Food and Wine 

Less is more when it comes to wine

One of the lasting effects of the great the economic downturn is how consumers spend money on wine. After several years of looking for value and trading down (the process of buying the same amount of wine but spending less money on each bottle) wine buyers have become increasingly savvy about wine quality versus wine price. It comes as no surprise to this writer that savvy wine buyers have learned that paying less no longer means you need settle for second best wine.

Modern wine quality has grown exponentially for more than 25 years and in the new, wine retail 2.0 world, most customers are no longer convinced that just throwing money at wine will get them the best bottle, or should we say the bottle that tastes best to them. In fact with a little work, sometimes, you can get more than you paid for.

There will always be too many people in the Far East chasing too few bottle of Chateau Lafite, but in the everyday world of wine there is a new order. Once you get over the need to be seen spending $100-plus dollars on a bottle of wine, well, you begin to see it's almost never necessary.

Of course, there are rare wines and small production labels that deserve their high price but those wines are seldom seen in everyday, retail wine shops that dot the city landscape. The challenge, as always, is in finding the bargains amid the collection of dross that clogs up retail wine shelves the world over.

This month we have a ready-made solution that comes from part of my other life as editor-in-chief at Wine Access magazine. Each year I spend a week conducting the International Value Wine Awards in Calgary, Alberta. Together with some 25 judges from across the country we assess some 1200 wines or more succinctly just about every important label that sells for $25 or less in the Canadian market.

I have been lucky enough to orchestrate all six IVWAs since its inception and with all modesty 2011 was clearly the best competition yet in terms of the strength of entries and results.

This month I thought it might be fun to share 12 picks from the competition that suit the upcoming fall season in Whistler as the weather and local menus turn toward winter. Look for the following winning labels that are some of my personal favourites. You shouldn't have too much trouble locating these labels in government stores or better private wine shops.

One of two Cabernet Sauvignon Category Champions is the Famiglia Bianchi 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $20 from Mendoza, Argentina. In a huge category of 90-plus entries this Argentine cabernet over delivers with ripe flavours, savoury but not green, rich but not sweet and firm but not dry and too tannic. This is the perfect steak wine and a prime reason why many think in the long run that cabernet sauvignon may be a better bet in Argentina than malbec. Only time will tell.

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