Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Sept 15th, 2018

Retail Privatization is the Answer for Ontario Wine
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES September 15th “Bring Local Home” feature highlighting Ontario wines is a feel-good piece boasting “a plethora of fine Ontario wines – and the practices, places and people that make them uniquely our own.”

The plethora is twenty wineries (more than usual in a VINTAGES feature), and each is allotted one wine except for the new Lundy Manor in Niagara Falls which has two (bonus for the new kids). Within the twenty there are a wide variety of styles, appellations, personalities and qualities profiled. It is actually a fairly comprehensive if uncritical read, but in the end there are not many stellar buys to recommend.

As the LCBO is the major retailer for Ontario wine and an agency of government that must promote a wide range of Ontario wines from all wineries who want to be involved, we should be expecting no more or no less.

That same retailer must also satisfy – within finite shelf space – every consumer of every possible wine from regions around the world. So the Ontario wine industry can only hope, ever, to get a small percentage of the pie at the LCBO.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2013

This situation will not change until the LCBO is removed as a retailer, and niche private stores and supermarkets selling Ontario wine are allowed to flourish and clear their own path. We are nosing down that path, but we are not there yet.

(Note to Premier Doug Ford: corner stores are not the whole answer either – we also need critically knowledgeable private wine merchants selling the good stuff, of which there is plenty. Then watch Ontario wine take off.)

British Columbia has five retail streams (four of them private) selling B.C. wine. And the result is that B.C. wine is the largest selling regional wine within B.C., selling more than Italy, France or California. In Ontario, 100% Ontario grown VQA wine has less than 15% of the market, outsold by those same countries one on one.

I support government jurisdiction over product safety, minimum pricing, social responsibility messaging and tax collection and – If it can efficiently be handled – wholesale distribution (the Alberta model). But can we please just move on, open this up and let the real world of retailing steer the ship.

Let’s trust the good guys, come down hard on the bad guys, collect what government needs to collect taxation-wise, and let the buyers and sellers decide which wines we get to buy and in what quantities. The buying and selling of wine by a unionized agency of the government just has to go.

And the current Conservative government has agreed to this in principle by turning cannabis sales over to the private sector next April. I expect we will see movement on wine as well.  But please let’s just get it going.

In the mean time, I want to outline the non-LCBO options for purchasing Ontario wine that do already exist.

Most importantly you can hop into your car and drive to the wineries and buy whatever you want. Sounds like a good day trip or weekender to me. You are opened to a far broader selection than the LCBO could ever possibly carry and the wineries make way more money per bottle. Win, win.

Ontario wineries can also sell online and direct deliver anywhere in the province, but ordering less than a case or six-pack doesn’t make much financial sense. Many wineries have wine clubs. You can also order online through the LCBO with delivery to your home or to your nearest LCBO store.

In a small but growing number of supermarkets, you can buy Ontario wine from kiosks and in-aisle sections that are licensed to one of the larger companies but mandated to sell competitors VQA wines as well.

As much as I welcome the recent supermarket efforts of the former Wynne government and the campaign promises of the Ford government, neither go far enough. Retail privatization of wine sales is the holus-bolus answer, and it has always been so. The government needs to let it go.

I have included our team’s Ontario recommendations from the VINTAGES Sept 15 release below. There are some good to very good wines but most did not hit the magical quality/price ratio to become “Picks”. So I have supplemented the selection with some Ontario VINTAGES Essentials that are continuously available. I encourage you to get involved in purchasing Ontario wine beyond the LCBO this fall.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Sept 15th, 2018

Ontario Whites and Sparkling

13th Street Premier Cuvée, Niagara Peninsula ($34.95)
David Lawrason – This pale golden sparkler shows fairly complex, soft and fully mature/oxidative nose of earth, nuts, dried peach. It is light bodied and almost delicate with racy acidity, and just a wisp of balancing sweetness. Very lemony, mineral and nutty in the end with very good to excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – A frothy and brightly flavoured chardonnay/pinot noir despite 48+ months of lees ageing. It offers a voluminous mouthfeel and a rich, yeasty profile that is cut by delectably sharp acidity – surprisingly emanating from a warmer vintage. The price is a steal for this traditional method find with undeniable charm.

Cave Spring Brut Blanc de Blancs, Niagara Peninsula, ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Recently joining the Essentials list, this is a light, fresh, balanced chardonnay-based sparkler with a fairly generous complex nose of baked apple pie, hazelnut and some minerality. It has just a hint of sweetness but great acidity and very good length to excellent length. Very nicely composed and at half the price of most blancs de blanc Champagne, an absolute bargain.

