Buyer’s Guide to Vintages May 25th Release

Shopping the Flagship Stores, and Fast Tracking to the Future

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

This week marks the beginning of the summer schedule for Vintages releases. Through August there will only be one full release per month (next up: June 8), with a secondary much smaller release through the online portal and the 16 so-called Flagship stores in the latter half of each month. The May 25 release features 32 wines, of which we have tasted about half thanks to participation by the importing agents who see our efforts as beneficial. So, we present our picks as usual. (Travellers John and Michael returning this week.)

In visiting my “home” Flagship store at Bloor West and Royal York in Etobicoke, I reflected on this Flagship concept and how I have become used to the idea within the Vintages culture. They not only carry the largest selection, but often have leftovers that have not sold through online. And “my store” is also staffed by some of the most engaging LCBO product consultants I have come to know over the years. This is key to the wine shopping experience because wine is, above all, personal. And this experience is rarely found in “regular” LCBO stores where one barely encounters staff except the cashier who only asks if you have Aeroplan rewards and whether you want to donate two bucks to the charity of the day.

Price: $325 + shipping (delivery in mid June)
Act now, 67% already sold.

The other reason to shop Flagship stores is to avail yourself of products that have been marked down. Patrolling the aisles last week, I was amazed to see dozens of wines on sale, and not just with token $2.50 reductions. Many Vintages items were reduced by 25%, at least. As I checked them individually through the LCBO website it became apparent that some were system-wide sale items, whereas others seemed local to “my store.” This is not a criticism! I love the idea that a store can respond to its neighbourhood, clientele and inventory situation. It is how wine retailing should work — and will likely work going forward on a much broader scale.  

In the weeks and months ahead, wine retailing is about to undergo grand-slam changes in Ontario. On May 24 the news broke that Ontario is fast-tracking its massive liberalization agenda, with wine and beer moving into convenience stores after Labour Day. And then thousands of new retail outlets will potentially be opening for business after November 1. This was not supposed to happen until January of 2026 — but I say bring it on. The press release lists convenience, grocery and big box stores as future wine retailers… that’s a very wide net! It does not mention specialty wine shops but, as many so-called bottle shops already exist, I am confident there will also be room for small, speciality wine merchants.

The LCBO will continue to be the sole retailer of spirits, and a wholesaler to the many more retailers, which will quadruple Ontario’s numbers to more than 8000. It will give (if that is the word) retailers a 10% reduced wholesale price until January 2026, with an ongoing wholesale price to be determined thereafter. I am not in the wine business, but a 10% margin does not sound like it will be palatable for very long to the big players.

Anyway, there will be a massive shift in how things are done in this province, but there are more questions than answers on the process and details at the moment. One unanswered question is whether the LCBO as the wholesaler will still be the selector and purchaser of the wines, or whether individual retailers will have autonomy to select products they want to sell. Without this autonomy the whole idea of expansion of choice — which the Ford government trumpets so loudly — will be a sham.  

It also remains to be seen how committed the LCBO will remain to retailing wine overall, especially with high-volume, low-end products going to convenience stores and grocery. I suspect they will try to keep Vintages going for awhile, perhaps even the Flagship store concept. But it must eventually succumb to such huge private competition. Looking to B.C. as a jurisdiction where this hybrid public/private model is well down the road, the government BCLDB stores are now a sorry remnant, while a system combining wine boutiques, big box, supermarket and winery retail is flourishing, selling a huge array of wines at all price points.

Here are our picks from the May 25 release, plus some recently tasted Vintages Essentials (available in most stores) set out in increasing price order.

Buyer’s Guide May 25: Whites

Gérard Bertrand Terroir Picpoul De Pinet 2022, Languedoc, France
$18.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – A variety rarely seen outside of the south of France and Catalonia in Spain, Bertrand’s Picpoul consistently delivers excellent value and typicity. Light and bright with a distinctive chalky minerality along with fleshy peach, lime and a touch of passion fruit that mark the palate. An appealing tension is balanced by a touch of viscosity. A raw seafood-ready white to add to your summer wine canon.

There are 29 other Vintages Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be free and visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits

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And that’s a wrap for this edition. We return in two weeks with a look at the larger, “regular” June 8 release. – David Lawrason

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.
Lawrason’s Take
Megha’s Picks
Sara’s Selections

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