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Food and drink

The best of the best for under $25

This summer I took part in the Wine Access 3rd Annual International Value Wine Awards in Calgary. Thirty talented wine tasters, including many of Canada's best palates, gathered for the week-long competition that has one mandate: find the best wines sold somewhere in Canada for less than $25.

The competition has two parts - first, there's a preliminary round involving three days of judging that mixes the Wine Access national tasting panel and a number of Calgary retail wine buyers. As head judge, it's my task to somehow get all these strong-willed tasters to agree on what they really like and pass those wines onto a final round of tasting that involves a national panel of judges.

Wine tasters can be funny - as in peculiar - types. Each comes with his or her own set of experiences. You need only spend a day inside the tasting room to understand all the intricacies and nuances of tasting blind, interpreting quality and finally coming to some sort of agreement with your fellow panel members. It's hard work and not near as glamorous as it sounds.

Who would have dreamt that searching for the best wines sold in Canada under $25 would turn out to be the perfect antidote to the recession?

For most wine buyers today there is only one issue: price. Factors such as quality, selection, store location and customer service are out the window. Now I would never suggest forsaking quality or customer service but if cheap is in, well, when in Rome...

In the end, the seven-day extravaganza culminated in some fascinating results and as mentioned, currently value is chic.

So this month I've compiled a partial list of winners that you should be able to find in Whistler, although in some cases you may have to look in Squamish or West Vancouver for the best selection. It's a great list and every pick is worth trying. After that it's up to you to decide which to stock up on for the fall.

For complete results of the International Value Wine Awards, log onto .


Category Champions

Cabernet Sauvignon: Rodney Strong 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, United States $23 - An elegant and harmonious red with mocha, cedar, black fruit flavours. Drink with steak, or hold.

Chardonnay Unoaked: Banrock Station 2007 Unwooded Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia $11 - Look for bright tropical fruit and mineral notes mixed with crisp acidity. Serve with a warm chicken or seafood salad.

Chenin Blanc: The Winery of Good Hope 2008 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa $14 - Grassy, honeysuckle, lime and peach flavours with a dash of grapefruit. Try with linguine and clams.

Gewürztraminer:  Thornhaven Estates 2008 Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $18 - Ripe, round style with grapefruit, lychee, baked pear, cooked peach and spicy flavours. Great with Indian food.

Pinot Gris/Grigio: Montalto 2008 Pinot Grigio, Sicily, Italy $10 - The flavours are a delicious mix of peach, honey, apple, guava and orange, all with a touch of complexity from the lees. A versatile white for pizza and appetizers.

Red Blends (France): Maison Chapoutier 2006 Belleruche Rouge Côtes du Rhône, Rhône Valley, France $19 - Raspberries and plums with earthy, herbal undercurrents and a peppery finish. Try with mushroom-inspired dishes.

Red Blends (New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain): Boekenhoutskloof 2008 The Wolftrap, Western Cape, South Africa $15 - Attractive spice aromas preview ripe shiraz with a touch of savoury "garrigue" notes. Pasta, anyone?

Red Blends (South America): Emiliana 2006 Coyam, Valle del Colchagua, Valle del Rapel, Region del Valle Central, Chile $25 - Blueberry, red currAnts and smoky mineral mixed with black fruits, toasty cedar notes and chocolate. Cellar and hold for five years.

Red Single Variety: Castillo de Monseran 2006 Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain $11 - A mix of floral and fruity notes with plummy raspberry fruit flavours and a dusting of spice. A great hamburger red.

Riesling: Villa Maria 2008 Private Bin Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand $17 - Aromas of peach, apple and limes mixed with citrus slate and crunchy fruit. Delicious with Thai food.

Rosé: Boutinot 2008 Chat-en-Oeuf Rosé, Languedoc, France $14 - Elegant, fresh and delicate pink with a pleasant and dry finish. Classy little rose for the price.

Sangiovese: F rescobaldi 2006 Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina, Tuscany, Italy $25 - Creamy textures mixed with plum and cherry fruit along with spice and vanilla.

Sauvignon Blanc: Nautilus 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand $27 - Gooseberry and passion fruit mark this crisp, dry white that is made for mussels or clams.

Shiraz/Syrah: Hungerford Hill 2007 Fishcage Shiraz Viognier, South Eastern Australia $12 - Supple, with spicy, black cherry, dark plums and liquorice flavours all balanced by the acidity. Lamb shanks are the ticket here.

Sparkling: Gloria Ferrer N/V Sonoma Brut, Carneros, Sonoma Country, California, United States $22 - Full flavoured, nutty, spicy, honey, baked apple, pear and brioche flavours. Well-balanced.

White Blends, Aromatic: Boutari 2008 Moschofilero Mantinia, Peloponnese, Greece $15 - The entry is light and refreshing, with hints of lime, lemongrass, jasmine and mineral flavours. Great sushi wine.

White Blends, Others:  St. Hallett 2007 Poacher's Blend Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc, Barossa Valley, South Australia $11 - Bright tropical fruit with zesty herbal notes and bright acidity make this a wonderful food wine. Seafood or fresh chèvre would be fine choices.

White Single, Varietals: Michel Torino 2008 Cuma Organic Torrontés Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina $14 - Roses, jasmine and nectarine skins assault the senses, as does the orange, green peach and oily fruit.

Viognier: Cono Sur 2008 Viognier, Colchagua Valley, Chile $11 - Open nose of apricots, limes and peaches with similar juicy tropical fruits notes. Killer value and a wonderful wine with roast chicken or turkey.

Zinfandel: Bonterra Vineyards 2007 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California, United States $15 - Look for sweet jammy fruit with balancing acidity and warm vanilla oak notes in the finish. Grilled meat off the barbecue works with this organic wine.

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