Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27, 2020

Cottage Wine, Canadiana and Rosé for Everyday

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

Getting stir crazy? You are not alone, as urban dwellers flock to cottage country this week. Previous concerns about the spread of COVID-19 to smaller communities were de-prioritized last month when the province of Ontario lifted the ban on short-term rentals (less than 28 days). The debate is still out over the safety risk this activity may pose but the increasing precautionary measures and a relatively steadying of the COVID curve have allowed for continued re-opening. Those of you with cottages may have been partaking in much needed getaways or may have decided to firmly plant yourselves among the trees and water for the foreseeable future. If you are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, why not do so from a greener space? Others may be furtively searching for rentals that are now, unsurprisingly, in short supply.

Our family’s cottage is in the Kawarthas and we have been making week-long stays while the kids are virtually schooled in the great outdoors. We have been very careful to bring our own food and wine with us from Toronto for these stays but for the first time last week, I had to go into town. As the city folk inevitably descend into cottage country, and local businesses that cater to that influx reopen, precautions are notably in place. The vast majority of individuals were wearing masks. Line-ups to store entrances with 2-meter demarcations were being respected. The line-up at the portable trailer LCBO shop near Minden was hopping with a considerable queue. (These portable LCBO units are used when there is increased seasonal demand, when the LCBO is gauging interest in an area or for the purposes of relocation.) I was relieved that the sanitary measures seemed to be just as strict or stricter than in Toronto. That being said, let us help you put together a substantial wine list in an effort to limit your in-person visits.


There is no one answer as to what constitutes a great cottage wine. It could be a simple, easy-drinking style that gives immediate pleasure or is a contemplative wine to sip slowly while the sun dips below the horizon. What will we be drinking this week? Below you’ll find our top cottage picks from this week’s VINTAGES release. Be sure to use the WineAlign inventory finder when making your list. A reminder that online ordering with curb-side pick-up is more widely available than ever and will save you a considerable amount of time in line. As for other outlets from which you can buy, WineAlign is now offering a new Passport Series in addition to our WineAlign Exchange programs. Both programs are curated by our critics. The former offering wines from specific locations around the globe while the Exchange is quarterly subscription-based program with customizable options. We are discontinuing the Agency Wine Cases and focusing only on WineAlign curated cases (there are still a few cases left though). The LCBO’s recent commitment to give wine agencies a platform through which to sell their own mixed cases means that most agents will continue to do so on their own. We do hope that this program helped you discover new wines and shed light on the many ways to purchase wine in the province.

Much to my dismay, no announcement was made on Canada Day introducing the regulation allowing direct-to-consumer interprovincial shipping of wine into Ontario. It was anticipated that on July 1st of this year, a decision would be made as was stated in the amendment to the Liquor Licence Act. What a coup it would have been to share this news with weary Ontarians as we celebrate Canada! Instead, all we have is an unceremonious postponement of a subsection of the regulation until July 1, 2021. It is unclear that this revokes the legislation that was to come into effect last week or not. We shouldn’t have to speculate. If, like me, you find it inconceivable that shipping wine direct-to-consumer from the rest of Canada would be denied, then ask for clarify from your MPP. With no official statement from the Ford government, we are in the lurch, yet again. Canada Day has just come and gone but it should be a reminder of the bounty available locally to us as consumers. Please check out the Somewhereness cases, a collaborative project between the 13 wineries that make up Somewhereness and WineAlign. A series of cases continues to be on offer here. A couple of top Canadian wine picks of this VINTAGES release are highlighted below.


Château des Charmes 2015 Blanc de Blancs Sparkling, Traditional Method, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – A creamy, leesy and gracefully aged Blanc de Blancs that is both comforting and expressive. The richness of chardonnay is expansive on the palate and a generous dosage adds roundness and flesh to this high acid style. Very good value for a vintage sparkler of five years.


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Grapes for Humanity A special word from John Szabo and Geddy Lee:

In other news, in a continued effort to support the ravaged Ontario restaurant industry, WineAlign would like to draw your attention to the laudable initiative of Grapes For Humanity. This charitable organization is undertaking an online Fine Wine Auction, with all proceeds going directly to affected businesses. Read the donation request letter below, penned by supporter Geddy Lee, legendary front man of the rock band Rush and fine wine lover himself. It’s a worthy cause, and even a bottle or two from your cellar will help.

“The restaurant industry has been devastated by the outbreak of COVID19. Among those impacted are people who are already among the most vulnerable  in the work force: young Canadians whose first job  is in a kitchen or new  Canadians who bus tables while they Iearn the language, or multi-generational restaurateurs who have invested their entire future  and their children’s  by growing culinary institutions that make dining in our city the envy of major cities all over the world.

After years of enjoying their service, it’s our turn to serve them, the  Chefs, sommeliers, waitstaff, delivery personnel, farmers, fisherman, bakers and more whose livelihood has evaporated virtually overnight.

They’re not doctors or ICU nurses, epidemiologists or vaccine manufacturers. But they are essential to us and have shared some of our life’s most intimate or profound moments (that big deal you landed! the night you got engaged!) or our toughest ones (goodbye dinners for kids heading off to college). l’m talking about people we know whose livelihood is the hospitality business. They make sure we have what we need, open early or stay late, find whatever we have to have that isn’t actually on the menu. Nothing is ever too much trouble. Now is the time to remember their generosity  because they need our help.

In an effort to help these individuals who now find themselves in dire straits, Waddington’s in conjunction with Grapes for Humanity Canada will be hosting a Rare and Fine Wine Auction, the proceeds of which will benefit the Ontario Hospitality lndustry and its struggling work force.

And so I am reaching out to you, my fellow wine lovers, to ask you to donate something great from your cellars. Something that will help us raise some badly needed funds to help keep our friends  in the hospitality world afloat and better able to survive this economic tsunami.

We will come out of this…but right now we must throw  a lifeline to those who need  us … let’s do this  by sharing our good fortune and raiding our wine cellars so the staff and independent restaurants  can weather this storm.

Direct Benefactors include Toronto Restaurant Worker’s Relief  Fund and Save Hospitality.

Please contact Doris Miculan Bradley ([email protected]) at Grapes for Humanity Canada for more information and a donor application sheet.

Thank you so much….” – Geddy Lee


That’s all for this week. Happy Cottaging, or “Camping” if you’re from the north!

Be sure to check out our latest Passport Series offering, destination California! John Szabo and I are also pleased to announce that we will be launching our new podcast “D’Amato & Szabo: Wine Thieves” this coming week. We begin with a multi-part series focusing on Burgundy’s top values. The podcast will be accessible from the WineAlign website with further details to follow.

Sara d’Amato

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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.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys

New Release and VINTAGES Preview