Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES September 24 Release

John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview September 24: Score!

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

“Come See the Violence Inherent in the System! Help, Help, I’m Being Repressed”

Photo Credit: YouTube

You’d be forgiven for coming away even more confused about wine scoring after reading the latest VINTAGES circular for the September 24 release, the feature for which is “High Scores.” The VINTAGES writing team attempts a short explanation of how wines are scored, but, in the end, manages little else other than to highlight all the glitches inherent in the system. In short, humans with different agendas awarding numerical ratings to a complex and varied product is fundamentally problematic.

I’ve been down this path several times in the past — as have many — attempting to explain what scoring wine is all about, why it’s useful, and why it is not. But at the risk of flogging the proverbial expired horse (it’s too much fun to resist a little dig), let’s have a fresh look at how the LCBO explains scoring, and what we can learn from it.

First, a spoiler alert: the simple fact is, it’s not a level playing field with comparable numbers. Each critic, no matter their particular scoring system, applies slightly different criteria, heavily shaded with personal experience, context and individual preferences. Not all numbers are equal, even if they are the same number.


The circular leads off plainly enough, offering that, “The scores provided by professional wine critics are powerful tools for consumers. No matter your experience level, these expert opinion and recommendations can help you make confident choices at all price points.” So far, so good. Perhaps it would have been best to leave it at that without opening the Pandora’s box full of devilish details.

But then, various scoring systems are introduced to muddy the waters. Although the 100-point system may be the most common, used also at WineAlign, it’s not the only one, of course. Page 4 continues: “…it may be challenging to visualize what a Gambero Rosso 2 glasses out of 3 rating means. Similarly, a Jancis Robinson 17 out of 20 means that the wine is superior, but many people erroneously translate such scores to percentages, which makes the wine appear less successful.”

I’d also add the 5 star (glass) system (colored in or not), medals (platinum, gold, silver, bronze, etc.), even a simple thumbs up or down, among other ways of sorting through the noise. Is this confusing? What does this mean? Can you find equivalence across different scoring systems? Not really, at least no direct or linear correlation. It’s up to you to learn what each system means to the person or publication applying it. While most of the shelf talkers include a score out of 100, the LCBO will also occasionally sprinkle in glasses, stars, medals and other rating systems when convenient. 

The explanation of scoring falls further down the rabbit hole on page 6, when price, another important number, is grafted onto the discussion, raising the question of how to make sense of two wines separated by a $40 difference in price, yet with identical scores. I’m sure you’re wondering about this, too.

The answer, we’re told, “lies in the wine’s context.”

“There are different wines with different expectations. Even for the same wine, one critic may award a low-priced wine a big score because the wine displays exceptional qualities within its particular price band, while another might score it lower, assigning it a rating that places the wine within a broader stylistic and regional framework that includes the most expensive wines.” Glad we finally cleared that up.

Some instances of score/price ratios are more obvious, like the 97 points awarded to the $26.95 Château Lamartine Cahors Cuvée Particiulière in this release at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Surely the panel didn’t think this reasonably priced wine sits shoulder to shoulder alongside the very greatest, nearly perfect wines ever produced. Even the producer would scratch her head in bewilderment. But it performed very well in its specific category. (For the record, the WineAlign Crü did not taste this wine, though in my experience with the estate it is surely very good, if not quite 97 points.) But in less extreme cases, i.e. most cases, it’s impossible to know for sure in which context a critic was operating when awarding the score.

Page 12 then touches upon yet another glitch in the matrix: the annoying inconvenience of inexorably rising numbers. We call it “score creep” in the business. You don’t need to look too far back in history to find the time when perfectly good, and even some very good wines, would score 85 points, or 83 or even 81 points. I was always pretty happy with a grade over 80 in school. But in this hyper-inflated world, nobody cares about your 80+.

