Ontario: LCBO becomes a boon to customers
You can’t fault the LCBO’s initiatives to make wine more accessible to consumers.
Some time ago, the LCBO ditched the old numeric sweetness scale, which was based on the number of grams of sugar per litre of wine. Hardly anyone knew what it meant when a wine was allotted a (4) or a (10). That scale has been replaced by easily understood codes, like XD (Extra Dry) and D (Dry), that reflect the way people perceive the sweetness of each wine, taking into account the other components, especially acidity.
Following this consumer-friendly move, the LCBO has now classified its wines into categories based on style. There are four categories each for white and red wines, and separate categories for sparkling, rosé, fortified and dessert wines.
The four for whites are Light & Crisp, Off-dry & Fruity, Aromatic & Flavourful and Full-bodied & Rich.
For reds: Light-bodied & Fruity, Medium-bodied & Fruity, Full-bodied & Smooth and Full-bodied & firm.
I think this is absolutely the way to go, although I can see problems and objections. First, these are broad categories, and everyone can name a wine that doesn’t easily fit one of them. Second, they’re a bit slippery when it comes to sweetness, but of course you should read these categories together with the sweetness indicators (XD, D, etc.). And it’s true that people perceive sweetness, acidity and tannins differently — usually subtly so, sometimes dramatically — so broad categories don’t work well for everyone.
It’s easy, too, to think of more categories. I once suggested six each for white and red wines. But you have to make a decision at some point, and these look pretty good to me. As for the predictable objection that this is “dumbing down” wine: you don’t have to pay any attention to these categories.
What makes the LCBO’s innovation smart is that this is the way wine thinking is going: emphasizing style above all. This is the way consumers think of wine — by weight/body, texture and sweetness, not primarily by flavour. (An indication of each category’s common flavours is on the LCBO website at lcbo.com/winestyles.)
It goes without saying that flavour is an intrinsic part of the enjoyment of wine, but flavour descriptors vary much more that texture descriptions from critic to critic. As I showed in a column a few weeks ago, wine critics describe the flavours of the same wine in dramatically different ways, so that you might rush to buy a wine after reading a description by Critic A, but shy away from the same wine after reading Critic B’s description.
No system of categorizing wine is perfect, but overall I applaud this step, which can only help consumers navigate the often perplexing range of wines in the LCBO.
Domaine de Pellehaut, Harmonie de Gascogne 2012
A blend of four varieties, mainly the regional Ugni Blanc and Colombard, this very well-priced white from Gascony (southwest France) delivers lovely vibrant flavours harnessed to clean acidity. It’s dry, and is great for sipping on its own or drinking with seafood, white fish or poultry. 11 per cent alcohol; $11.70 (319665)
Red Rock, Malbec 2011
From California (not Argentina!) this Malbec is fruit-forward, with intense flavours that are persistent from start to finish. There’s good complexity, nice fruit-acid balance, and it’s dry, with easygoing tannins. Drink it with grilled beef and other red meats, and with hearty hamburgers. 13.5 per cent alcohol; $16.95 (284315)
Fifth Leg, old dog new tricks, Shiraz 2011
(I’m reliably informed you can teach an old dog new tricks.) From Western Australia, this is an up-front Shiraz, with complex fruit that jumps up to greet you like a happy pup but is kept on a leash by balanced acidity and good structure. Go fetch barbecued red meats, burgers and ribs when you lap this one up. 14.5 per cent alcohol; $15.95 (281345)
Frescobaldi, Albizzia Chardonnay 2011
This Tuscan Chardonnay has just been delisted by the LCBO, so buy while there are bottles left. You’ll find it full of attractive, fresh flavours that hold well right through, and a clean and fresh texture. It’s very versatile at the table; try it with chicken, pork, fish and seafood. 12.5 per cent alcohol; $12.95 (266585)
Email Rod Phillips at email@example.com. Join him online Thursdays, 2 to 3 p.m. at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter at @rodphillipswine