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Discounts, bonus points at LCBO Vintages stores, plus tasty Versado wines

By Rick VanSickle

There’s more unplanned chaos emerging from the head office of Ontario’s government-controlled liquor board, and this time consumers catch a break.

Also, in the this report: Two thrilling wines from Versado, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble’s Argentine project, are now available for consumers to purchase, plus a reminder on Vintages wines hitting the shelves today.

Due to an abundance of inventory at LCBO/Vintages stores in the crucial Christmas period, several actions have taken place to clear out old stock to make way for the new. Many of you have likely noticed the plethora of markdowns on wines throughout Vintages stores recently.

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These sales are often even more attractive than the usual 20% reductions on bin ends you find on shelves every Thursday. I purchased several bottles of the Trimbach 390th Anniversary Riesling 2016, a highly rated Alsatian wine priced in the $50US range south of the border, for $32.25 per bottle. It was reduced from $46, a savings of $13.75. All over the stores the bright red sale stickers point to pre-Christmas deals just sitting there for the taking. The sales are store to store, meaning each store has different wines marked down.

And if you don’t mind drinking rosé in the off season (and that should be all of us), most pink wines are for sale with deep discounting. An insider at the LCBO told Wines in Niagara that each store manager received an edict from head office giving them discretion on price markdowns on wines. In theory, suppliers don’t pay for discretionary mark downs, but if the decision comes from head office, suppliers will likely be paying for it, according to the insider.

Also, as of last Thursday, when a consumer buys 12 bottles of Vintages or Classic Collection wines (no spirits, just wine) they will get a bonus 1,000 Aeroplan points. Again, this was not announced anywhere as it was a “last-minute decision,” but product consultants can use that perk to upsell consumers at the point of purchase.

I did go to a Vintages store on Thursday to test this out. I asked an employee if they knew about the 1,000-point Aeroplan deal, which they confirmed, and that already marked down wines were included in the 12-bottle minimum.

If you are taking advantage of this unannounced Aeroplan points giveaway, it would be wise to check with a product consultant to confirm so there is no confusion at the check-out.

And just to spice things up a bit, the LCBO announced that until Dec. 5, wine buyers can earn 500 bonus points when you spend $150 or more on Vintages new arrivals on the online platform here. Not sure if you can combine the two Aeroplan bonus programs, but by theory, if you are planning on buying a bunch of wine for the holiday season and collect Aeroplan points, there is a lot of upside here for you to choose from.

Happy shopping!

Versado wines in the house

Fans of Versado Malbec, the top-notch Argentine winery owned and crafted by Ontario’s Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble, above, are in for a double treat this month. The Malbec 2018 is in Vintages stores right now for $25 a bottle. I just tasted it recently and was impressed with the concentration and complexity of this wine. My review is below. Also released, the Versado XIV Reserva 2014, the top expression of Malbec from Versado is available through the online Classics Collection. I have not tasted this wine, but my review of the Ancient Reserva Malbec 2014, a notch down from the coveted XIV, is reprised below.

Versado Malbec 2018 ($25, Vintages, 92 points) — This is a rich, dense, and thrilling expression of Malbec from Mendoza for an attractive price. The savoury nose shows a heady mix of ripe black currants, juicy plums, cassis, black cherries, integrated herbs, subtle licorice notes and fine oak spices. Such concentration of juicy dark and red fruits on the palate with a smooth delivery, earthy/savoury notes, mocha, dusty tannins, and a long, lifted finish. Quite an elegant expression of this superstar grape of Argentina. Drinking fantastic right now but can cellar for 5+ years.

Note about the heavy bottles: At bottling time, the effects of the world pandemic also affected supply chains in Argentina. “As a tiny producer,” said Sperling in a note, “we were unfortunately low priority for national and international wine-bottle manufacturers, so in order to maintain our wine quality and meet our bottling schedule, we chose to use bottles that are heavier than we’d normally use.”

Versado XIV Reserva 2014 ($83) — This top expression of Versado Malbec is part of the December Classics online release that went live on Dec. 1 here. The grapes are sourced from a tiny parcel on a 100-year-old organically farmed vineyard. Says Sperling: “This is our favourite vintage since 2009. We made a change to our winemaking protocol and included whole clusters in the fermentation. This wine is the result of 50% whole clusters — a rich wine with floral and spicy notes, enhancing structure, harmony, and length.”

Versado Ancient Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza (93 points) — Wines in Niagara did not get a chance to taste this wine but did review the 2014 version of the Ancient old-vine Malbec for a glimpse into what the XIV will offer. It has an enticing nose of rich and deep black currants, plums, anise with elegant spice notes, minerals and swirling earthy/savoury accents. The palate shows depth of fruit, concentration and loads of spicy/savoury goodness through a finessed finish. A fine example of Argentine Malbec of the highest order.

Don’t forget these gems at
Vintages stores beginning today

While you are out gathering up wines for Christmas, this is a reminder to shop local at the Vintages release today. Here are four great Niagara wines that will pair nicely with everything Christmas.

Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($30, retasted for this report, 92 points) — The fruit was hand-picked and whole bunch pressed with no sulphur added at the time of crushing. It was wild fermented and aged in 100% French oak (10% new) for 10 months. It shows a juicy, ripe nose of generous orchard fruits, lemon cream, toasted spices and stony minerality. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with pear, apple, citrus zest, integrated spice notes and searing acidity keeping it lively through the finish. Since last tasting, it has become even more voluptuous and broad on the palate and I sense it still has room to grow. Try tucking a couple of bottles in the cellar to see how it evolves.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($32, 92 points) — This estate Pinot Noir, farmed in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation, is 30% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented and aged for 12 months in French oak. It’s released after two years of bottle age. It’s sold out at the winery, so this is your only chance to purchase this delightful wine. It has profound floral perfume on the nose with savoury red berries, anise, red currants, forest floor and spicy notes. It’s nicely integrated on the palate with brambly black raspberries, ripe cherries, earthy/savoury notes, anise, smooth and silky tannins, and a lifted, vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Boxer’s Ghost Pinot Noir 2021 ($20, 89 points) — The nose shows dark cherries, black raspberries, crème de cassis and barrel oak spice notes. It’s a bold and rich Pinot on the palate with ripe dark berries, some tannic structure, fairly overt spice notes, some tannic structure and a finessed finish.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2018 ($35, 91 points) — This Pinot is a blend of Hanck, Cuesta, Homestead, Glen Elgin, Parke, May and End of the Road vineyards all on the Twenty Mile Bench. It’s wild fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak (29% new). It’s ripe and fragrant on the nose with notes of savoury cherries, brambly raspberries, cranberries, and spice. It’s silky smooth on the palate with ripe red berries, some savoury/earthy notes, lovely floral accents, spice and a vibrant finish.