“…it’s only natural to have our heads turned by 90+-point wines,” someone writes in the circular, continuing, however, to report that: “an absence of a score or review or a score below 90 points aren’t indications of a poor wine…the fact is that the vast majority of wines are not reviewed, and most high-quality wines earn ratings in the 88-89 range.” And then, to continue the contradictions, and as though to underscore how meaningless anything less than 90 points has become, a quick perusal of the VINTAGES catalogue turns up just a single wine with a score below 90 points [89] in this release. Are we ever lucky in Ontario to have only the world’s finest wines!

To someone cynical, it would appear the LCBO is conscripting scores from across the vast worldwide web to shore up the 90-point illusion and confirm that sub-90 wines are rubbish. After all, through the power of Google and the vast number of wine scorers out there, surely a 90+ will turn up somewhere. (“Ken’s Wine Guide,” who are you?).

For all other wines in the catalogue, if no 90+ score could be found, all lower numbers were repressed — along with their third-party awarder’s reviews — and readers are provided with the VINTAGES tasting panel’s notes, with no score attached. “For wines without reviews, VINTAGES provides notes that reflect the experience of our expert tasting panel…”

Of course, it’s not that these scoreless wines have no published reviews. They almost always do. In fact, a review with a score is one of the primary boxes to tick when submitting a wine to the LCBO for consideration in the first place, long before it reaches a shelf. It’s just that the catalogue writers see no benefit in publishing sub-90 scores these days. It’s a policy in line with what most modern wine retailers do, and in the end, the consumer-facing 100-point scale is squished down to less than 10 points.

The circular’s explanation of scoring winds down on page 14 with the all-encompassing, get-out-of-jail-free card that is invariably pulled out in these discussions: “Tasting wine is always personal.” In other words, if you don’t like the high-scoring wine, it’s you, not the wine. At the same time, the statement would also seem to imply that the entire scoring game is a sham, or at least of very limited value for anyone but the person scoring the wine.

So, what have we learned? 1) There are multiple scoring systems, which have no relationship to one-another. 2) Everybody applies their own, personal approach to scoring, with no universal standards. 3) Some critics factor in price, or regional, or style grouping, while others don’t. 4) Only 90+ point wines with reviews exist, the rest were never reviewed.

But just when you think that wine scoring is a hopeless, unhelpful, unreliable mess, the explanation wraps up with one final golden nugget. It’s perhaps the only piece of advice that makes any sense in this convoluted rationalisation of wine scoring:

“If possible, when you have tasted a wine, read several reviews. You’ll begin to recognize critics whose tastes, more often than not, match your own. You can then confidently seek out wines that they recommend, even if you’re unfamiliar with the producer, grape or region”.

We at WineAlign have to agree with this last statement. It’s the founding principle of the publication, an elegant solution to all the inherent problems with scoring wine alluded to here, and yet more besides. In the end, all that can be asked of a wine critic is to be consistent.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide September 24: Sparkling, White & Rosé

Blank Canvas Reed Chardonnay 2019

Blank Canvas Reed Chardonnay 2019, Marlborough, New Zealand
$39.95 Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
John Szabo – This is a highly flinty-reductive, idiosyncratic chardonnay in a style that I admittedly love, but tends to be polarizing. It’s all sulfur compounds and lime zest, white peach and nectarine- a real tour de force and obviously ambitious, high-quality wine, the individual style preferences are for you to decide. Decant if serving now, or in three years, or hold into the ’30s I’d suspect without previous reference, given the liquid observed here alone.
Michael Godel
Blank Canvas Reed is a seriously reductive, flinty and crackerjack chardonnay though when will the shell be cracked open to reveal the sweet and toothsome fruit held within? Give this time.

