Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st, 2020

No Time to Die, Avoid the LCBO, and Support Local

By John Szabo MS, with picks from Sara, David, and Michael

There’s No Time to Die. When I first sat down to write this intro almost two weeks ago, the fact that MGM’s announcement to delay the premier of the new Bond film, titled: “No Time to Die” from April until November seemed one of the bigger inconveniences of the times. To badly understate it, things have gotten a lot more serious. I won’t bother to rehash the absolutely unprecedented near total shutdown of the world. You’ve heard and read it all already. To borrow WineAlign CEO Bryan McCaw’s analogy, “It’s like a giant computer and we’ve got to press reset. And while it’s resetting, there is nothing we can do.”

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Things are no different in the wine world. All press trips and wine fairs, from the world’s largest, like Prowein in Düsseldorf or Vinitaly in Verona, to small regional tastings, have been cancelled, postponed or closed, as have all wine courses and masterclasses, winemaker visits, winery tasting bars, indeed any event, place or circumstance where more than a couple of people would be sniffing, slurping, and spitting in close proximity (what could go wrong?). This includes the LCBO Vintages release tastings, which have been shelved until the end of April, at least.

Nonetheless, we have a list of excellent wine recommendations from the VINTAGES March 21st release. But my personal suggestion to you is: DO NOT BUY ANY OF THEM. There are smarter options.

For one, the LCBO front line staff don’t want to see you. While we are all working from home, including the LCBO head office cats, they are still out there packing shelves and operating the cash registers, in direct contact with thousands of consumers and armed with nothing but dwindling supplies of anti-bacterial wipes and Purell. As one cashier (who preferred to remain anonymous) put it to me this week: “unless we show symptoms [of COVID-19] we’re required to come to work. I heard of some product consultants who didn’t show up yesterday at their store, and their jobs are in jeopardy. They were just scared”.

A group of front line LCBO employees even felt strongly enough to air their views publicly on Twitter under the handle @lcbotruth (but remaining anonymous again):

If the world were the Titanic, LCBO staff are the band that keeps playing.

All non-essential services are on pause. So why is the LCBO still open? It pains me to admit it, but booze is not essential.

And secondly, while I’m not an alarmist, going out and sharing close space and surfaces with others increases the risks for all. I’m already tired of hearing about how we can “flatten the curve”, but this is one easy way to mitigate the spread.

So my recommendation is to avoid the LCBO.

What we should instead be doing is supporting Ontario wineries and private importing agencies. Don’t worry, LCBO employees will still get paid whether you show up or not – we’re paying their salaries.

But unlike the LCBO, if wineries and small importing business stop operating, employees DO NOT get paid. They go out of business. It’s parallel to the sensible idea of supporting local restaurants instead of Chef Boyardee. You can also help your community by getting your wine fix – and Lord knows we can all use a glass of wine – delivered directly from a local winery or small business in need.

What’s more, the smart ones have implemented free delivery, giving you a pain-free option without leaving the house – see partial lists of import agents and wineries offering free delivery below. You can purchase mixed cases from wineries, while agents are required by law to sell by the full case (6 or 12, depending on how they are shipped). But the system restart is going to take some time, several months according to the World Health Organization, so extra bottles will be necessary.

Import Agents offering free delivery

Wineries offering free delivery

Those of you concerned that provincial coffers will run dry should not fear either; the LCBO, and the government, still take their healthy cut from all wines traded in Ontario. You’ll still be supporting critical services such as Ontario’s excellent Health Care system.

We have published thousands of Ontario wine reviews on WineAlign to help guide your purchasing, with more to come (see my latest picks from Prince Edward County, for example). And through our research for the WineAlign Exchange wine subscription service, we have recently tasted hundreds of private import and consignment wines, and posted our reviews. Just click on the Wine tab along the top of the website and use the filters to search for your parameters (price, variety, region, etc.), select “All Sources” in the Favourite Stores section, and you’ll see the top-rated wines and the agencies that import them.

And/or you can sign up to receive a case of the WineAlign critics’ curated selection of the best through the Exchange, also delivered to your door.

For those insistent on braving the wilds, see the buyer’s guide below. In the name of restarting and novelty, we have created a list of the best new wines to come through VINTAGES, which include both local and imported wines.

Additionally, the release features “Classic Regions”, as well as BC and Nova Scotia. Regarding the latter selections, David Lawrason had this to say when I requested his picks for the report: “Sorry there are no Nova Scotia or BC wines to put forward. VINTAGES buyers have really not done their homework. Their picks are so seven years ago”. Michael, Sara and I, however, had some nostalgia for a few.  BC has also announced a new Sustainability certification for wineries – better late than never. Starting April 1, 2020, earth-friendly vineyards and wineries will take stock of their sustainability efforts and apply for certification, with BC Certified Sustainable Wine hitting the shelves as early as January 2021. Read about it at SustainableWinegrowingBC.ca.

At the time of writing the LCBO is still open, so you can pick up any of these recommended wines to get you through. Better yet, pre-order online so they’re ready to pick up when you get to the store, or have them delivered through Foodora (yes, you can in some parts of Toronto).

This is easily the most surreal experience I’ve ever lived through. The entire planet is concerned. So, as we stare at the spinning wheel on the computer screen waiting for the world to restart, let’s do our part.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: New at VINTAGES – White

Adamo Estate Riesling Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
John Szabo – Of the three rieslings produced by Shauna White of Adamo, this bottling from the Foxcroft vineyard in Vineland is the sweetest, made in a sort of medium-dry, spatlese style, but really well balanced at that. Cellar for another 1-2 years; I like the direction this is heading. Drink 2021-2027.
David Lawrason – Adamo has riesling planted in its brave, young Hockley Valley vineyard near Orangeville in central Ontario, but this is sourced from much older vines in the Foxcroft Vineyard on Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench. It has a full-on, ripe and complex aromas set in a medium weight, off-dry and quite rich style. …


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That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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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.

John’s Top Picks
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview