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Craggy Range-Still Delivering the Goods

By no means is Craggy Range new to the market, but they are a New Zealand winery delivering high quality wines at a premium price. Established way back in 1997, it’s one of those wineries starting right out of the gate with top level quality and confidence that they are making those premium wines  whether you want to pay that much or not. Some of that comes with being a family owned winery, and some of that comes from being started by an extremely well-off family. Either way, Craggy Range is a young winery, and yes, I think you should try their wines.

During my time tasting these wines recently, we went through four different offerings available on the Alberta market. Some I loved, and there was one that didn’t quite blow me away. However, the price may be what scares you off, from these wines if you haven’t had them. (Who wants to pay more than $25 for NZ sauvignon blanc?)


Craggy Range 2010 Single Vineyard Te Muna Road Pinot Noir, Martinborough

Very pale, even for pinot, the nose is classic and still stylish. Fresh cherry fruits, mocha, herb, compost, and a nice fruit bomb quality. Flavouring is consistent-always a good thing-with a wonderful creamy mid-palate and a long, crisp-almost tart finish. Should be perfect with slightly spicy foods or something with a little fat to cut some of the acid. $51

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended

Craggy Range 2011 Single Vineyard Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough

First off, this IS premium New Zealand sauvignon blanc, similar to other premium offerings, and a little more restrained than some more entry level offerings which try so hard to “prove” it’s from NZ that it has no style or balance. The nose is crisp with citrus aromas and a somewhat mild grassy character. Loads of melon and mineral tones, with just a touch of jalapeno and a hint of almond. In the mouth, the attack is sharp and herb driven with apple fruits, all those thing we saw on the nose, and a real kick in the ass on the finish to wake up your palate. I won’t say it’s a quaffing wine, but it is very easy to have a second and third glass on the patio. Enjoy with calamari, sushi, oysters, or lemony dishes. $31

5 stars (★★★★★) Excellent.

Craggy Range 2010 Sophia, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

A merlot based blend with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a touch of petit verdot, this bottle was a little earthy, with liquorice root, anise, raspberry and cherries, notes of coffee and a roasted berry character all with floral undertones. To my tastes, the fruits seemed dried out and overall, didn’t have any of the vibrant character shown by the other wines. I couldn’t recommend it based on the price and how it was showing. $70

2 stars (★★) Acceptable. 

Craggy Range 2009 Le Sol, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay,

Well I learned something here, the meaning of le Sol is the soil, not the sun-indicating the importance of the stony soils and their effect on the wine. Its syrah through and through with some stellar depth and style. Plenty of spice on the nose keeps me happy with ginger, violets, liquorice, red fruits, raisin, cinnamon, and a subtle meaty character. ONLY 14 percent alcohol it seems a little higher, but no denying the robust nose. I really like the style and approach to the wine in the glass, its distinct, with a lot of fruit, but never too….over the top. The meatiness is just right and the overall structure is perfect for beef, venison, bison, or mushroom dishes. Around $80

Damn good. 4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended.


World Malbec Day

April 17th 2013 is World Malbec Day and what a day it’s going to be.

I’ll confess, I haven’t had a glass of malbec since I got back from judging the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards a few months ago. Maybe it was the 700 or so malbecs over 2 weeks, maybe it was so much tannin build up that my teeth are still purple. Or maybe, I’m just a little tuckered from malbec.

In the “can do” spirit of trying, I’ve broken my fast to recommend a widely available malbec that is tasty, well priced, and won’t crush your soul.


Luigi Bosca 2010 D.O.C Single Vineyard Malbec Lujan de Cuyo

Deep and dark in the glass with all that plum and floral character you want from good malbec. Hints of herb, and a mild juicy quality to the fruit. Flavours highlight big tannin, but robust fruits and a long chocolate finish round it out. Perfectly balanced between excessive malbec and a pleasant everyday malbec.

Drinking very well now, I’ve had a few slightly older bottles of this same wine that mature very well. I’d recommend drinking now with a huge rib eye or keeping 5-10 years and drinking with a huge rib eye then.

About $24 in Alberta

5 stars (★★★★★) Excellent. 

Happy World Malbec Day!

Malbec day also happens to be my birthday, so…why not trust me and buy this wine?


