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Tainted wine and tariffs boost wine selections in Ontario

Sales up 30 per cent over this time last year
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Having gone through over a year with COVID-19, and with vaccines finally being rolled out, we might want to lift a glass in relief, or at least in hope that life might return to something like normal soon.

According to various reports in the wine industry, that seems to be exactly what people have been doing this past year, as sales of wine have been up by about 30 per cent in general. 

It has been a year since I have written just about wine. In that time, there have been some interesting factors at play. The California fires have resulted in reductions in overall production, with some wineries choosing not to make wine that might possibly be damaged by smoke taint.

Some wines that have been made from grapes that didn’t seem to carry the taint have actually ended up revealing the taint in the wine itself. So, even though the fires are long gone, the impact is still being felt. 

An ongoing dispute between the U.S. and the European Union over government aid to airplane manufacturers resulted in the Americans putting tariffs on French, German and Spanish wines that resulted in a 50 per cent reduction of French wine and a 60 per cent drop in Spanish wine being exported to the States from January to June 2020 – those tariffs are currently being paused. 

It would be interesting to know what impact the tariffs may have had on the importation of wines from those countries to Ontario. The LCBO is the single biggest purchaser of wine in the world. With the American market blocked, as it were, it could mean that we are seeing more wines from Europe making it to our shelves.  

Every month, in the Vintages catalogue we find wines marked “New”, such as the Cuvée R Premium 2018, $14.95, a wine from the Languedoc in the southwest of France – Alain Rogier, who crafted it, was Red Winemaker of The Year at the 2015 International Wine Challenge. Released March 6, there are still a few bottles at our Great Northern Road store.  

I will be keeping my eyes open for more wines such as this.

To be honest, it may be a bit early to see the real impact, if there is one, as often wines are rolled out a little later in Ontario than in other places. All products go under careful laboratory testing at the LCBO prior to release, and that can take time.

Wines reviewed in American magazines, for example, often don’t appear in Ontario for many months…or longer.  

My column should be appearing near the beginning of each month. I hope to share stories of interest, and so if you have any questions or suggestions, please e-mail me at, and I will do my best to answer them or follow up. 

While it is a little late for Easter, one wine that works well with both fowl such as chicken or turkey as well as with ham is Pinot Noir.  

A popular Vintages Essential (a wine theoretically always available in-store with a Vintages section) is the Meiomi Pinot Noir, now $2 off at $20.95. This is definitely “California” and very much fruit-forward with enough sweetness (17 grams of sugar per litre) to put it in the “off-dry” category, but a lot of people love it. 

Also in Vintages is the Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon, $3 off at $21.95. Considerably drier than Meiomi, with just 3 grams of sugar per litre, it has won over a lot of former Meiomi fans, if the reviews on the Vintages site are any indication. The Wine Advocate gave the 2018 an 89, calling it “energetic and crunchy”.  

At the bargain end as a general listing, Chile’s Cigar Box Pinot Noir at $12.70 is hard to beat. Of an earlier vintage (2015) “Scott”, a former winemaker and blog-writer from Paso Robles in California, loved it. He “found this wine to be extremely well-balanced. Lots of fruit in the beginning and very nice smoky cedar/leathery feel. Its nose is exactly what [he’d] expect from an Old-Style Pinot and it's got a nice smooth finish.” 

From Ontario and on the March 20 Vintages Release is the Eastdell Pinot Noir 2017, $15.95. Tony Aspler, really the Dean of Ontario wine writers, wrote ” Ruby colour with a faint tawny hue, the wine has a gently earthy, strawberry nose; it's medium-bodied, dry, savoury, raspberry and red plum flavours; well-balanced and varietally correct with a fresh acidic finish.” He scored it an 89, which is a very fine score in Tony’s Ratings. 

A sparkling wine could be just as enjoyable or more so with fowl or ham. Also on the March 20 Vintages release is the Chevalier Monopole Dry Rosé sparkling wine from Burgundy, $16.95, which Tony gave 4 out of 5 stars, commenting on its “sweetish strawberry nose; medium-bodied, just off-dry with strawberry and cranberry flavours. Great value.” 

