Regular readers will know that once a year I spend a precious week of summer locked up in a hotel ballroom near the Toronto airport in search of some of the best value wines you can buy under $50 somewhere in Canada.
The competition The World Wine Awards (WWAC) is sponsored by WineAlign, Canada's largest on-line website, and it's used as a tool by the core WineAlign team to assess a large segment of wines Canadians buy and drink daily.
It's a neat exercise on many levels, not the least of which is tasting blind for a week and keeping our palates and minds sharp. We also love the challenge of searching for wines that over-deliver in the value department.
Whistler has always been home to many of the world's great premium wines demanded by well-heeled visitors, but as we head into busy fall and winter seasons I wanted to arm locals with some of our results that prove you need not spend a fortune to get a decent bottle of wine.
The WWAC works because it was conceived to uncover best value wines selling anywhere in Canada in a manner no other competition can duplicate.
The tasting is computerized from start to finish, allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online. The same software allows us to build panels and flights of wine and then assign those wines to various panels, all in an unbiased fashion and before they are served to our highly experienced tasters, blind.
In the end, the seven-day extravaganza delivers some fascinating results, and at all price levels the winning wines are value driven.
This month I'm sharing a partial list of the absolute best value bottles from all three major categories: Under $15, $15-$25 and $26 to $50.
Our list reflects the wines you are most likely to find in Whistler or along the Sea to Sky corridor, including West Vancouver and Squamish wine outlets, be they government or private stores.
In this case, the wines are selected for their high-value quotient achieved by dividing their competition score out of 100 with their shelf price.
We begin with the Citra 2013 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo $17 (1500 ml, or two bottles) from Italy. I'm guessing you haven't had this wine in some time but all things considered, its dry, plummy fruit flecked with licorice makes it the perfect spaghetti red. Soft, fruity and tasty it is a lot of wine at the equivalent of $8.50 a bottle.
Big House 2012 Cardinal Zin Zinfandel, from Monterey, California is the ultimate party red and it comes in a three-litre size equal to four bottles for $37. Big, soft, warm and ripe, this pizza red will work with hamburgers, spicy dishes and large crowds.
Simply amazing is the San Pedro 2013 Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc $8.49 from Valle Central, Chile. Expect a whack of grapefruit with bits of orange and the residual sugar you expect at this price point but, all in, a very tasty, fresh white. Serve with spicy sushi or Indian curries.
From Portugal a wine we have shared before is the Gazela Vinho Verde at $11. It's refreshing at nine per cent alcohol and a pinch of CO2 that keep its citrus, green melon, guava and mineral notes lively. Shellfish, fettuccine vongole and seafood sushi are all fun matches.
We go back to southern Italy for the Mezzomondo 2013 Negroamaro $10 from Puglia. Expect fragrant red awash in warm, ripe, plummy fruit with a savoury undertone. A ridiculous value that will match up well with most any barbecued meats, pizza or spaghetti and meatballs.
The Jacob's Creek 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $17 is classic Coonawarra with its minty, mocha chocolate, peppery fruit flavours. A fine match for steaks, beef tacos or meaty pasta dishes. Open and decant for 30 minutes for best results.
The judges loved the Matua 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $15.49 from New Zealand. The palate is crisp, with more mineral dried herbs and green melon notes all in a slightly less biting style. Steamed mussels or a goat cheese salad are equally fine matches.
Pascual Toso 2012 Limited Edition Malbec $19 comes out of Mendoza, Argentina, and is a fine example of the fruity, dense red with soft tannins that give this malbec its appeal. Youthful but ready to go with a grilled steak.
A consistent performer from Piedmont the Fontanafredda 2012 Briccotondo Piemonte Barbera $19 always seems to over deliver. The attack is smooth and juicy, the fruit bright with fine acidity. A modern style Italian red that respects the tradition of the region. Great with mushroom dishes.
Back to Australia and the Barossa Valley where the judges rewarded the Jacob's Creek 2011 Reserve Shiraz $15 for its rich dark fruit and spicy finish. There's enough oak and tannin here to welcome grilled lamb chops or a pulled-pork sandwich.
Value is not a watchword in the Okanagan, but there were a couple of wines that grabbed the torch in Toronto. From Okanagan Falls the Noble Ridge 2011 Chardonnay Reserve $24 got some love from the judges for its nutty, baked apple, citrus aromas and fresh elegant attack. A perfect fall white for a savoury roasted chicken or turkey. Well done.
Local syrah always shows well in blind tasting and it's especially rewarding when it's comes from a newcomer like C.C. Jentsch Cellars 2012 Syrah $29. The style is juicy and supple with a peppery palate marked by floral undertones. A mid-weight meaty red you can serve with most grilled meats or hard cheeses.
These are just a few of the best, based on price and performance, but there are many more you may be interested in. For complete results of the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards log onto http://www.winealign.com/awards/2014/09/19/2014-wwac-results
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.
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