Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES September 23 Release

The Seduction and Sedition of High Scores at the LCBO

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

The VINTAGES September 23 release is titled “High Scoring Wines.” High scores have become core to the LCBOs marketing modus operandi, but its reliance on them is, in my view, an abrogation of their responsibility, as a government monopoly, to Ontario wine consumers.  High scores help sell wine and pad the Treasury of Ontario, but they can be deceptive in the process and the way the LCBO is using them is eviscerating the role of the wine trade, their own product consultants and local media’s ability to educate and provide fair, informed comment.

Where do they get the scores? The wineries and agents must meet the LCBO’s demands for high scores when submitting their products for approval. So, they scour the internet for the highest scores they can find. By this means, the LCBO is now not only controlling price and brand selection — which the marketplace should be doing — it is increasingly controlling the messaging.

For a much more detailed explanation I link you to a recent podcast by self-described part-time wine writer and winemaker Andre Proulx, A Wine Critic Spills All. It runs about 30 minutes, so carve out your time. Proulx came onto the scene into Ontario more than ten years ago, as a radio producer/journalist formerly with NewsTalk 1010, then Toronto Life (after my stint). He had a wine hobby that took over his life. This happens, apparently.

I want you to listen to this piece, so I am going to try not to steal too much of its thunder. In a journalistic fashion, it focuses on an apparent conflict of interest with a certain wine writer. But more importantly and damningly, it lays out the LCBOs role in shutting down a free wine press in Ontario, creating an impoverished environment for independent publishers and writers, resulting in financial conflicts of interest, and reliance on foreign critics. A local press whose job it is to hold a government monopoly accountable within this market can only do so with free and total access to wines it has decided to buy.  

Other retailers around the world do not provide access for the media to taste their purchases. Producers and agents do that. If the LCBO is using this rationale to have ended 30-year media access to their wines, which they did in 2020 — hell, now even very limited access to their own product consultants — then the bureaucrats are out of control, with a warped and grandiose sense of their role. They are not like other retailers. They are taxpayer-funded civil servants.  Once the LCBO has purchased a wine, it is the LCBO’s responsibility to make the wines available to an independent media for evaluation.

Independent wine writers are not promotional mouthpieces for producers and agents; they are reviewers and educators for Ontario consumers.

As to the process of scoring itself, we have come around that mountain on this topic many times in this space, and it comes down to you finding critics that you trust, who align to your taste. And you must understand their rating bandwidth. If a critic is constantly rating $20 wines over 95 and you like the wines, then go for it. But most reliable critics are not scoring this way and I don’t think you are being well served by hyper-inflated scores, no matter the rationale.

WineAlign scores in a bandwidth of 85 to 100 points. Scores below 85 are displayed as NR, which at least provides a clue. Scores over 95 are rare because we are not routinely tasting the world’s greatest wines — that are locked away in the LCBOs Classics Collection department, or in glass cabinets in their stores. We separately provide a five-star value rating which we think is far more useful to your individual budget. We do not provide scores at all in this newsletter. They reside with the review when you click through.

Here are our WineAlign picks of the most-worthy quality/value purchases that we have been able to taste from the Sept. 23 release (about 50 in all) thanks to agents who trust and value our input. Many are not reviewed because the agents are afraid their wines won’t score high enough, or will be scored too low for their price. The LCBO needs to bring back “all-wines-in” media tastings.

Sparkling Wines

Château De Bligny Grande Réserve Brut Rosé

Château De Bligny Grande Réserve Brut Rosé, Champagne,  France
$69.95, The Case For Wine.
David Lawrason – This is a quite deeply coloured rose Champagne, and fruit generosity on the nose and palate lives up to expectation set by the colour. Expect generous redcurrant, strawberry, rhubarb and subtle toast. It is light, even and crisp with a hint of sweetness. Very nicely done.

There are 17 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 time with a look at the October 7 release.

David Lawrason,

VP of Wine

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.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Micheal’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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