Judging Wine Under $25

Judging Wine Under $25

There are some gorilla-sized values in our midst, and you might want to head to the LCBO today or tomorrow before the word is further spread. On Sunday night, the wines listed below were tipped as top of their respective classes by the International Value Wine Awards.

The participants in the inaugural edition of this Canadian-based, blind competition tasted close to 1,000 wines selling for under $25 somewhere in Canada. The awards were conducted this summer in Calgary—home of Canada’s largest on-shelf wine selection. A panel of 18 independent judges (non-winemakers) from across the country assembled at the Hotels Arts judging venue.

Toronto was represented by veteran wine scribe and 630 All News radio commentator Tony Aspler, Toronto Star wine columnist Gord Stimmell, recently retired Vintages wine buyer Claudius Fehr, and yours truly. The Awards were devised by Toronto-based wine writer and educator Steve Thurlow (also of the Santé Wine Festival), and Anthony Gismondi, the Vancouver-based editor-in-chief of Wine Access.

To my knowledge this is the first competition that directly compares international wines by variety under a certain price, although the Toronto Wine and Cheese Show competition does categorize by several price points. The IVWA organizers hope that the under $25 formula will capture worldwide attention given that the vast majority drink affordable bottles. Wines from 17 different countries were entered.

The price cap sets up an interesting dynamic for a judge. One doesn’t expect the magnificent finesse and complexity of great wine, but one readily rewards it when it shows up or gets very close. Such is the case with Chateau Sainte-Eulalie 2003 La Cantilene Minervois La Liviniere **** (Vintages $18.95). The “Best French Red” is a suave syrah-based blend with all the fruit ripeness of an Aussie shiraz and the satiny low-heat texture of fine French, despite stated alcohol of 14.5%. The depth does not reach above $25 but this wine does seduce. It also won a gold medal in a competition in its Languedoc-Roussillon homeland. There are about 200 bottles on the shelf in Ontario as we speak, with the largest supply of 36 bottles at the Laird/Eglinton store in Leaside. Go to the LCBO product search site for updated availability at a store near you.

The full results of the International Value Wine Awards, for those who want to research and value shop in depth, will soon be available here. Here are some of the other category winners available today. Scores quoted are out of 100, determined after two or in some cases, three rounds of tasting:

Best Merlot89 Delicato Family Vineyards 2005 Merlot, California, $11.95, LCBO

Best Shiraz-Cabernet Blend88 Wakefield Promised Land 2004 Shiraz Cabernet, Australia, $13.35, LCBO

Best Sangiovese Blend/Best Italian Red90 Frescobaldi 2004 Tenuta di Castiglioni, Tuscany, Italy $19.95, Vintages

Best Other Red (non traditional variety)89 De Bortoli DB 2005 Petite Sirah, Australia, $12.95, Vintages (little quantity remains)

Best Sparkling88 Deinhard Lila Riesling Sekt Trocken, Germany, $12.95, Vintages (little quantity remains)

Best Oaked Chardonnay/Best USA White89 Kendall-Jackson 2004 Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, California, $19.95, Vintages

Best Sauvignon Blanc/Best NZ White89 Villa Maria 2005 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, $16.15, LCBO

Best Argentine Red (Tied)89 Clos de Los Siete 2004, Mendoza, $23.95 Vintages

Best Argentine White89 Catena 2004 Chardonnay, $19.95, Vintages