Château Des Ferrages Mon Plaisir Sainte Victoire Rosé 2021, Côtes De Provence, France
$24.95, Connexion Oenophilia
John Szabo – From the Sainte Victoire cru of the Côtes de Provence appellation, at the base of the imposing Mont Sainte Victoire that separates Mediterranean Provence from the hinterland, this is flavourful and structured rosé, with excellent depth and concentration. I’d suggest tucking this in the cellar to enjoy next summer, or when the occasion calls for rosé in the mid-winter – this has the stuffing to stand up, and improve.
Michael Godel
Seemingly the last of the summer Rosé is a fine one, part Provençal litheness and part upscale hued and flavourful reception. With pleasure indeed, tons of berry and lightly peppery fruitiness, a minor CO2 pulse and then energy in droves.
Sara d’Amato – Who says you can’t drink rosé in the fall? Certainly not me and if you feel you need permission to drink it all year round, then you have mine. This grenache based find from the foothills of the imposing Mont Sainte Victoire, a favourite subject of Cézanne, is perfectly pale and highly engaging.

Domaine Begue Mathiot Fourchaume Chablis 1er Cru 2018, Bourgogne, France
$36.95, Mondo Vino
Michael Godel – There is something beautiful and breathable about ’18, especially on the heels of disastrous ’16 and overheated ’17.  What Fourchaume can and must be.
Megha Jandhyala
– This is an elegant and focussed Chablis from the right side of the Serein, born of a warm and bountiful vintage. Citrus flavours prevail here, supplemented by notes of peaches, pears, and refreshing mineral tones. The palate is especially alluring, light but rounded, almost silken, with a sense of richness.

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2021

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2021, Rhône, France
$19.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – Guigal’s 2021 Côtes du Rhône, from a cooler, more challenging vintage, has been masterfully handled, arguably much better than the hotter vintages of late for white wines. In any case, a cracker of a value. Drink or hold short-term.
Sara d’Amato – A consistent charmer, Guigal’s basic Côtes du Rhône blanc rarely disappoints. Get a head start on the holidays by stocking up now as this blend of viognier, roussanne, marsanne, clairette, bourboulenc, and grenache blanc is versatile with food, widely appealing and more interesting than most whites in-market for the price.

Vassaltis Barrel Aged Assyrtiko 2019, Santorini, Greece
$72.95, Predhomme Market Insights
John Szabo – Here’s a barrel-aged assyrtiko from Santorini that works brilliantly, a wine of magnificent depth and structure, also textural richness. It’s like an essence of the island, with terrific potential to continue improving in bottle, Indeed, I’d suggest another 2-3 years in bottle for a more maximal expression or hold into the early-’30s without concern. It would be comfortable on the table alongside the world’s best. 

Black Island Winery Merga Victa Posip 2020, Smokvica, Korcula, Dalmatia, Croatia
$26.95, Croatia Unpacked
John Szabo – The Dalmatian Island of Korcula, where this is grown (and the posip variety originates in the Smokvica Valley), was once called “The Black Island”, thanks to the dense forests that covered it and the deep shadows it created and gave inspiration for the name of this winery. I visited the winery in May and was treated to a mini-vertical of this wine, ’18-’21, of which this 2020 is the prettiest, and superb value. The nose shows slow evolution, briny-salty, like fresh shellfish, pea shoots, green herbs, wild and resinous, also sweet, lemon blossom and lemon zest- such an interesting range. The palate is broad and powerful, a nice mix of the old style, a little riper and heavier, yet also taut and firm-fresh. Length and depth are excellent.

Mönchhof Robert Eymael Mosel Slate Riesling Spätlese 2018, Mosel, Germany
$21.95, Nicolas Pearce (Online/Flagship Stores)
David Lawrason – What a refined, delicious and tender late harvest (spatlese). Love this nose that mixes primary florals and aged (tertiary) honey, petrol characters so judiciously. It is light bodied, delicate, medium sweet with racy acidity and a touch of spritz.

