Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES December 16 Release

Review of VINTAGES December 16 Release
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Megha Jandhyala

Awaiting New Year’s Day – 2026!

That’s when Ontario’s wine retailing landscape officially changes, dramatically. It will also be the day I have been waiting for since 1986. That year — 40 years prior, come 2026 — I began writing a wine column in The Globe and Mail that frequently criticized Ontario’s wine monopoly system for shutting out competition, limiting selection, fixing prices and making consumers, suppliers and media feel as though they mere pawns.


If you haven’t heard, the Ontario government announced last week that wine, beer and ready-to-drink alcohol beverages will be sold in convenience stores (including gas stations), more supermarkets and big-box stores as of January 1, 2026. That’s the simplistic headline stuff. But deeper into the details, two glaring facts emerge that will change the landscape and over time diminish the relevance of the LCBO. It is politically too drastic to shut the LCBO down now (as Alberta did in one fell swoop in 1993), so they will just let it bleed out.

The first, most salient detail is that Ontario is expanding the number of wine retailing outlets to 8,500. That is almost quadruple the number of wine retail outlets now in operation, including LCBO stores, LCBO  Agency Stores, supermarkets, private bottle shops and retail outlets operated by Ontario wineries. That deluge of competition will surely reduce the relevance and the footprint of the LCBO, which will become primarily a spirits provider (until the spirits lobby has its rightful way).

The second revolutionary detail is that these new retailers will be able to purchase products they want to sell and set their own prices. All LCBO stores will adhere to an LCBO price and selection, but everyone else will be able to charge what they want after government gets its tax cut, and as long as it is above the minimum price allowed (social reference price or SRP). Obviously, retailers will want to maximize profits so I am not expecting any substantial lowering of prices — in fact, some prices may increase. But this level of competition will induce meaningful sales and volume discounting.

Many other logistical details of this new arrangement are not immediately clear and may take the intervening two years to crystalize. Expect lots of posturing from different factions as we go along.  

Most importantly for you, our readers, who are fine wine fans: What will our options be? I have no expectation that convenience stores and gas stations will be selling fine wine. Not their market. Same with mainstream and discount grocers. But some grocers will aim higher if that is their market. I have been in supermarkets and box stores in the U.S., Alberta and B.C. that have very good selections of fine wine depending on their demographic, specifically Costco (North America’s largest wine retailer, by the way).

What about fine wine private wine shops, that are not selling food or other goods? They are not named as an option for now. But in fact, they already exist in Ontario as so-called bottle shops attached to restaurant and bar licenses (which was the entry model in B.C.). They opened in Ontario during the Covid pandemic and a year later were given carte blanche to remain open, with each sale having to include the cost of one take-out food items (even if a lollipop). I think they will flourish.

In the end, I just can’t imagine that with thousands of new retailers coming on stream, that private wine shops will not exist, and that you will be unable to find a fine wine retailer in your neighbourhood that will service your needs well. In communities outside of metro areas, local retailers will have to adapt — and will do so, if you create their market.

And what of the LCBO’s VINTAGES program? Given its long history, connections and infrastructure as a fine wine retailer, they will hang in as long as they can. But without the authority and control they now command I predict VINTAGES will not live to see 2030. 

Meanwhile WineAlign will continue to review the newly released wines to which we have access. We will go with the flow. The December 16 release is not a highlight reel, but there are still enough good-value wines to get you out to the store this week. It is busy and stocks move fast. But here is where you should be looking form in ascending price order. And shop in the morning to save time.

Buyer’s Guide December 16: Whites and Sparkling

Le Bonheur Chardonnay 2022, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa
$17.95, Select Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Winemaker William Wilkinson is responsible for amassing a healthy quantity of this Stellenbosch chardonnay which makes the quality all that more impressive. Hard to get more zest, freshness and length from an $18 chardonnay.

Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2023, DO Valle De Leyda, Chile
$15.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits 
John Szabo – Lean, tart, lemongrass, lime juice and jalapeño-flavoured sauvignon from the cool Leyda valley, infinitely crunchy and zesty, succulent, clean and inviting. A classic ceviche/seafood crudo wine if there ever was one. Chill and crack.    

Argyros Atlantis White 2022, PGI Cyclades, Santorini, Greece
$22.95, Kolonaki Group Inc
John Szabo – Made from 90 percent assyrtiko and 5 percent each aidani and athiri purchased across Santorini, as well as press juice from estate fruit, this qualifies technically as PDO Santorini, though it’s bottled under the PGI designation, an internal decision based on the fact that it comes from vines deemed too young (a “mere” 10–40 years old) to be included in Argyros’s flagship Santorini. 2022 yielded both quality and quantity, a cooler vintage, showing considerable minerality and freshness, lovely sapidity. It’s surely the top value for money on the island.
David Lawrason  – Big surprise! For such a plain looking label offers terrific character. The colour is fairly deep, the nose is ripe and tropical with pineapple, guava, lemon and a flinty/smoky Santorini note. It is fleshy, rich and dry with very good acidity and a stony, briny finish.
Michael Godel – More of an approachable and accessible white as opposed to some piercing and dramatic assyrtiko from Santorini, but with their skyrocketing prices it is blends like these that are the last truly affordable wines form the island.
Megha Jandhyala – This represents both excellent quality and value for money. I really like the balance it strikes between supple fruit and saline-mineral notes, as also its rich and fleshy, yet firm and lively palate. I would pour this ready-to-drink, intriguing white at holiday gatherings as an aperitif.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2022, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa
$23.95, Select Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – Bush vines of about 35 years build impressive structure and depth. The fruit is very ripe apricot, pear and melon with some herbal and spice and light leesy toast from barrel ageing, but no new oak. It is full bodied fulsomely fruit yet showing some fine acid and mineral structure from the granite soils.

Jackson Triggs Niagara Grand Reserve White Meritage 2021, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
$29.95, Arterra Wines Canada
Michael Godel – 2021 was a fine vintage, with quality running high. It’s beautifully made and will get more interesting by this time next year.

Domaine Des Fines Caillottes Pouilly Fumé 2022, Loire, France
$34.95, Atlas Trading
David Lawrason – This is a deeply coloured, notably ripe sauvignon from a warm year, but it maintains excellent freshness, herbals and minerality. The nose shows lifted grapefruit, thyme, tarragon and elderflower. It is medium-weight, firm and quite intensely flavoured.

Segura Viudas Heredad Reserva Brut Cava, Traditional Method, DO Penedès, Spain
$39.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – If willing to spend $70 on basic Champagne, save $30 or buy two of this top drop from Segura Viudas, with its distinctive pewter base bottle. The nose is generous and rich dried peach, lemon, tarragon, hay and candied almonds. It’s lively yet almost creamy and the same flavour depth hits the palate.

Buyer’s Guide December 16: Red

Domaines André Aubert Visan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2022, Rhône, France
$15.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
David Lawrason – This is a re-release and re-taste, but at the price I just must extol its exuberance and charm and five-star value. Lovely Côtes du Rhone where the emphasis is not so much on depth, detail and complexity. Chill a bit and enjoy as sipping or with casual meals.  

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2021, Mendoza, Argentina
$17.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – The scents and flavours are of the cheaper cuts, braised, juicy, tender and most flavourful. It can’t all be filet steak and cigars. This malbec is for the common people and it’s high quality in that regard.

Beni Di Batasiolo Nebbiolo 2020, DOC Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
$19.95, Charton Hobbs
John Szabo – A zesty Italian red, satisfying and very food friendly, offering lots of pleasure in the typical nebbiolo idiom. Crack and go.

