Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES September 23 Release

The Seduction and Sedition of High Scores at the LCBO

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

The VINTAGES September 23 release is titled “High Scoring Wines.” High scores have become core to the LCBOs marketing modus operandi, but its reliance on them is, in my view, an abrogation of their responsibility, as a government monopoly, to Ontario wine consumers.  High scores help sell wine and pad the Treasury of Ontario, but they can be deceptive in the process and the way the LCBO is using them is eviscerating the role of the wine trade, their own product consultants and local media’s ability to educate and provide fair, informed comment.

Where do they get the scores? The wineries and agents must meet the LCBO’s demands for high scores when submitting their products for approval. So, they scour the internet for the highest scores they can find. By this means, the LCBO is now not only controlling price and brand selection — which the marketplace should be doing — it is increasingly controlling the messaging.

For a much more detailed explanation I link you to a recent podcast by self-described part-time wine writer and winemaker Andre Proulx, A Wine Critic Spills All. It runs about 30 minutes, so carve out your time. Proulx came onto the scene into Ontario more than ten years ago, as a radio producer/journalist formerly with NewsTalk 1010, then Toronto Life (after my stint). He had a wine hobby that took over his life. This happens, apparently.

I want you to listen to this piece, so I am going to try not to steal too much of its thunder. In a journalistic fashion, it focuses on an apparent conflict of interest with a certain wine writer. But more importantly and damningly, it lays out the LCBOs role in shutting down a free wine press in Ontario, creating an impoverished environment for independent publishers and writers, resulting in financial conflicts of interest, and reliance on foreign critics. A local press whose job it is to hold a government monopoly accountable within this market can only do so with free and total access to wines it has decided to buy.  

Other retailers around the world do not provide access for the media to taste their purchases. Producers and agents do that. If the LCBO is using this rationale to have ended 30-year media access to their wines, which they did in 2020 — hell, now even very limited access to their own product consultants — then the bureaucrats are out of control, with a warped and grandiose sense of their role. They are not like other retailers. They are taxpayer-funded civil servants.  Once the LCBO has purchased a wine, it is the LCBO’s responsibility to make the wines available to an independent media for evaluation.

Independent wine writers are not promotional mouthpieces for producers and agents; they are reviewers and educators for Ontario consumers.

As to the process of scoring itself, we have come around that mountain on this topic many times in this space, and it comes down to you finding critics that you trust, who align to your taste. And you must understand their rating bandwidth. If a critic is constantly rating $20 wines over 95 and you like the wines, then go for it. But most reliable critics are not scoring this way and I don’t think you are being well served by hyper-inflated scores, no matter the rationale.

WineAlign scores in a bandwidth of 85 to 100 points. Scores below 85 are displayed as NR, which at least provides a clue. Scores over 95 are rare because we are not routinely tasting the world’s greatest wines — that are locked away in the LCBOs Classics Collection department, or in glass cabinets in their stores. We separately provide a five-star value rating which we think is far more useful to your individual budget. We do not provide scores at all in this newsletter. They reside with the review when you click through.

Here are our WineAlign picks of the most-worthy quality/value purchases that we have been able to taste from the Sept. 23 release (about 50 in all) thanks to agents who trust and value our input. Many are not reviewed because the agents are afraid their wines won’t score high enough, or will be scored too low for their price. The LCBO needs to bring back “all-wines-in” media tastings.

Sparkling Wines

Château De Bligny Grande Réserve Brut Rosé

Château De Bligny Grande Réserve Brut Rosé, Champagne,  France
$69.95, The Case For Wine.
David Lawrason – This is a quite deeply coloured rose Champagne, and fruit generosity on the nose and palate lives up to expectation set by the colour. Expect generous redcurrant, strawberry, rhubarb and subtle toast. It is light, even and crisp with a hint of sweetness. Very nicely done.

White Wines

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand
$21.95, DB Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – An appealingly tight and minerally sauvignon from the clay-rich Southern Valleys sub-region in Marlborough, with high flavour density and very good to excellent length. Another serious, well-made wine from this reliable estate; drink or hold short term.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a chance to try a premium, well-priced Marlborough sauvignon blanc that exhibits an intriguing sense of poise and self-possession. Not quite pungent, nor teeming with tropical fruit, it has a focussed and vibrant flavour profile that is delightfully herbaceous and citrusy, with refreshing mineral tones.
Michael Godel – Intensity is impressive in citrus so zesty and sharp it attacks the palate with serious tang and force. Hard not to be fascinated by this special style of wine.

