WINE: Top picks from Vintages this season

“˜Vintages' is a funny entity in the LCBO. There are times you find yourself saying, “Wow, that's a good deal” and other times you look at a bottle and remember seeing it on your last trip south of the border, where it was half the price (even with the dollar exchange). That is the nature of our liquor board system and ““ love it or hate it ““ we're stuck with it. But visiting the Vintages section doesn't have to be ominous or confusing … especially if you know somebody who has tried every wine that's made it on those shelves.

I'm a wine writer who has been tasting wine for more than two decades and writing about them for more than a dozen. For the better part of 10 years I have been tasting the wines released through Vintages, so I'm fairly well-versed at what the Vintages section is all about, how to navigate it and how to look past the hype of the wines with artificially inflated scores to locate those bargains and values that can make Vintages a less daunting place. Whether you want to spend under $20, $30 or grab a splurge wine for a special occasion I can help you find the best bottle(s) for your money.

A quick word about scoring: I use a five-star rating system (as opposed to the 100-point scale), as wine is not an essay that can be scored based on the argument presented. It's a living, breathing and ever-changing beverage that will taste different over time; so it must be treated as such: 5 = Outstanding; 4.5 = Excellent; 4 = Very Good (a plus sign just means the wine has that little something extra).

– Michael Pinkus is a multi-award winning wine writer, past-president of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and creator of the Grape Guy Events App. You can follow him through his website:

La Ferme du Mont 2013
Premiere Cote Cotes-du-Rhone
$15.95 (France) LCBO#: 251645

Outstanding value from a top Rhone Valley producer; red licorice, cherry, kirsch, cocoa and rich red berries. Buy a half dozen to have on hand this summer.

Santa Carolina 2011 Specialties Dry Farming Carignan
$17.95 (Chile) LCBO#: 213520

Carignan deserves its day in
the sun and you should be
seeing more of it in the coming years, especially from Chile ““ this grape has been a staple in Southern France and Spain for a while now. This one comes from 80-year-old vines and delivers huge flavours of mint, blackberry and mocha with a long finish.

Havens 2014 Chardonnay
$22.95 (USA) LCBO#: 454587

I'm not a big Chardonnay-lover, so when I find a good one I like to crow about it. This one is rich and buttery, with toasty and caramel notes, but there's also some delicious green apple and vanilla cream to round it off, balanced with great acidity.

Victor 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel
$20.95 (USA) LCBO#: 438531

On the other hand I am a huge Zinfandel fan ““ probably because I love barbecued food ““ this one's a little atypical but worth trying: cola, tar, vanilla, herbal and toasty. All that tallies up to a good wine. Promise.

Mocali 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
$17.95 (Italy) LCBO#: 434340

I don't usually think of Italy as a place for straight up Cabernet, but sometimes they do get it right; red and black fruit, intense smoky character, black cherry, and cassis ““ touch chalky on the finish, but that will smooth out with time.