The Other Game In TownSaturday, September 15, 2012 by: Vin Greco
While the LCBO rules the roost when it comes to the sale of wines in Ontario , there are a couple of alternatives, aside from making your own. The Andrew Peller group operates over a hundred small Vineyard Estates shops in southern Ontario, while Vincor has over 160 shops throughout Ontario, including two here in Sault Ste. Marie.
Most wineries are only able to sell their wines either through the LCBO or at their wineries, though they do ship. Aside from some wineries with one or two off-site licences, the only other significant exception is Magnotta with eight locations, primarily around Toronto .
At one time, prior to the growth of the Ontario fine wine industry, a few large companies including Brights and Andrés held licences to operate a fixed number of shops throughout the province. Peller Estates owns the Andrés licences and Vincor – now owned by the mega-conglomerate, Constellation Brands – took possession of Brights.
With Free Trade in 1993, the shop licences were grandfathered, and no new licences can be issued. The licences only allow for the sale product which qualifies as ‘Made in Ontario ”. That means that some wines, such as those referred to by the Wine Rack as “Two Origins”, ostensibly from other countries, are allowed if they contain a minimum of 25% Ontario wine. The average is actually about 40%.
Those same labels may appear in other provinces, but there they don’t have to have the Ontario component. The Two Origins wines are all generally in the $11 to $14 range, with most falling in the $12 bracket. There are always promotions with wines usually discounted by about $2.
I’ve tasted many of the imported blends, and must say that they are usually very acceptable; that is, they taste good. They do conform to the styles expected – fruity chardonnays, some sweetness at the core of the shiraz – but these are not wines that you look to for truly distinctive character, and that’s fair enough. They represent good value and they deliver.
There are always opportunities to taste a couple of the wines at the store, and so you can know how they appeal before you buy.
The cornerstone wineries for the Wine Rack operation are Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs. Both are very reputable producers. In fact, it was Inniskillin, founded by Don Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, which really began the premium wine industry in Ontario , acquiring in 1975 the first licence to produce wine since prohibition. Inniskillin was sold to Cartier in 1992, and the next year Vincor was formed. Ziraldo and Kaiser remained with Inniskillin until 2006.
Jackson- Triggs was founded by Allan Jackson and Donald Triggs in 1993, the same men who established Vincor in the first place. Both wineries operate independently. Ironically, while both Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin have separate operations in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley , those wines are not available through the Wine Rack stores because of inter-provincial trade restrictions. There may also be limitations because of the Free Trade regulations between Canada and the United States .
Until Sunday, the 2010 Inniskillin Meritage, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, is on sale for $16.95. The 2010, just released, is very tasty with some sweetness at the core from the high percentage of Merlot.
Beginning Monday and until October14, the Late Autumn Riesling, noted for its ripeness and rounded stone fruit flavours will be $1 off at $11.95. The Pinot Noir will be $2 off at $12.95. It is a good buy for Pinot noir at this price with the suggestion of dark berry and plum, some spice and smokiness. A mid-weight to lighter red. At $11.95 you can enjoy the Riesling-Pinot Grigio, which has a crisp finish in a wine that is off-dry, suggesting citrus, apple and peach.
The Vidal Ice wine will be $5 off at $44.95 for a 375 ml. bottle. I’ve read many blogged reviews, and they are all high on this dessert wine. Vidal is a hybrid, and a little less acidic than the noble Riesling grape. Its wines are less expensive, but very serviceable.
Jackson-Triggs wines are offered at three or four tiers of quality and price. The entry-level white label or “Proprietor’s Selection” series is featured this month in the 1.5 litre format for $2 off, $14.95. The wines are sound, not exceptional, but fair value. The Black Label or “reserve” series is a step up, revealing good varietal character. The Chardonnay is just $10.95 for the next month. It’s mostly stainless steel production, but 20% received 4 months in oak. It is crisp apple and pineapple, with a touch of vanilla from the oak.