Wine Art Estate Plano Malagousia  2022

Wine Art Estate Plano Malagousia  2022, Drama, Greece            
$23.95, Kolonaki Fine Wines & Spirits    
David Lawrason – This intriguing, exotic Greek variety shows lots of bloom – almost msucat-like in its generosity with lifted Easter lily florals, spearmint, tropical fruit and lemon.  It is medium-full bodied, fleshy and polished with some heat, and grapefruity bitterness.
John Szabo – A clean and fresh, very floral-herbal, example of this native aromatic white Greek variety, very much in the varietal spectrum but dialed up a notch or two, almost muscat-like on the nose but very dry riesling on the palate. I’d see this with deep-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella, or any deep-fried seafood. Lots to like here; enjoy over the near term.
Michael Godel – Drama with a capital “D” because the ample fruitiness separate these varietal wines into a plentiful world of their own. Juicy and succulent from start to finish.

Château D'Antugnac Haute Vallée Terres Amoureuses 2021

Château D’Antugnac Haute Vallée Terres Amoureuses 2021, Limoux, Languedoc, France
$26.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
Megha Jandhyala – If you are not already familiar with the small southern French appellation of Limoux, the rich but elegant and balanced Terres Amoureuses is a great introduction to it. I love the focus here, the concentrated notes of citrus and orchard fruit, the nuances of spice, and especially the silky, rounded, delicately textured palate.
Sara d’Amato – I couldn’t help but come back again and again to this aromatically compelling chardonnay and mauzac blend from the Languedoc region of Limoux, home to expressive sparkling wines. This still white features stimulating flavours of ginger, honeysuckle, rosebud, and lemon curd are sure to shake away the doldrums. Worthy of discovery over aperitifs with friends.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2020

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2020, Burgundy, France   
$34.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits        
David Lawrason – This ‘basic’ Chablis from William Fevre has settled into a good space at three years. There is certainly some ripeness of the vintage but enough acidity to keep the ship upright and on course. The nose shows generous yellow pear/almost peach with florals, flint and parmesan. It is bright and warm.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2022

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2022, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, South Africa 
$64.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – This could well be one of the finest chardonnays yet from this pioneering Hemel-en-Aarde estate, up there with the best from the southern (and northern) hemispheres. I love the creamy texture framed by saliva-inducing acids, and the exceptional length. Drink or hold 4-6 years.

Rosé Wine

Château D'Aquéria Tavel Rosé 2022

Château D’aquéria Tavel Rosé 2022, Rhone Valley, France
$24.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Megha Jandhyala – For those who are looking for a food-friendly wine for a dinner party, this is a well-priced, versatile rosé that is reliably delicious, vintage after vintage. A dazzlingly radiant blend of six varieties, it is layered and concentrated, with potent flavours of red berries and herbs. It should pair well with a range of foods, though I would like to try it with mildly-spiced tandoori salmon or paneer!
Sara d’Amato – An ageworthy and gastronomic rosé to keep on hand over the upcoming holiday season. The estate of Aquéria employs an impressively complex proprietary process in the creation of their one and only wine. Close to a dozen grapes are grown in cool sandy soils in the largest contiguous vineyard in Tavel where each red is paired up with a white for co-maceration before fermentation and maturation, never in oak. The result is a complex cornucopia of red fruit and flora that includes strawberry, candied cherry, white peach, starfruit, dragon fruit, thyme and rose. Marked by a hot, drought vintage, this latest release is more concentrated than the norm.

Red Wines

Les Vins Bonhomme El Petit Bonhomme 2020

Les Vins Bonhomme El Petit Bonhomme 2020, Jumilla, Spain
$16.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – A simple but satisfying red blend of monastrell, garnacha and syrah from southeastern Spain, a rich source of attractively-priced red wines. This would make a fine party wine option when value and satisfaction are the order of the day. Drink over the near term, and best with a gentle chill.

Navascués Enología Cutio Garnacha 2019

Navascués Enología Cutio Garnacha 2019, D.O. Cariñena, Aragón, Spain
$16.95, Vintage Trade Wine
Michael Godel – From a very good winemaker – that being the affable Jorge Navascués Haba. From the DOC of Cariñena where old vines and low yields somehow translate to a $17 wine in Ontario. Expect great fruit and truly local knowledge with fine acidity, sweet and elastic tannin, purity, honesty and length.
Sara d’Amato – If you find yourself looking for an unfussy, ready to drink red of considerable value and crowd-pleasing candour, halt here. This blend of garnacha and cariñena is from the region of Cariñena in northeastern Spain, that known for an impressive quantity of old vine garnacha. This spirited and approachable find offers notes of juniper, cola, purple plum and licorice along with crunchy salinity that gives the impression of freshness and balance

Feudo Maccari Noto Neré Nero D'Avola 2020

Feudo Maccari Noto Neré Nero D’Avola 2020, Sicily, Italy 
$19.95, Noble Estates Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – Modern, polished, stylish, ripe and plush, dark and savoury – this is widely appealing nero d’avola from Feudo Maccari. Ready to drink or hold short term.