13th Street Expression Series Cabernet/Merlot 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Megha Jandhyala – If you like Bordeaux-style blends, this is a solid, very well-priced option from our very own Niagara Peninsula. Fresh but ripe, savoury, yet attractively fruity, with nicely integrated oak flavours, this wine is all about balance, making it a great addition to the table at relaxed and cozy family dinners during the holidays.

Seméli Nemea Reserve Red 2017, Peloponnese, Greece
David Lawrason – This maturing agiorgitiko is very appealing and very good value where you might think you are drinking more expensive Italian. No great length but the nose shows integrated, complex with raspberry, cedar, hay, rose and gentle wood spice. It is medium weight, nicely packed but not heavy.
Michael Godel – Olives and other Mediterranean salted brines but all in all it’s really about fun and a pleasant glass of varietal wine. Also, six years old so pretty much spot on.
John Szabo – What a lovely, pleasant, soft and fruity, well-balanced example of agiorgitiko from Seméli, a winery established in Nemea in 1979 and still one of the leading voices. Highly engaging, ready to enjoy or hold short term.
Megha Jandhyala –
Taking this delightfully supple, gently evolving, and broadly appealing agiorgitiko to get-togethers might well spark fun conversations around the room about Greek wine. I really like the tender red fruit flavours on display here and the delicate spice and floral notes.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2021, DO Valle De Colchagua, Chile
$19.95, Profile Wine Group (Vin Vino)
David Lawrason – Your moment to explore carmenere. Montes has found the handle with this grape – whether through this well-priced Alpha, the new premium Wings ($65ish) or the iconic Purple Angel that is now almost $100. This shows ripe black fruit, modest carmenere greens and well-balanced oak as well.  Lamb springs to mind.

Cave Du Château De Chénas Coeur De Granit Cru Chénas 2022, AC Beaujolais, France
$22.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – Very ripe, fragrant gamay with sweet black cherry, violet and a hint of pepper. It is medium weight, supple and fine with low, fine-grained tannin and a trace of granitic minerality of the finish.

Château La Croix Mazeran 2019, AC Saint Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
David Lawrason – With maturity showing up with leather and meaty notes amid ample fruit, this presents a very typical merlot-based Bordeaux ambiance. It is mid-weight, nicely elegant, almost suave and silky. The tannins are quite fine, the length is excellent.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is an opportunity to savour a balanced, concentrated, and characteristic expression of right bank Bordeaux at an approachable price. The product of a well-regarded vintage, it displays complex flavours of earth, dried herbs, ripe and dried dark fruit, and well-integrated, toasted brown spices. Serve this now or cellar it until the close of the decade.

Château De Montfaucon Baron Louis Lirac 2018, Rhône, France
$32.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – By now the Baron Louis is a settled and nicely aged Lirac with persistent freshness in its floral aromas and a still gainful swagger in its stride. So easy to like and just a perfect all-purpose if also upscale red for the holidays.
John Szabo – A dense and intensely concentrated, dark-fruited example of southern Rhône red, which drinks up there with quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Lirac is literally adjacent) Complexity should continue to evolve over the next 2–4 years.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a concentrated, velvety, grenache-based, characteristically southern Rhône blend. I love its rich tones of garrigue, black pepper and hot stones, accompanied by pleasing notes of dried violets and ripe red and dark fruit. Its lingering, liquorice-tinged finish is especially appealing too.

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2020, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy
$34.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Megha Jandhyala – The Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponti’s “second wine,” is a fantastic introduction to the “Super Tuscan” category. It is ready to drink and relatively reasonably priced, with an immediately discernible, approachable kind of beauty. Almost opulent, with a refined palate and alluring red fruit flavours that are joined by fine spice notes, it should pair well with an assortment of cheeses.
David Lawrason – I will second that!

And that is a wrap for 2023, with a reminder to visit our Fizz Guide for your New Year’s Eve celebrations. All of us at WineAlign, wish you and your family the happiest of holidays. We are right back at it the first week of January to tasted and review the January 6 release.

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
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys

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