Ixsir Altitudes White 2020, Lebanon
$25.95, Le Savir-Boire (Online/Flagship Stores)
David Lawrason – Full of surprises, this serious, well-made white is from a new (to me) eco-friendly and architecturally renowned winery based in the mountains of Lebanon. It is viognier and chardonnay blend with an impressive, exotic and complex nose of tropical fruit, herbs and citrus. It is fulsome, rich, warming and dry.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$24.95, Mark Anthony Group
Megha Jandhyala – This is a concentrated, and focussed riesling with notes of lemons, ripe apples, peaches, and a petrol-adjacent aroma that reminds me of a new plastic beach toy. The palate is off-dry and taut, with vibrant acidity. Ready to drink and still blooming with fresh flavours it can also be cellared for a few years to develop nuances of age.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide September 24: Red

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Pinot Noir 2019, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$27.95, Arterra Wines Canada
David Lawrason – This is a Vintages re-release of LCJ’s Village level pinot, made by Thomas Bachelder. A minor Niagara classic from an excellent pinot year representing very good value within the global pinot realm. Very fetching and correct aromas, set in a lighter bodied, well balanced and quite elegant frame.  Tannins are fine if slightly green. Best now to 2026.
Megha Jandhyala – This perfumed pinot noir is drinking beautifully now, fragrant with aromas evoking enchanted woods filled with wildflowers, fresh red berries, underbrush, and mossy tree trunks. The palate is silky and elegant, with flavours of vanilla and spice integrated seamlessly with ripe red fruit. The finish lingers charmingly.
John Szabo – 2019 was a generally cool vintage in Ontario, one which seems to have yielded pinot noirs of particular delicacy and intense perfume, a more classic cool climate style. This release, the first ‘Village’ series in the Le Clos range, is composed of parcels from Le Grand Clos and Claystone vineyards in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, and Talon Ridge in the Vinemount Ridge sub-app. It’s a wine that’s toute en finesse, as they say in France, and a really lovely, elegant addition to the Le Clos range.
Sara d’Amato – A gracefully maturing, perfumed pinot noir brimming with fall flavours of cranberry, forest floor, and gentle spice. Fine-grained tannins add the slightest degree of volume to the palate. A sleek and silky expression from a cooler vintage.

S. Sebastião Tinta Roriz/Syrah 2019

S. Sebastião Tinta Roriz/Syrah 2019, Vinho Regional, Portugal
$12.95, H.H.D. Imports
Michael Godel – Classy label/branding and honest juice fills the glass from this $13 bottle that anyone would be pleased to receive. Deep ripe red fruit, sharp yet buoyant acids, the right stuff any way you slice it.
David Lawrason
– The maritime Lisboa region in the environs of Portugal’s capital city is one of the best value regions in Portugal, if not all of Europe. This is silly good value at $13, a blend of tempranillo (roriz) and syrah with colour depth, weight and structure. Expect good complexity as well with black cherry/currant, pepper, mint/menthol, clove and vanillin. Very good length.

Lan Gran Reserva Rioja 2012, Spain
$33.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – A slowly maturing, spicy, toasty oak-influenced Gran Reserva in the classic traditional style, drinking nicely now but there appears to be no rush – at this gentle rate of evolution, it’s a wine to cellar into the ’30s without concern, likely even further in a proper cellar environment. Tasted twice in October 2021 and September 2022, with improved rating.
Megha Jandhyala –
This evolving Gran Reserva is refined and nuanced, yet not without vibrance and vigour. Expressive and well-integrated flavours of dill, vanilla, and savoury spice frame generous ripe and dried fruit against a backdrop of a firm and polished palate. Delicate notes of old leather and earth add complexity.

Clos Saint Michel H To H Homage To Heritage Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2017, Rhône, France
$45.95, Importations BMT
John Szabo – A lovely Châteauneuf, refined, elegant and silky, drinking really well at the moment. I love the seamless, sheer, delicate texture, clearly ripe and supple, billowing with fruit like a sheet in the wind. Sophisticated, impeccably made wine, ready to drink, or hold late into the decade.
Megha Jandhyala –
This is a captivating Châteauneuf du Pape with the refinement, richness, and lightness of the finest chiffon. It features a charming interplay of expressive ripe red fruit and savoury notes. The palate is polished and svelte with fine-grained tannins, balanced acidity, the faintest hint of sweetness, and well-integrated, gently warming alcohol.

