.95, Tastevin Selections
Michael Godel – Here is a fine example of the Chablis Left Bank Vau de Vey that flies from the glass with Kimmeridgian obviousness and never looks back. Quintessential stuff of a steely clarity and simply expectation met.

Trius Distinction Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Trius Distinction Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario
$19.95, Andrew Peller
Megha Jandhyala – This is a lively, refreshing, expressive, sauvignon blanc. I like the zesty acids and delicately sweet, fleshy fruit on the palate. More akin to Bordeaux blanc than Loire or Marlborough, it shows balanced and delicate oak influence.

Trius Distinction Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020

Trius Distinction Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario        
$19.95, Trius Winery
Michael Godel – Medium intensity of all parts makes this a smart and effective chardonnay, from fruit unction to barrel fermentation through to acidity and ultimately varietal tannin.

Jackson Triggs Niagara Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Jackson Triggs Niagara Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
$22.95 Arterra Wines
Sara d’Amato – An energizing sauvignon blanc for all of you who are emerging from hibernation. Refreshing, salty and tropically fruited, this riper, rounder style is consistent with this Grand Reserve range. No notable oak flavours but features an important degree of minerality along with zest, ripe stone fruit, and trailing notes of apple blossom and fennel.

Red Wines –  New World

Queenston Mile Pinot Noir 2017

Queenston Mile Pinot Noir 2017, St. David’s Bench, Niagara, Ontario                                    
$40, OnLine/Flagship Trajectory Beverage Partners
David Lawrason – Encountered at the winery in January, I was so taken by this evolving pinot I asked Queeston Mile if they might donate three cases to the Canadian Culinary Championship in Ottawa — which they kindly did. Now evolved to pale garnet colour, this shows surprising lift and intensity, driven by some alcohol warmth and a sour, volatile edge. Rustic and old school Burgundian, which is a good thing. Drinking at peak.

Radford Dale Black Rock 2019

Radford Dale Black Rock 2019, Swartland, South Africa  
$41.95 OnLine/Flagship  Nicholas Pearce          
David Lawrason – Black Rock is a five-grape Rhone-inspired blend. It shows all kinds of spice-driven complexity: pepper, cinnamon, cedar, along with wood smoke and licorice. It is intense, warm, rugged, VA-edgy and energized. Excellent to outstanding length.
Megha Jandhyala – This rich, full-bodied, co-fermented blend of five Rhône varieties sourced from bush vines is full of character. I really like the ripe and dried red and dark fruit, the nicely integrated spice notes, and concentrated flavours of black liquorice root. There is some volatile acidity and a smoky, brett-adjacent quality here that I find adds to its charm but might not appeal to everyone.

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2018

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina         
$26.95, Trialto Wine Group
David Lawrason – This is a supple silky and rich cab franc with lifted, black raspberry, fine knit herbs/tobacco, all kinds of florality and light oak. It is medium-full bodied, very smooth with great fruit at core. Delicious!

Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Syrah 2021

Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Syrah 2021, Valle Del Limarí, Chile
$17.95, E & J Gallo Winery Canada
David Lawrason – Encountered at the Wines of Chile trade tasting last fall, this is delicious syrah — so rich, smooth and deep with almost perfect ripeness. It is loaded with black cherry swaddled in gentle oak, with subtle peppery and licorice notes. Great value. Chile can really do syrah!

Hedges Family Estate Red 2020

Hedges Family Estate Red 2020, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
$49.95, Online/Flagship Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A source of some of Washington’s most coveted wines, this assemblage a majority of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with supporting roles played by syrah, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot. The tannins feel like rolled pebbles in the mouth, the alcohol is in check, and the palate features an abundance of perfectly ripened red fruit and a delightful ferrous quality. Ready to go.

Pegasus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Pegasus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California       
$69.95, Trayvino Wine Company Ltd.
Michael Godel – Ripe and at the precipice of boozy (14.8 percent declared on the label) yet the equilibrium between fruit and structure is in the proverbial wheelhouse. A lovely maturing drop at this stage with presence and peace of mind to drift, linger and satisfy.

