Wine  of the Week
Vintages Release November 3rd 2001 

(out of 3 stars)
743997 375 ML   $ 44.95
 (140 Cs) (9%) 
Light ambering red colour.  Honeyed, very spicy,  sweet,  ripe  baked  apple  nose.  Creamy, mouthfilling, very sweet and yet well  balanced,  lingering,  strawberry-apple-cranberry pie flavours. Highest scoring red grape icewine at the 2001 Canadian Wine Awards.  
This wine is still available at many Vintages stores and Magnotta Retail Outlets - call the info line at 800-266-4764 to check availability.  

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The Upcoming Sale at Vintages
It’s pretty hard to sell something that nobody knows you’ve got!
© Michael Vaughan 2002
National Post Weekly Wine & Spirits Columnist
National Post • Saturday, February 16, 2002

It was 28-years ago that the LCBO opened its first Vintages outlet.  In those days it was called the Rare Wines & Spirits Shop and was initially located in a spartan third floor room at 43 Freeland Street (before it moved to an upscale freestanding Market Street location across from St. Lawrence Market).

It was the brainchild of LCBO Chief Commissioner General George Kitching.  It was he who personally traveled the globe in search of the best. At the time, there were 168 wines on the list, 22 under $6 a bottle and 33 between $6 and $10.

Now you may wonder where I found this information, but I have been a huge Vintages fan since day one.   In fact, I wrote the first feature on the store along with reviews of its wines in 1974 for Toronto Life Magazine as their contributing editor and wine columnist. It’s amazing to see that a 1967 Riserva Barbaresco could be had for $4.60, 1967 Chateau Figeac at $12.80 or a great 1969 Beaune Clos de la Feguine for only $10.45. Press Here to see this March 1974 Toronto Life feature.

Who would have believed that Vintages would have become such a successful venture today?  Of course, it’s not without its shortcomings.  With the great Vintages sale looming only two weeks from today, I tried to figure out why the LCBO has had to take such drastic measures to reduce its enormous inventory.

The answer to this problem is really quite simple.  For years now (at least a decade) I have been begging for a comprehensive list of the Vintages products!  I have never received one.  Nobody has ever received one! 

Now one might think that a company that makes about a billion in gross profits might be able to provide prospective customers with a list of products it has for sale.  Not a fancy catalogue, just a plain old list, detailing, for instance, all the items available and where they might be purchased - on the General List, in Vintages, etc. 

This isn’t rocket science, nor is it very costly. It certainly would go a long way in helping wine fans and licensees know what’s available, thereby creating sales.  After all, it’s pretty hard to sell something that nobody knows you’ve got.

Moving on to the upcoming sale, which features over 400 products, discounts start at a paltry 3% (Southbrook Winery Cassis Gift Pack reduced from $29.90 to $29.00).  For Bordeaux fans, they start at 7% (1997 Chateau Montrose reduced from $89.95 to $84.00) and soar to 50% (1997 Chateau Leoville Las Cases from $199 to $99). Most discounts, however, range from 15% to 25%. 

Unlike previous sales, however, many of the items are not of a “Bin-End” nature.  No sir, given the massive Vintages inventory, the cutting knife has come out for this one.  Not only are there brand new previously unreleased products hitting the sales shelves, but also a slew of products from the Vintages’ secretive “Licensee Pre-Release” program.

This latter initiative was launched last year and initially offered an exclusive portfolio of special products to a select group of licensees (i.e. restaurateurs). Most of these wines were originally destined to appear in upcoming Vintages releases. Naturally, some wine agents were unset to find their wines “hijacked” into this program after the fact without any prior notification.  The exclusivity provisions were subsequently altered giving selected restaurants five months before the remnants would be silently thrown to the faceless masses via the Vintages system.

My tip off came in this month’s Vintages catalogue.  A check of several of the supposed “Previously Featured” headings revealed that most had never been formally released or even announced.  None were presented to LCBO consultants for evaluation. 

This ruffling of feathers has spread to uninvited licensees who are upset that they don’t have access to these special Vintages programs. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s great to get these wines tasted by licensees. Bottom line, however, is that Vintages has an obligation to offer all wines to all customers on a first-come, first-serve basis.  When excess demand exists, the current Classics lottery system ensures fair distribution.

 As for what to purchase, the deeply coloured Meridian 1998 Syrah Paso Robles is a definite best buy at $27 and an incredible bargain at only $18.  This wonderful, fruit forward Syrah leans in a Zinfandel direction.  I was thrilled by this very accessible, quaffable effort, which has been aged in French oak for 18 months. It soars on the nose - spicy, gently earthy, coconut-tinged, ripe black cherries and French vanilla ice cream - all of which are carried over on the palate.  Up until recently, there were some 168 cases in the warehouse (plus store inventory), meaning that there should be lots left.

As already mentioned, some three dozen sale items have never seen the light of day. Take the 168 cases of Rosenblum 2000 Rustridge Vineyard Napa Zinfandel, which is being reduced from $38.90 to $29.90.  I was told by the LCBO that this wine (identified by its CSPC code #711051) was released on May 6, 2000.  But that is not correct - it was the 1997 vintage that was released at $32.85, not the 2000. It appears that this is a new shipment, which was initially diverted to licensees. 

Trying to figure all this out is enough to drive one to drink. CSPC numbers are often changed and older numbers reused. I have spent two days on the telephone trying to sort out what’s what. The LCBO now has list available. For those wanting to know more - release dates and a better idea of quantities available Press Here

Chaos and confusion reigns.  I was initially told that over 400 products are in the sale, but once the duplicate CSPCs are netted out, it looks like 361 items. Surely the time has come for Vintages to simply produce a comprehensive weekly (or at least bi-weekly with their Vintages DICE report) list of all goodies available.  And while they are at it, how about a simple website search engine?  The SAQ has had one for years!

Planning Ahead:  On Wednesday, March 20th, Vintages presents its Burgundy 2000 Preview tasting.  More than 100 white and red Burgundies will be available for sampling and on-site ordering.  Seven houses are participating: Bouchard Père et Fils, Bouchard Aîné, Joseph Drouhin, Louis Jadot, Antonin Rodet, Louis Latour and Domaine de la Vougeraie. Tickets are $55.00.  Attendance is limited to 200 persons and no tickets will be available at the door (Arcadian Court, 8th Floor, Simpson Tower from 3:00 - 6:30 pm). To order call 416-365-5767 or toll-free at 1-800-266-4764.  

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2004
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