For the first time in many years rumblings of change are gaining momentum in the Canadian wine industry.
For Ontarians the last notable change was when stores opened their back-room stocks to self-serve displays. The first self-serve store was opened in Weston Ontario in 1969 and expansion of the self-serve concept was completed in the 1970’s. That was a big deal but it also happened a long time ago.
Late last year the Province of Ontario took some baby steps on its change journey with the introduction of craft beer and cider sales in selected grocery stores. A few months later, in February 2016 it was announced that some 70 non-LCBO store outlets would be approved for sale of VQA wine in the fall of this year.
Fast-forward to late July when three provinces –Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec – announced they had concluded a deal to enable the free-flow of wines across provincial borders. There are few details about what this deal entails but it is clear it will operate on eCommerce platforms similar to the online wine portal introduced by the LCBO a few days later.
Welcome to the 20th century!
Presumably we will learn more in due course but we have a long way to go before we can say we have an open system for the distribution of alcohol in Ontario, and more broadly in Canada for that matter.
Frankly, I think the current system in Ontario is one we want to retain as fully as possible. LCBO stores are well-designed, bright and inviting. Product choice is wide and diverse and, in the Vintages program, is constantly changing. LCBO stocks are fresh thanks to aggressive inventory management systems and guidelines. Product can be ordered for free delivery to any store in the province when it is not available in your local store. The LCBO portfolio is enormous with some 22,000 products available across all distribution channels (a product is defined as a stock-keeping unit and can be as unique as a package size for a specific brand).
Despite its reputation for slow and cumbersome adoption of change the LCBO fulfills its control mandate – in this instance both control of revenue collection and adherence to sound and healthy consumption practices – determined when the Board was established as part of the deal to end Prohibition in Ontario in 1927.
I think the LCBO does a fine job: it deftly achieves a balance between the control mandate and its role as a leader in retail merchandizing. This is an amazing accomplishment.
France, Midi – IGP Côtes Catalanes Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc 2014
This is a Chardonnay/Viognier blend from a hot zone in the Roussillon area of the Midi. Despite its origin from an area known for ripe red blends, this is a fresh and bright wine with attractive floral aromas and crisp, ripe tropical and tree fruit on the palate. There is a firm minerality on the palate accompanied by refreshing acid. The finish is long. This is a great value wine for a late summer sipper. Buy lots!
Extra dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle
France, Provence – AOC Bandol La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Rosé 2015
Bandol is best known for its well-structured, age-able reds made primarily from Mourvèdre, and usually blended with Grenache and Cinsault. This said, Provence is better known for its Rosé wines, light in colour and bright in texture. This wine combines the best of the Bandol blend with the character of the regional Rosés. It is a lean and firm, structured wine, onion-skin in colour with berry fruit, peach, herbs and spice on the nose and palate. It is bone dry and more full in body than the light colour would suggest. Buy a few bottles and open them this winter when you serve poached salmon.
Extra dry, rosé wine – $20.95 per bottle
France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Gardet Cuvée Saint Flavy Brut Tradition NV
This is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, grapes sourced from throughout the Champagne region. It is a youthful wine with modest lees and plenty of grapefruit, lemon, green apple, light minerality and bright acid on the palate. While this wine will not win any awards for complexity it is a refined, elegant wine with all the magic Champagne mousse and mouth feel one wants at a very fetching price. Stock up for the holidays!
Extra dry, sparkling wine – $42.95 per bottle
Greece, Macedonia – IGP Florina Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2011
A cool-climate Syrah, this wine is ripe and medium-bodied with the aromatic and flavour markers we love in this grape: savoury and earth notes, blackberry fruit, black pepper spice and herbs. The finish is long and this wine will be a great match for grilled red meats. If you haven’t had much opportunity to experience Greek reds, this is an excellent place to start.
Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle
South Africa, Elgin – WO Elgin Thelema Mountain Vineyards Sutherland Chardonnay 2012
Reduction alert! This is an interesting wine that may not appeal to every palate but for those who savour reductive Burgundy whites this wine is for you. The nose is smoky with some lees notes and the classic barnyard aromatic character of a reductive wine. It has a lean and taut mouth feel with lots of acid, green apple, citrus and spice. This is another great value wine which will develop further with a few years in your cellar. (Note: reduction is the opposite of oxidation and results from limited /no exposure to oxygen in the winemaking process).
Extra dry, white wine – $15.95 per bottle
Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.