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.

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