Alta Yarí Gran Malbec 2020

Alta Yarí Gran Malbec 2020, Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina  
$24.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants       
David Lawrason – From the highest altitude Gualtallary region of the Uco Valley, this is a very ripe, fragrant and complex malbec with blackcurrant, violet, thyme, pepper, graphite and wood spice. Actually more like cabernet than malbec with its great acid and tannin structure.
Megha Jandhyala – Made with estate fruit, Alta Yarí’s gran malbec is a compelling wine that represents excellent value. I love its intense and multidimensional flavour profile of ripe dark cherries and blackberries, savoury herbs, pepper, and violets, and the plush but balanced palate, undergirded by lively acids.

Lafage Narassa 2020, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
$24.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Megha Jandhyala – As the weather turns cooler, this ripe, plush blend of grenache and syrah should prove comforting and soothing. Sourced from 60-year-old vines growing in black slate soils in the Agly valley, it is rich and flavourful. I love the notes of sweet red fruit, toasted pepper, and savoury herbs, the tangy acids, and the cherry liqueur-like finish.
Michael Godel – Old vines and super low put this grenache (70 percent) and syrah in a place where wines of this cost rarely lay. Impressive stature and structure with the best years still to come.

Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico

Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico DOCG 2021, Greve, Tuscany, Italy
$24.95, Profile Wine Group (Vin Vino)
Michael Godel  – No shocker that Castello di Querceto’s Dudda Valley location has produced a light and open-knit sangiovese from the less than round 2020 vintage. Dare it be said old-school Chianti Classico but with modern clarity and charm. Could drink this every day of the week.

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Barossa Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2019

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2019, Barossa, Australia
$26.95, Family Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Attractive, ripe, wild strawberry and cherry aromatics lead on this reliable GSM blend from Yalumba, with supple, sweet-savoury, licorice-infused palate. I love the smooth texture, the fine tannins, the balanced acids, the seamless palate experience. Drink or hold mid-term – it should have a reasonably long drinking window.
Sara d’Amato – Yalumba showcases three varieties that have been grown in the Barossa for over 170 years in this gregarious blend that is immediately endearing. An elevated expression of these varieties with plenty of juiciness and natural fruit spice, with a distinct sensation of mineral freshness, bramble and white pepper.

Jules Taylor Pinot Noir 2020, Marlborough, New Zealand
$27.95, Vinexx
Sara d’Amato – A friendly but not simple pinot noir whose quality far exceeds the price. Features the finesse expected from Jules Taylor with clean winemaking and a calm-cool-and-collected approach. Notably concentrated but not heavy with flavours of crushed cherry fruit, fleshy red plum, violet, bramble, tilled earth and gentle oak. Engaging and ready to drink.

Volcanic Hills Magma Red 2020

Volcanic Hills Magma Red 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia                     
$26.95, Touchstone Brands       
David Lawrason – Something new from Volcanic Hills, that sits on the lower slope of Mt Boucherie the extinct volcano in West Kelowna. This lively, juicy red is an unusual and creative blend of 70% zweigelt, merlot and marechal foch.  I like its sense of generosity and energy – quite complex with raspberry, rose, some foch meatiness and roasted beets

Château Haut-Veyrac 2018

Château Haut-Veyrac 2018, St-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux,France        
$37.95, Appellation Wines        
David Lawrason – Another ‘minor’ Bordeaux over-delivers for the price. Now maturing this merlot offers a complex cedar, graphite, fennel and blackberry jam, with wood spice and tobacco in the mix as well. It is medium weight, quite supple and elegant. There is a nice sense of composition.
Michael Godel – Aromatic Right Banker from Saint-Émilion, truly perfumed and well equipped with alcohol (15 percent), drying tannin and plenty of grip. This is impressive and given three-plus more years time should truly deliver the goods – especially at this low, low price.

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir 2021

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir 2021, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario  
$37.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits    
David Lawrason – This is an organiclly grown pinot from Canada’s Winery of the Year at the National Wine Awards is a classic, with almost perfect “pinosity” – red fruits, florals and forest floor perfectly pitched by oak spice.  It is light to medium weight, smooth and a touch warm with fresh acidity and youthful crusty tannin. Well balanced, complex, serious yet and delightful.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an elegant Beamsville Bench pinot noir, expressive, complex, and balanced, revealing savoury dried herbs and underbrush, layered on top of flavours of tender red cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and rose essence, as it unfurls.
Sara d’Amato – A stand-out in the category of home-grown pinot noirs, this generous and lively expression offers notable richness and concentration despite the higher yielding vintage. The nose unveils a multitude of subtleties with time in glass so don’t sip too quickly. An elegant tannic profile adds a modicum of grip to the gently maturing palate. A characterful wine exhibiting gentle and fruit-supportive wood spice, nicely poised with feathery acids and excellent length.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We return in two weeks time with a look at the October 7 release.

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
Micheal’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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