Some Beautiful Torrentés

I love good torrentés and love its floral, fruit, and tropical flavours with some serious mineral and summery tones. Personally, I can't get enough of the mild bitterness on the finish too. Here are some ones that I enjoyed recently-some more than others. But all are well priced wines.


Michel Torino CUMA 2011 Organic Torrentés, Cafayate Valley, Argentina

Stunning fruits of orange, melon, lemon and peach with prominent mineral characters on the nose. Flavours are rich and consistent with a lengthy finish and a lot of floral characters. Crisp, clean, and classically torrentés-oh, and its organic too. Drink now. $15

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended.

Tapiz 2011 Torrentés, Mendoza, Argentina

Made from torrentés riojano, the nose showcases the  floral characters the grape is known for with apples, peaches, nectarines,  and other tropical fruits. Slightly creamy on the palate, the fruits are more apple than tropical, but overall a good example of the grape and nicely quaffable. $19

3 stars (★★★) Recommended.

Finca Los Primos 2011 Torrentés,  San Rafael, Argentina

Floral and spicy immediately on the nose, the fruits of apple, pear, nectarine, and lime follow along with a flinty mineral tone. Decent expression of the grape, the palate lacks excitement or tension leaving an impression of perfectly average wine. Best for fans of pinot grigio as they have somehow managed to make a good facsimile of one out of the torrentés grape. The price is right though…$12

2 stars (★★) Acceptable.

Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda 2011 Torrentés,  Cafayate Valley, Argentina

Presenting plenty of floral characters and mineral aromas right off the bat, but still leaving room for fresh apples, nectarine, peaches and pears, and a mild waxiness. In the mouth, the weight is good with fruits having a mild sweetness and richness but allowing the mild, bitterness on the finish to show through. An excellent example of what torrentés can deliver. $13

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended.

Terrazas de los Andes 2011 Reserva Torrentés,  Salta, Argentina

Hailing from high altitude vineyards (1800 meters) in Salta, Terrazas is a relatively new brand for Alberta and this was possibly the first “good” torrentés I ever had. The nose is all about those floral tones with bright fruit and a little mineral to go with it. Somewhat restrained, go back to it again and again as the nose evolves in the glass. Rich fruits and expressive mineral show on the palate with dry, crisp fruits and a hint of succulent leaf over underripe apple, oranges, and pear flavours. I love the big finish. $22

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended.

La Puerta 2011 Torrentés, Famatina Valley, Argentina

Possibly the first torrentés widely available in Alberta, decent fruits show on the nose with green apple jolly rancher, spice and white blossom notes along with a chalky mineral character. The fruits are a little fuller than some of the others making for a slightly easier expression than some of the others, but characters border on simple and somewhat candy-like. I’d bet this would be the crowd pleaser, but it isn’t the purest expression of this grape. $13

3 stars (★★★) Recommended.


Vino de Pago-Pago Ayles 

When understanding a region’s wine starts to make sense, the classification systems seem to change. You think you know something…don’t get me wrong, many wine regions seem to possess dated and antiquated wine classification systems that don’t seem to reflect the modern world. Case in point, the emergence of the Super Tuscan wines which ultimately led to the new classification of IGT (or Indication of Geographic Typicity) in Italy. Now, these modern, premium wines are in a class by themselves that reflect their quality, the nod to tradition, and yes, the changing times.

Vino de Pago is a relatively new tier in the classification of Spanish wines and not to worry if you have never heard about it; it’s only been around since 1993. Just slightly longer in the world than Justin Bieber, but hopefully it will be around longer than his career. You could say that Vino de Pago sits at the top of the Spanish wine pyramid above D.O.Ca though it applies to specific vineyards or wine estates. The estate or winery can only use grapes sourced from Vino de Pago sites the overall intention is to increase the quality of wines from Spain. These wines could be compared to A Grand Cru or Burgundian classed vineyard such as Montrachet.

Currently there are just over a dozen Pagos listed with most in Navarra, Castilla-La Mancha, and a scattering from other areas. At this time, across Canada, only about 5 of the Pagos are available in Canada. Most in Quebec, a couple in Ontario, and about 2 in Alberta. As a fan of site specific wines, I suggest trying these when you can.

Some new ones recently landed in Calgary  most notable being the wines of Pago Aylés sure they are a little pricey, but they are wines that can best be summed up as, “damn good.”


