In a small but significant shift to liquor regulations, Ontario consumers will be able to order preselected mixed cases of wine, spirits, beers and ciders for home delivery from agents. Previous rules governing specialty products available through the LCBO’s consignment warehouse required customers to order case lots, typically six or 12 bottles of the same item.
It’s the latest instance where restrictions governing the sale of alcohol have been eased to help businesses rebound and promote safe alternatives for consumers in the wake of COVID-19. Similar to the temporary allowances made to restaurants in many provinces to provide wine, beer and spirits selections with their takeout and delivery orders, this is another industry request granted by a government looking to support companies struggling due to the closure or reduced capacity of dining rooms, lounges and social clubs.
Changes to restaurant licenses were issued on a short-term basis, which many in the hospitality and alcohol trades hope to see extended, as was recently the case in Alberta, given the reduced capacity facing restaurants as they reopen with physical-distancing restrictions. The new mixed case ruling in Ontario comes without an expiry date.
That said, it’s not open season. Consumers in Ontario won’t be able to call an import agent and order six or 12 bottles of their choosing. Starting June 15, they can select from prepackaged collections of products available through the LCBO specialty services division or retail operations. Even with the limitations, this is a serious boost of choice and convenience for those with more than a passing interest in what they’re drinking.
Nearly every imported beverage alcohol product available in Ontario is represented by a local agent, who supports its marketing and sale. An estimated 15,000 products are available through the LCBO specialty services channel each year, primarily wine selections but also encompassing spirit, beer and cider offerings. By contrast, the current annual report for the LCBO documents more than 26,000 products were available in-store and online and through specialty services, including the 5,013 import and domestic spirits, wine and beer on offer through the general list portfolio that stock stores across the chain and the 5,079 listings available through Vintages outlets.
Social guidelines surrounding coronavirus are also behind efforts to relax regulations for restaurant patio spaces in urban centres across the country and pertaining to open containers of alcohol in parks and other public spaces. For many Canadians, the desire to enjoy the warm weather and soak up the sun while enjoying a picnic or socializing on a patio has been hard-wired into our DNA. After months of lockdown, that pull has never been stronger.
On that note, this week’s recommendations are seasonably appropriate styles that are sure to be enjoyable inside or out of doors. There are three suave rosés, two stylish red wines and a rich chenin blanc to help make the most of the moment.
Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 (South Africa)
Chenin blanc grapes from three well-established vineyards, ranging in age from 35 to 47 years, are used to create this rich and ripe wine. Concentrated and complex, this barrel-fermented white offers honey, toast and spice notes alongside the pleasing mix of peach and tropical fruit flavours. Offering more flair and personality than a similarly priced chardonnay, but with similar full body and texture, this shows the tremendous appeal of the seriously made chenin blancs coming out of South Africa. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Culmina Family Estate Winery R & D Rosé Blend 2019 (Canada)
Culmina makes two pink wines each year, the more expensive Saignée label and this refreshing and enjoyable rosé that’s part of the more experimental side of the business. A blend of merlot, malbec and cabernet franc from two different sections of Culmina’s property on the Golden Mile Bench section of the Okanagan Valley, this is nicely balanced and really enjoyable. Drink now to 2022. Available at the above price in British Columbia ($16.99 until July 4), various prices in Alberta or direct through culmina.ca.
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Red 2018 (Portugal)
Always one to watch from the Douro Valley, Quinta do Crasto makes a range of stylish and gratifying wines. The Crasto Red is made by blending the region’s usual grape varieties, including touriga nacional, tinta roriz (a.k.a. tempranillo) and tinta barroca, to offer a smooth red wine with nicely layered spice and ripe fruit flavours. It’s ready to drink, but there’s no rush. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $22.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta. The 2017 vintage is $18.95 in Quebec.
Saint Aix Rosé 2019 (France)
The century-old Maison Saint Aix controls 75 hectares mostly dedicated to grenache and syrah that are farmed organically, and it has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current vogue for rosé from the Provence region of France. Marked by a dry, refreshing character, this boasts attractive fragrance and delicate fruit flavours, with a long persistent finish. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $25.99 in Manitoba, $19.95 in Quebec. The 2018 vintage is $51.99 (1.5 L) in British Columbia.
San Marzano Primitivo Puglia 2018 (Italy)
A new release at LCBO outlets in Ontario, this flavourful, concentrated and likeable red is bound to draw more attention to the primitivo grape (known as zinfandel in California) and wines coming from Southern Italy. Established in Puglia in 1962, San Marzano counts more than 1,200 growers as part of its co-operative cellar and focuses largely on wines made from primitivo and negromaro. Made in a modern, commercial style, this remains true to primitivo’s ripe and juicy character with a mix of fresh and dried fruit and cinnamon spice notes. Drink now to 2022. Available in Ontario.
Vanessa Vineyard Rosé 2019 (Canada)
Located in the Similkameen Valley of British Columbia, the Vanessa Vineyard originally made its name by providing grapes to award-winning wines made by the likes of Sandhill and Township 7. Producing wine since 2012, the estate has emerged as a source of exciting and age-worthy red wines. The team has worked to quickly improve its rosé game, too, as this charming blend of merlot and syrah proves. Fresh sage and some candied fruit notes add to the enjoyment factor of this dry and fresh rosé. Drink now. Available direct through vanessavineyard.com.
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