Michael Pinkus expresses the feelings of a lot of Ontario wine drinkers:
There has been a lot of talk by media-types lately about VQA … about how the VQA symbol is finding its way onto inferior wines; inferior, bland, uneventful, non-descript wine blends — the latest culprit in this category are whites … a growing segment of the LCBO market. These white blends seem to encompass the kitchen and the sink … everything is fair game in them, from Chardonnay Musque to Viognier to Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc (just name a white grape and it’s in there) and of course there’s always some Gewurztraminer thrown into the mix. I find myself on this topic after reading Rod Phillips’ musings, [who] went so far as to accuse the Ontario wine industry and the VQA of dumbing down wine — actually regressing us back to a time when Ontario wine was the laughing stock of the wine world.
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Let’s get back to VQA … I’m gonna let you in on another highly guarded secret: VQA is NOT, repeat NOT a sign of quality … it’s a symbol of origin. That’s’ right, according to executive director, Laurie MacDonald, whom the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada members had a meeting with back in 2011. She was adamant the VQA was all about origin — not quality … so why is the word “Quality” in the acronym? Good question … to which I would hazard a guess there is no really good answer besides it sounded good at the time; but I also offer you this: it sure sounds better than Questionable?
I’m sure, in the past, that you have tasted a wine with a big VQA symbol on it and thought “this is some nasty-ass sh*t … how did that pass VQA?” Yes there’s a tasting component to the process, but I have been assured by many a winery that they just think it’s cash grab by the VQA. It costs a winery $265.50 a shot to run tests through the VQA lab and get authorization to use the symbol on their bottles and a wine can be submitted up to 3 times.
I usually check any Ontario wine for the VQA symbol, and almost always put back any that don’t carry the “stamp of approval”, but I’ve certainly bought more than a few wines carrying the VQA symbol that were unpleasant drinking experiences.
In fairness, I’ve also bought more than a few French wines with AOC designations that failed to live up to expectations, and even more Italian DOC wines that were a waste of money. Wine, by its very nature, can’t be as consistent as other products, so things like the VQA/AOC/DOC are only guideposts, not destination markers. You still have to exercise judgement and roll the dice now and again.