The Sauvignon Blanc, $12.95, is considered the winery’s best white by writer David Lawrason. It has a tart edginess off-set by tropical fruit. While it aims for the New Zealand asparagus/gooseberry style, it is not nearly as aggressive. A good wine for fish with lemon, or even with salads.
The Meritage is $12.45. This Vintage emphasizes Cabernet Franc, and has undergone aging in both French and American oak (The type of oak does actually have an impact on the wine.) Raspberry, currant and plum, with some chocolate and spice notes are some taste elements this wine suggests.
Since the move of the LCBO store from the Churchill Plaza to Great Northern Road , the Rome ’s outlet has held its own and the Metro shop has seen a big increase in traffic. The convenience is obvious, and the option satisfies many people’s needs.
The other “Other Game In Town” is Vinaissance. Mary Ledlow represents 9 of Ontario’s boutique wineries – 7 in Niagara including, Angels Gate Flat Rock Cellars, 13th Street, Lailey Vineyard, Frogpond Farm, Cattail Creek and Stratus, along with Norman Hardy in Prince Edward County and Viewpointe on Lake Erie. You can order their wines directly from her at 705-946-2503. I will be featuring these wineries in another article.
On Friday, September 21 at Frida Café and Art, Mary is teaming with “Frida” and Kari Lustig to present an evening of Wine, Food and Tango. Cost, including a complimentary glass of wine, is $50. Contact Frida Café at 705-575-6060 to reserve.
At the LCBO, some of the Limited Time Offers beginning September 17 include the Cesari Mara Ripasso for $14.95, a savings of $2. It has received very favourable reviews, including a 91 from the Wine Enthusiast magazine, noting its elegance and power. Likewise, the Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, also $2 off for $12.95, shows berry and mocha in a smooth textured red. The Santa Rita Carmenère, $12.45, received a solid 87 points from the Wine Spectator. They described it as, " smoky and fleshy, with good briar, raspberry sauce and tobacco notes that hang on nicely through the lightly grippy finish .”
The Peninsula Ridge Inox Chardonnay – for Inox, read Stainless Steel – will be $11.95. Green apple and pear with some spice and vanilla in a midweight, refreshing white, this is a decent wine worth trying.
I’ve mentined the Graffigna Reserva Pinot Grigio before. I like the style, which is a bit creamier than most PG’s. It will be $11.45. Compare it with the Fetzer Pinot Grigio, only $ 9.95. It is considered very pleasant and “fruity-citrusy” with some earthiness.
In Vintaqes, both the Loosen Brothers Dr. L Riesling 2011 at $13.95 and the Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2011 at $19.95 are featured. The former is drier, but easy to like, while the latter has good apple-peach intensity, medium sweetness, and a slight, pleasant effervescence.
The Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay, $19.95, has been added to the Vintages Essentials file. This is another of some very excellent chardonnays being produced in Ontario . This has a juicy palate, pear/apple fruit, and a crisp finish.
Regarding Ontario ’s Featherstone Cabernet Franc, $16.95, writer Rod Phillips praises it: “the fruit is rich and intense, with very good complexity and structure. The underlying acidity comes through as a juicy texture, and the tannins are supple.” He considers this red a “must buy”.
If you are an Amarone lover and can afford to enjoy it frequently, the Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2007, $44.95, should excite you. Here is the Wine Spectator tasting note: This polished red smells ripe and dense on the nose, but reins it in a bit on the palate, offering a more subtle array of kirsch and prune flavors, with notes of aromatic tobacco, leather, graphite and dark chocolate shavings and a long, smoky finish. Compact tannins create a sense of tight focus, suggesting a long life ahead. Best from 2013 through 2030. Score - 93.
Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva , $19.95, is a traditional example of Tuscany ’s Sangiovese grape. Beginning with complex aromas of violet and forest, this wine suggests dark cherry, leather and spice and has significant tannin. A well made but challenging wine, it needs food to make it harmonious.