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Barossa Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Barossa, South Australia
$24.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – Shiraz often trumps merlot as a better blending partner for cabernet sauvignon than merlot in the Barossa and in Australia at large. Bold but well-composed, syrah contributes a softening effect to this blend adding a wealth of natural fruit spice and florality. Brambly, peppery and silken, this blend is ready to be served.

Red Wines – Europe

Lealtanza Gran Reserva 2015

Altanza Gran Reserva 2015, Rioja, Spain         
$29.95  Barrique Wines & Spirits Imports          
David Lawrason – This is smooth, tender and delicious, with the fruit and barrel notes in fine harmony Lovely aromatics and not as resinous and oak heavy as many Rioja. Tannins are lightly dusty; the length is excellent. Ready to enjoy!
Sara d’Amato – A robust 2015 Gran Reserva with still-grippy tannins and an abundance of plum and cherry fruit Like you would expect from a Gran Reserva level Rioja, the oak is notable but it exceptionally well-integrated and complementary. Drink now with salty protein or hold another year or two.
Megha Jandhyala – There is a sense of freshness, elegance, and harmony to this almost seven-year-old Gran Reserva, made with 100 percent tempranillo and aged in French and American oak. I like the refined, supple palate and intricately interwoven notes of red fruit, spice, leather, and cigar box.

Mega Spileo Grand Cave Dry Red 2014

Mega Spileo Grand Cave Dry Red 2014, Achaia, Greece         
$30.95, Kolonaki Group Inc.        
Michael Godel – Grand Cave Dry Reds are beautiful and idiosyncratic, entrusted to the hands of winemaker Stelios Tsiris and naturally interactive in their relationship. Even though this 2014 should likely have been at its best more than 18 months ago it shows no signs of slowing pace or giving in to the designs of time.

Prosper Maufoux Mercurey 2019

Prosper Maufoux Mercurey 2019, Burgundy, France      
$43.95, Online/Flagship  Sylvestre Wines And Spirits     
David Lawrason – I have always found a certain energy and complexity in Mercurey, but this example also shows real charm and finesse. Perfect ripeness, generosity, balance and a fine satin texture.

Brigaldara Cavolo Amarone Della Valpolicella 2016,

Brigaldara Cavolo Amarone Della Valpolicella 2016, Veneto, Italy        
$49.95, Rogers & Company        
Michael Godel – Cavolo is anything but a baby or lighter version of Brigaldara’s Casa Vecie, holding its own, thank you very much. More toast, spice and chocolate ganache here but also intensity and drive. Stefano Cesari’s Amarone are truly at the forefront of the oeuvre.

Petra Zingari 2019

Petra Zingari 2019, Tuscany, Italy          
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.         
David Lawrason – This is a good buy in everyday Italian pizza red. It is a creative blend of equal parts merlot sangiovese, syrah and petit verdot, imparting good complexity with bright red and black fruits, fresh herbs, pepper and spicy. Mid-weight, smooth yet lively.

Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2019

Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2019, Tuscany, Italy          
$31.95, The Case for Wine         
Michael Godel – Openly aromatic, sweetly perfumed, transparent and true to the spirit of history and territory. A leggenda if you get the drift and beautifully composed.


Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula Solera Familiar Dry Sherry

Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula Solera Familiar Dry Sherry, Andalusia, Spain
$37.95, OnLine/Flagship   John Hanna & Sons
Sara d’Amato – Palo Cortado is rare style of sherry that starts out under flor, a layer of defense against oxidation and, when the barrier disappears, it is made in a similar fashion to an oloroso. This find was my highest scoring wine of this week’s VINTAGES tasting. It wowed with its scintillating acidity, its salty profile, and complex tapestry of flavours: toasted almond and pecan, orange marmalade, honey and new leather.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a delicious palo cortado, nutty and spicy, with citrus and stone fruit flavours. It is complex, flavourful, warm, and comforting, seemingly made for cold, grey days. Pair it with olives and mature cheeses like aged cheddar or parmigiana.

And on that warming note, enjoy these wines over the wintry days ahead. We will back with a roundup of the March 4 release — and remember that we are also doing our next edition of Think You Know Wine on March 4 as well. Watch your inbox for the registration information.

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
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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