On the same release is the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Brut Crémant d’Alsace, $24.95. Of this, the Wine Enthusiast wrote, “Lovely and fresh notes of red apple are joined by a livelier tangier citrus note on the nose. The dry palate is very light, almost weightless and fizzes away with a very fine mousse. There is real depth of fruit and a knowingly light touch. It is lovely as an elegant apéritif but sophisticated enough to be served alongside food. The finish is tart, lasting and grown-up.” – 91

Caroline Evans-Hammond of the Toronto Star (Remember when we had the Star and the Globe and Mail delivered to the Sault?) raved about Rivarose Brut Prestige Sparkling Rosé, saying “it exudes soft, subtle aromas of freshly sliced apricot, ripe raspberry and almond nougat. The palate is restrained… with dry, airy flavours of raspberry and struck steel, toasted meringue and grapefruit zest that linger on the finish. “ - 95.  

Here are some other wines to consider either still available from the March 20 release, or out now from the April 3 edition. 


Gabriel Meffre Saint-Vincent Côtes Du Rhône-Villages 2019, $16.95, from a very reliable producer earned a 89, which remarked on its “fresh pear and sugared almond scents. Medium-bodied, just dry enough, and a little grippiness to the texture. Not complex, but classically Rhône.” 

Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina, $16.95, from the Campania region outside Naples is fresh and smooth yet complex with good pear, melon and lemon fruit carried on a creamy palate defined eventually by a tight citrus finish. Mulonnière Anjou Chenin blanc 2018, $17.95, is a rich, nutty and creamy white just on the edge of off–dry with bright apple and pear fruit and honeyed notes – gives it an 88, and suggests it will promise smoothness and pleasure. 

Sileni Straits Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2019, $23.95, is an ”exuberant Kiwi Sauvignon blanc… boasting lush mango, white peach and tangy herbaceous flavours… It spends time on lees for added complexity, the yeasty creaminess not masking the mouth-wateringly fresh acidity. Top value!” - 92  


Vicente Faria Gloria Reserva 2018, $16.95, from the Douro is yet another example of why we should enjoy more Portuguese reds. The Wine Enthusiast tells us “this perfumed wine is ripe and structured, with hints of wood aging. Its tannins and mint flavours give the wine a sophisticated touch that goes well with the rich fruits and indicates its aging potential.” -89  

Org de Rac Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, $16.95 from South Africa’s Swartland is made from fruit harvested at six separate sites. Each site is vinified separately and then the decision is made on how it will be assembled for the final cuvee. The result according to Community Reviews on the Natalie MacLean website is “a dry, full-bodied Cab Sauv. with layers of dark berry, dark cherry, savoury herb, minty and spicy flavours on the palate.” 

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2018, $17.95 from Mendoza in Argentina has garnered consistent reviews in the ’90s for its complexity and balance, and flavours of lush black fruit complemented by smooth tannins and a touch of leather on the finish. 

JJ Hahn Section 72 Shiraz 2018, $17.95, new to the LCBO, hails from South Australia. According to, it has a beautifully rounded and flavourful palate with lush and intense fruit, all framed by silky tannins. -92 

Gran Passione Rosso 2019, $17.95 from the Veneto is another of the full-fruit wines that are so much appreciated by Italian critic, Luca Maroni. It is 60 per cent Merlot, 40 per cent Corvina, and the grapes were allowed to dry partially on the vines before harvest. 

The Reverse Wine Snob explains “the 2018 Gran Passione Rosso opens with an excellent aroma of prunes, plums and sweet berries plus plenty of cocoa and vanilla. Taking a sip reveals similar to the flavours to nose but they combine seamlessly in the mouth in this full-bodied and delicious wine. Add in some wonderfully integrated spice, a super smooth and velvety mouthfeel, good acidity and great balance and you have a winner. It ends very long with touches of chocolate and fruit. Great stuff!”

The 2019 should be comparable. 

Continue to enjoy your wine, and stay safe.