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Should the LCBO be open during an epidemic? Also, Vintages releases and new wines from Ont./B.C. reviewed

By Rick VanSickle

The LCBO’s twice-monthly release of wines at Vintages stores took place today (Saturday), even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has the entire world in panic mode.

Also in this report: Niagara wines released at Vintages, new reviews for Niagara’s Chateau des Charmes and Henry of Pelham, plus Amulet and Culmina reviews from B.C.

I don’t recommend going to LCBO stores. Workers don’t feel safe and you shouldn’t feel safe shopping there in close quarters with other shoppers and with the potential to pass the virus on to LCBO employees forced to work the checkouts and stocking the shelves. You are playing Russian roulette with a virus that doesn’t care if you are young, old, healthy or ill. And if you don’t care about yourself, at least think of every other person around you, your family included, who do care.

Buying booze in a retail setting is not an essential service. It is a luxury, and one we just can’t afford right now. Your health, the health of workers at the LCBO and the health of everyone around you is far more important than a bottle of vodka or a six-pack of White Claw.

Look around. If virtually every retail winery store in the province (I would venture a guess, in North America) can close and find innovative ways to get their products to you, so can the LCBO.

There are other ways to buy booze. Over 100 wineries in the province are offering free delivery to your home (go here) for a large list of wineries offering the service. Many grocery stores, which are an essential service and have to remain open, are stocked with plenty of beer, cider and wine to carry us through the tough times.

The LCBO has made statements about its puzzling policy of continuing to remain open. Reduced hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. is likely more of a problem than regular hours. Now everyone who wants to shop at the LCBO is more crammed into the store because of the fewer hours to shop. And, as the LCBO uses Canada Post for its shipping, proof of age is needed for all deliveries. That means you will have to go the Post Office to get your wine, once again putting you and the Canada Post worker at risk.

Here is the notice from the LCBO regarding its COVID-19 action plan:

COVID-19 continues to evolve quickly. We are all receiving a great deal of news, including the recent announcement of a provincial state of emergency, which we are taking very seriously.

We are where Ontarians shop for wine, beer, cider and spirits. We are also members of our communities and share the same concerns as you and your families.

We are closely monitoring the situation and following the guidance and recommendations of Federal and Provincial public health officials, we are taking several additional precautions to help us all stay healthy, safe and ensure a safe shopping experience.

• LCBO stores across the province will open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily.
• LCBO Convenience Outlets authorized to sell beverage alcohol are privately owned and business hours may vary.
• In addition to already elevated cleaning and sanitization protocols, we are taking precautions to support social distancing.
• We will be managing traffic flow within our stores to avoid crowding and help maintain safe distances. You may also notice fewer cash registers open.
• To limit the handling of money as much as possible, we are asking customers to pay with credit/debit whenever possible.
• Please pack your own reusable bags.
• We continue to suspend all in-store tastings.
• The measures may lead to longer wait times and force us to temporarily restrict store access if the traffic does not allow us to meet the standards of social distancing.

Delivery Options

Buying online is still an option, however we are unable to confirm delivery dates. Canada Post has suspended home delivery of packages requiring proof of age, meaning that you will need to go to your nearest Canada Post depot to pick up your order. Customers who are sick, or in self-isolation, should make arrangements with someone else for pickups.

Return Policy

We are not accepting any in-store product returns but hold on to your product and receipt and they will be honoured at a later date.

Our ask of you

If you are in isolation or self-isolation or are experiencing flu-like symptoms, please do not visit our stores, but rather make alternate arrangements through family or friends.

While we are open, this is not business as usual. We are grateful for your continued understanding and patience.

Niagara wines being released

Here is a list of the Niagara wines released Saturday at LCBO/Vintage stores (note, you can purchase all these wines online with free shipping from the individual wineries):

Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling ($39, 89 points) — This is a traditionally-made, non vintage sparkler that’s back sweetened slightly from a dosage of Steel Post Riesling. Soft, persistent bubbles lead to an expressive nose of green apple, lime, grapefruit and toasty/leesy/mineral accents. All that citrus, apple and peach fruit on the palate is lifted by electrified acidity and leads to a fresh and vibrant finish.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Union Forté 2012 ($18 for 500 mL)
• Adamo Foxcroft Vineyard Riesling 2017 ($20)
• Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2018 ($26)
• Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2017 ($18)
• Creekside Gamay 2017 ($19)
• Fogolar Picone Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($44)

Flagship Exclusives

• Southbrook Saunder’s Family Vineyard Organic Chardonnay 2017 ($35)
• Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2018 ($35)

Two new releases from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2018 ($20, April 18 release at Vintages, 90 points) — A bright, expressive nose of grapefruit, lime, peach and lemon zest. It’s fresh with a dry impression on the palate and reveals a lovely saline minerality, lemon-lime and lovely peach-skin notes on a vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($30, April 18 release at Vintages, 92 points) — Showing some restraint on the nose, but swirl it around in the glass and beauty unfolds. Creamy pear, a floral/perfumed note, baked apple and integrated spice notes. It’s more open-knit on the palate with rich apple and pear, lemon accents, toasted oak and spice with gorgeous finesse and minerality on the finish. Lovely Short Hills Bench Chardonnay.

A Pinot from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes Pinot Noir Cuvée Michèle 2018 ($17, LCBO, online 90 points) — Such a pretty nose of brambly red fruits, integrated spice notes and earth. It shows complexity on the palate with meatier, bolder red berries, cranberries, anise, spice and earthiness through a lively finish.

Two B.C. beauties

Amulet Rosé 2019 ($60 in magnum only, 92 points) — This is the first rosé from Dwight Sick’s Amulet project in the Okanagan Valley. It’s a blend of 72% Grenache and 28% Syrah. The Grenache was gently whole cluster pressed with minimal skin contact and the Syrah was destemmed and lightly crushed before the free run juice was drained. Both lots of juice were chilled, left to rest for 48 hours, and then transferred to neutral French oak barrels for a long, cool fermentation. The wine rested on gross lees for 2 1/2 months with periodic bâtonnage stirrings. Bottling was completed by hand and each bottle was sealed with a glass Vinolok closure. It has a stunning presentation in the clear magnum bottle and striking copper colour. I love everything about this rosé including (especially?) the magnum format.

The nose shows fresh-picked strawberries, wild herbs, brambly raspberries and watermelon in a restrained and pretty style. It’s beautifully dry on the palate with succulent red berries, watermelon, herbs and light peppery spice all leading to a bright, fresh finish. So nice.

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2016 ($23, 90 points) — This winery founded by Donald Triggs, but now owned by Arterra, has two separate tiers. The R&D range is a tribute to Triggs and his brother Ron. This is a Merlot dominant Bordeaux variety blend with a rich, fruit-laden nose of spicy blackberries, cherries, wet earth, black currants, black olives and spice notes. It has a lovely plush feel on the palate and showcases an array of black and red fruits, black licorice, savoury herbs and elegant spice notes with a bright, finessed finish. Good value red wine from the Golden Mile Bench.