choose your critic well (vintages release recap for november 2019)

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Pompous Opinion

In my last post, I lamented on the practice of wine retailers, like the KGBO, using the spurious scores and comments of wine critics to inflate the appearance of quality in the wines they are trying to sell. As I’ve grown exceptionally weary of the approach taken by the KGBO in the bi-weekly Vintages catalog, I’d like to explore this topic further.

Part of the KGBO’s mission statement is to be the “trusted destination for the world’s wines.” I’m sure that there are people that believe this statement but I think most people recognize that the KGBO is in the business of selling wine at inflated prices and turning over the profits to the government. It’s an unregulated monopoly that the government of Ontario (and all other provinces in Canada use similar entities) uses to increase taxation with impunity.

Most people lack confidence when it comes to making wine purchases decisions. The KGBO knows this state of confusion and needs a tool to take advantage of confused consumer. Enter, stage left, wine critics, wine scores, and their aggrandized written descriptions of wine. Publish a high score with glowing comments and people rush out to buy these wines. I have the mental image that the people who create the Vintages catalog spending their days using Google to find the review that gives a wine the highest score and the most effusive comments. Gosh, what a stressful position. It must be tough to choose whether to publish a 96 point James Suckling review or another from Luca Maroni that awarded the wine 98 points. Stress leave must be a common cause of absenteeism for the Vintage catalog team.

I give Suckling credit for capitalizing on an approach as I believe he was the first and certainly the most international wine critic to sell his soul to the devil. His sin? He recognized that he was not in the business of helping consumers make selections. The wine critic-business changed from that model many years ago. They are now is the business of helping wine producers, wine agents, and wine retailers (such as the KGBO) sell product. The higher the scores you award, and the nicer the things that you say about a wine, the more exposure you receive. It’s pretty simple and if you don’t believe me just flip through a Vintages catalog and see how often Suckling is quoted.

At the local level, while there are critics out there that are trying to help wine consumers, this approach to “critiquing” wine is copied. To illustrate, consider the $20 Submission Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 | VINTAGES#: 628230 that was part of the November 9 Vintages release. Here’s the review that the KGBO published:

You know those bottles that bring you to your knees? This is one of them. Backstory: One of the better wine agencies in Toronto, Halpern Enterprises, went to California to scout a $20 Cab that kills it – and they came back with this very serious find. With a crushed velvet mouth feel – all polished on top and plush underneath – this wine draws you in with flavours of ripe mixed berries, café latte, smoked plum, milk chocolate, toasted tobacco and vanilla cream. Elegant yet slightly brooding, this wine is a steal. Score – 96. (Carolyn Evans Hammond, Toronto Star, July 6, 2018)

Come on man, a $20 bottle of wine that will bring me to my knees? I smelled a rat so I did a little digging. Here’s a second opinion:

Sweet, chocolaty, wood-infused, fully commercial wine complete with sweet palate and thick, chocolate pudding finish. A starter, or ‘gateway’ wine, for Coca-Cola drinkers. Tasted October 2019. Score – 85 (John Szabo Winealign)

I smelled a rat because Hammond is the critic that reviewed and awarded the $9 Toro Bravo products ridiculously high scores. In previous post, I described how our blind tasting panel felt that these Toro Bravo wines were, well, awful. My palate does not align with hers.

So, who’s right? Well, right when it comes to wine is very personal. I can tell you that no one in our tasting group liked the Submission but, in contrast, we did enjoy the $17 District 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016  VINTAGES#: 10473. Szabo nailed the Submission but consumers did not pay attention to his honest and frank review. Hammond and The Star can move product as the Submission is now sold out and, in contrast, hundreds of bottles of District 7 remain unsold in the KGBO system. A sad but predicable outcome.

Choose your critic well by finding a critic or a LCBO Product Consultant who’s recommendations align with wine that you enjoy. Ignore scores that the KGBO publishes, especially high scores, they are most likely worthless and there is a good chance that they will mislead you.

Wines Worthy of the Price

I didn’t think it possible to buy a decent sub $20 Cali Cab in the People’s Republic of Ontario. The $17 District 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 VINTAGES#: 10473 proved me wrong. It’s a little high in residual sugar for my liking so it is not a “go buy a case” wine. If you are a fan of sunny ripe California cabs give a bottle a try.

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The $35 Château de Santenay Vieilles Vignes Mercurey 2016 Pinot Noir VINTAGES#: 668202 initially comes off as overly fruity. After an hour in the decanter, the wine’s Burgundy roots come through. Give it 5 years in your cellar or lots of time exposed to air if you want to consume it now. This is a decent burgundy at this price point.

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It’s not a bang on the table buy but if you find yourself needing an approachable Italian wine then consider trying the $20 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino 2016 VINTAGES#: 333575. My guess is the producer tried to tame the Sangiovese grape in the wine-making process. For me it’s missing personality but this wine likely will appeal to the crowd.

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Fans of Rhone blends will appreciate the $32 Bois de Menge Gigondas 2017 Grenache/Syrah VINTAGES#: 10508. If you like wines from Chateauneuf Du Pape then try the more budget-friendly wines from Gigondas.

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Published by

The Wine Muddler

The Wine Muddler blog is a reflection, criticism, and research of The LCBO Vintages Release. It is composed by Rick Wood from Toronto Ontario. The Wine Muddler is the satirical musings of a man muddling through life in search of good wine

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