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Cuvée Throws a Curve Ball at Ontario's Best

© Michael Vaughan 2005
National Post Weekly Wine & Spirits Columnist
Saturday, February 26, 2005


All listings are automatically linked to the LCBO database)
If there is a product that interests you, just click on the name below and you will instantaneously connected with the LCBO database. The product will appear in blue and all you have to do is click on the name again and then the next screen will provide details along with the store search. Just click on store search. The number of bottles in each store is updated nightly. Call the store first to see if stock still remains (each store phone number is listed).

At a media launch just over a week ago, the Wine Council of Ontario presented 49 wines for tasting. These were the highest scorers of some 200 entries at the annual Cuvée wine competition as judged by 35 Ontario winemakers. As a professional taster, I feel a like an umpire trying to call a Cuvée curve ball that doesn’t quite make the strike zone. That also goes to the event media coverage, which suggests that the 49 wines listed are the best in Ontario and that the LCBO isn’t supportive of the Ontario’s wine industry. Of course, neither contention is true.

While the Cuvée short list features some very fine wines, it is definitely not Ontario’s top 49. The reasons are numerous. First, many of Ontario’s best wines were not entered. Take the Henry of Pelham 2002 Pinot Noir Speck Family Reserve, which is available at the winery at $40 and will also be coming out in the Spring Classics Catalogue. Brimming with fresh ripe plum and cherries, here is the one of Ontario’s best Pinot Noir and yet it isn’t at Cuvée.

The reason some wineries don’t submit their very best wines is often simply a matter of demand and supply – they don’t have enough. Cuvée is a sizable fundraising event where wines have to be dolled out in large quantities. Having said that, I am pleased to report that many wineries did sent premium (and expensive) items - the well-made Colio 2002 Signature Meritage at $69.95 being a fine example.

Also, as submissions are limited to just 4 entries, one wonders how an enormous operation like Jackson-Triggs decides which four to pick? To their credit, of the 15 wines previewed the well-priced Jackson-Triggs 2002 Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Meritage (594002) at $23.95 turned out to be my highest scoring red. While the lesser 2001 is a current LCBO Vintages Essential, the Wine Rack store at 746 King Street West (416-504-5926) has it in stock.

Of course, no competition grinds out perfect results. For instance, in a carefully orchestrated comparative blind tasting of 58 Canadian Merlot last August, the gold medal winning Pillitteri 2002 Family Reserve Merlot at $50 came out on top with 92 points. And yet at Cuvée, the collective wisdom of the judges did not place it in their top 15 of 92 reds submitted.

The point of limiting wineries with large portfolios to the same number of entries as smaller competitors is to ensure a balanced competition – a bit of a David vs. Goliath. Certainly the tasty Ridgepoint 2003 MediumDry Riesling at only $14.95 with its distinctive, honeyed, very slightly grassy, lush, ripe cantaloupe and winter melon flavours is worth trying. Although only a few of the original 45 cases remain, it will be tasted next weekend without charge at the winery in Vineland.

Of the 14 Cuvée whites previewed (52 presented), my top score (92 points) went to Niagara College 2003 Barrel Fermented/Barrel Aged Chardonnay. Just over 200 cases were produced and is only available at the winery for a mere $21.95. Look for lovely, well structured, elegant but fairly intense, toasty, ripe lime purée flavours with a lingering bright Anjou pear finish.

Finally, of the 18 Cuvée dessert wines previewed (34 presented) my highest score went to the outstanding Cave Spring Cellars 2003 Riesling Icewine (447441) at $59.95 a half bottle. It has delicious, bright, sweet, tangy, well-balanced, honeyed, ripe apple-melon purée flavours with rhubarb crumble on the finish. Statistically speaking, of all wines submitted only 16% of the reds, 27% of the whites and 53% of the dessert wines made the top 49.

The fact that the judging is done by 35 winemakers, who had to struggle through all 200 entries in one day doesn’t help matters. While winemakers may have great knowledge about wine making, most are not necessarily trained or accredited tasters. Professionally assessing a wine is much more difficult than simply a thumb’s up or down. While Cuvée is a terrific window for the winemakers to have some well-deserved fun, the results should be taken with a pinch of salt.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear various sources suggest that the LCBO doesn’t do enough to support Ontario wines, For the record, I know of no other wine region in the world, which receives more support than Ontario wineries – enough to make winemakers elsewhere green with envy! Perhaps the LCBO is not sufficiently proactive in nailing down the very best - too many mediocre selections litter the shelves. Meanwhile the Ontario wine industry itself has failed to bring all their wares to the marketplace, say through an Ontario-winery-wide store located in St. Lawrence market.

There will definitely be thrills and chills for those planning to attend next Saturday’s Cuvée Gala (tickets are $200) or the Cuvée En Route weekend at only $20. The latter is a terrific way to taste the various Cuvée wines being presented - you can taste them for free at each of the respective wineries! For a complete list of all 183 wines being poured click here. To see the list sorted by winery click here. Also National Post readers will be able to access my tasting notes using the npreader password, click here to see them.

2001-2002-2003-2004-2005 Tasting Note Database
Our tasting note database from December 31, 2000 to January 2005, covers every Vintages release product for the past 48 months. There are more than 8,000 notes in the database data. Just enter the name of the product, supplier name or CSPC number. Or you can search by type of wine, country of origin, even wine agent! Nothing could be easier. Also you can get information on the agent by clicking on the agent’s name, as well as current LCBO store inventory by clicking on "Check LCBO Availability", which will automatically tell you the number of bottles at LCBO as of last night.

To use our Tasting Notes Database: click here

** For All Visitors **
Vintages March 2005 Release

To see the complete list of upcoming
199 products click here (sorted by date of release). It includes the number of cases, which wines were presented by the LCBO, our agent ID for every product,
as well as, the
In Store D
iscoveries” for March.
You can also see it sorted by agent
click here  

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2005
Prior written permission is required for any form of reproduction
 (electronic or other wise) and or quotation.
Contact Michael Vaughan at