Cave De Tain Héritiers Gambert Nobles Rives Crozes Hermitage 2020

Cave De Tain Héritiers Gambert Nobles Rives Crozes Hermitage 2020, A.P. Rhône, France
$27.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel
– One of this world’s most gentle and titled syrah without costing an arm and a leg. Noblesse indeed from Cave de Tain. Every restaurant list and cellar defending shelf would benefit from this spot, right and bang on C-H syrah.
Sara d’Amato – This co-op with serious clout located at the foot of the hill of Hermitage in Tain-l’Hermitage is a source of great value in a region known almost exclusively for premium production. Case in point is this spirited syrah with refreshing juiciness paired with flavours spicy pepper and cured meat. Drink now or hold.

Cune Reserva 2017, Rioja Alta, Spain
$21.95, Family Wine Merchants
Megha Jandhyala –
This is an aromatic, gracefully evolving tempranillo-based blend, its nose an appealing coalescence of generous ripe cherry flavours with notes of vanilla, spice, cedar, and dill. I also like the finely balanced, subtly saline, expressive palate, supported by lively acidity and fine tannins.

Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Crianza 2018, Rioja, Spain
$15.95, Hanna Neal Wine Agents
David Lawrason – For $16 you can’t ask for a better representation of Rioja. Somewhat tender and juicy in build, it has typical, slightly reserved, pleasant strawberry-cherry fruit trimmed with cedar, spice and vanillin. It is medium weight, fairly soft and warm and approachable.

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico 2016, Tuscany, Italy
$21.95, Frontier Wine Merchants
John Szabo –
Molino di grace fashions wines in a very tight, precise, gently reductive style (in youth), clean and pure. This is an excellent 2016, in line with high expectations from the superb vintage, a complete wine. Best 2021-2028.

Catena Appellation La Consulta Malbec 2019, Uco Valley, Argentina
$23.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – La Consulta is one of the southernmost and highest altitude sub-regions of the Uco Valley, so among the coolest sites in Mendoza. This shows in the lifted, herbal/evergreen scents along with juicy red fruits and modest oak. It is full bodied, quite dense yet juicy and elegant with impressive staying power.

Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2020, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
$15.95, Vin Vino
David Lawrason – Recommended on value. The nose is lifted with Chilean blackcurrant, thyme/shrubby greenness and subtle wood spice. It is light to medium bodied, fleshy yet just firm enough with good acidity.  Juicy and charming.

Sister’s Run Cow’s Corner Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2019, Barossa, South Australia
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – You must know that Rhône blends are the shit in this neck of the woods. Nothing but red fruit, in the way these kinds of reds should be made in the Barossa.

Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec 2019, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel
– The ripest and truthfully mineral-borne fruit and about as wholesome and also focused as you’d want or could unearth in malbec at this price.

Viberti Barbera d’Alba La Gemella 2019, Piedmont, Italy
$18.95, Vinexx
Sara d’Amato
Barbera’s naturally high acid and refreshing nature is often makes for refreshing mid-weight wines best enjoyed in their youth. The contrasting style is exemplified by this plush, mouthfilling incarnation by Viberti’s La Gemella whose well-balanced warmth and concentrated fruit makes for comforting glass of wine in these cooler days to come.

Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo 2021

Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo 2021, Puglia, Italy
$13.95, Profile Wine Group
Sara d’Amato
A whole lot of wine for under $14, this Primitivo also a good deal of freshness behind the generous and lightly sunbaked fruit. Clean, concentrated and finely balanced with rich, mouthfilling tannins.

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

John Szabo, MS

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
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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