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2012Cave Spring Brut Blanc de BlancsChâteau Des Charmes St. David's Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2015

Château Des Charmes 2015 St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay, St. David’s Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($23.95)
David Lawrason – For fans of bigger chardonnay, this has a ripe, complex, notably wooded nose with cedary spice, buttered toast, ripe pineapple/peach fruit. It is full bodied, almost creamy in texture then dries out and warms up on the finish. Very spicy in the end as well. A big Niagara chardonnay.
Sara d’Amato – Gentle maturity has enhanced considerably the complexity of this well-priced and very authentic St. David’s Bench chardonnay. The spicy oak treatment has retreated significantly on the palate to reveal a wealth of well-preserved fruit, a hint of toasty lees and a playful balance of acidity and creaminess. Polished, energetic and widely appealing.

Megalomaniac 2016 My Way Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Improvement continues at Megalomaniac under winemaker Sebastien Jacquey formerly of Le Clos Jordanne. This is nicely bright, delicate and subtle with pretty yellow apple/pear fruit, vague spice and smokiness. It is medium weight, fleshy and spicy with a good seam of acidity, and a dry spicy finish.

Megalomaniac My Way Chardonnay 2016Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2016

Hidden Bench 2016 Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This has a brilliant, piquant nose of green apple, lemon, herbs, mineral and vague florality. It is mid-weight, almost piercingly dry, intense, firm and dry with classic lemon and green apple on the finish. Some tail end bitterness with excellent length.

Rosé and Reds

Malivoire 2017 Ladybug Rosé, Niagara Peninsula ($16.95)
David Lawrason – A full summer season of very good rosé has come and almost gone, but this remains a favourite that can work year ‘round. It is a blend of cab franc, pinot noir and gamay, made in a dry, quite complex yet juicy style. The nose is nicely lifted with redcurrant, strawberry, fresh herbs and vague pink rose. It is mid-weight, freshly tart with a hint of spritz (for now) and a long sour red fruit finish.

Henry of Pelham 2016 Estate Pinot Noir, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a pretty, supple and tender pinot from a warm Niagara vintage. It lacks some structure and grip but is very pleasant with nicely ripened cherry/strawberry fruit, nicely inlaid with vanillin. Much better balanced and less tannic than previous Henry of Pelham pinots – a big shift.

Malivoire Wine Ladybug Rosé 2017Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2016Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016

Hidden Bench 2016 Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench ($31.95)
David Lawrason – The fine 2016 vintage takes this always solid pinot up a notch, with expected firmness yet mid-palate elegance and generosity. The nose is a bit reserved but nicely complex and perfectly ripened with cherry, floral primary notes nicely fitted with subtle oak spicing. It is mid-weight, even-handed and moderately tannic with very good to excellent length.

Flat Rock 2016 Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, ($20.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a very good value Gold Medalist at the WineAlign National Wine Awards. It has has a pretty, generous nose of ripe cherry pie with subtle nutmeg, vanilla and smoke. Nice aromatic integration here. It is medium weight, fairly supple with tart acidity and some heat. There is a dusting of tannin. The length is very good. Easy drinking pinot; chill just a little.

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016Mastronardi Syrah 2016Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2016

Mastronardi 2016 Syrah, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario, Canada ($24.95) (581223)
Sara d’Amato – Syrah’s potential in Lake Erie North Shore is evident in this incarnation by Mastronardi despite a difficult winter. This southwestern Ontario appellation benefits from a long summer growing season and is enhanced by warmth emanating from the shallow waters of Lake Erie. These conditions give syrah the time it requires to ripen while still allowing it to retain its peppery, floral character that is so wonderfully expressed here.
David Lawrason – Lake Erie North Shore has summer growing season potential for syrah but cold Lake Erie winters slam this variety as happened in 2015. Somehow these vines have survived. This is pale with a nicely lifted peppery nose with some strawberry/cherry fruit, plus smoked meat. It is lightly structured for syrah but shows good intensity, with peppery, meaty notes and considerable oak vanillin.

Henry of Pelham 2016 Old Vine Baco Noir Reserve, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This beefy baco from vines planted in the 80s has some wildness going on, contained by loads of chocolaty, smoky oak, pepper and almost raisiny fruit. It has firm acidity, some herbaceosness, chocolate and some vanillin. Very tasty and ribald if not very elegant. Tilting to over-ripeness in this warm vintage. Great with grilled meats. On sale at $21.95 until Sept 16. Vintages Essentials

And that is a wrap for this edition. The harvest is upon us in Ontario, hurricanes notwithstanding. It is a great time to visit our wineries and catch the vibe.

If heading to Prince Edward County by chance you need to check out newly opened Morandin Wines on the Loyalist Parkway at Greer Road neat Hillier. Chris Morandin’s debut County Sangreal Estate Vineyard Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were a very pleasant surprise to the WineAlign team at a recent tasting.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Michael’s Mix

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