Pago Aylés 2009 Serendipia Limited Edition

Made from 100 percent grenache and spending 12 months in oak, the nose is creamy and spicy with a soft vanilla bean character. Look for milk chocolate, ginger, herb, and some great, evolving complexity. You want tannins? You’ll get them, along with some style, balance, and structure. Don’t worry, there is some fruit too, but drink by 2015 or thereabouts. Serve with pork, game, or good old Alberta beef.

5 stars (★★★★★) Excellent.

Retail price is about $34

Pago Aylés 2011 “a”

Equal parts merlot and tempranillo with 15 percent each of grenache and cabernet sauvignon, this is an international medley of grapes. The nose is young and juicy with a sultry lushness forcing you to think dirty thoughts-since there is a little brambly and earthy characters too. In the mouth, cola, cherries, spice, hazelnut, and slightly grippy tannins round it out. In short, easy, pleasurable, and just deep enough to keep it serious.

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended

Retails around $20 in Alberta

Pago Aylés 2010 “y”

A bigger brother to the “a”, the “y” follows soon after and if you were to taste every wine from Pago Aylés, you’d probably try “l”, “e”, and “s” too. Dining at the “y” this blend is 35 grenache with 26 percent tempranillo, 23 percent of merlot and the remainder cabernet sauvignon. Same grapes, but a radically different wine. Robust pepper notes show on the nose with dried spices, cherry, mahogany, earth tones, mineral, and a hint of citrus. Its open and fresh but just slightly in a bad mood. (maybe you’ve been ogling the “a” a little too much). Its nearly perfectly balanced, but it’s a little off the beaten path and frankly, its one of those wines that will just impress your fellow wine geeks.

Buy it, drink it, and maybe hang onto a bottle for a year or 3.

5 stars (★★★★★) Excellent.

Around $30 Retail. 

Pago Aylés 2007 Tres de 3.000

The top selection from Pago Aylés, its close to equal parts grenache, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon and the name comes from the best 3 hectares at the estate and gets a combination of French, American, Hungarian, Romanian, and Russian oak. First time I had ever seen that international a selection of oak. The nose is meaty with orange rind, dried cherry fruits, cola, graphite, spice, and some slightly rustic notes. Animalistic in the mouth its full, beastial, and spicy to your palate with a slightly dirty mouldy finish. Somehow spectacular, its worth trying out. Drink with aa decanting  or age till around 2018.

4 stars (★★★★) Highly Recommended

Retails for around $42 in Alberta.

These wines can be found in Alberta by going to



When I want a drink, I just pop a cork...

I am not a big cocktail person, but when I was asked to judge the 2013 Alberta Cocktail Challenge, I figured hell, why not?

The challenge would involve 3 heats of four bartenders making a “Winter Warmer” and another three heats of “Soda-licious”. The top bartenders from these heats would go onto the finals, the “Black Box “.  The bartenders were from Edmonton, Banff, and yes, Calgary. The cocktail meccas were such places as Anejo, Candella, Charcut, Cube, Raw Bar, Milk Tiger, National, Edmonton’s the Manor, and Three Boars, and finally, the Balkan in Banff.

Winter Warmers were either hot or cold but should be suited to the season, while Soda-licious had to be soda based. The bartenders had a range of products that had to be included, but that in no way stifled their creativity.  Most drinks were very good to excellent, but at the end of the day The Manor’s Tarquin Melnyk nailed the challenge and went away with the prize.

Here are my favourite drinks of the night from the winter warmer  and soda-licious categories.

Stephen Stewart from Milk Tiger with his soda-licious offering,

Fentiman’s not so hard Lemonade

1.5oz Appleton Estate Rum
0.5oz Cinzano Bianco Vermouth
0.25oz St Germaine Elderflower Liquer
1oz Rooibos saffron syrup
Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters
3oz Fentimans Rose Lemonade

In a Collins glass, combine all ingredients except lemonade into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Fine strain into glass over fresh ice. Top with lemonade. Garnish with lemon wheel.

 Tarquin Melnyk blew away the judges with this Winter Warmer

Norfolk Flip

1oz Applton Reserve Rum
1oz Alianca Brandy
0.5oz Baileys Irish Cream
1oz clove spiced syrup
1 whole egg
1 ice globe
1 dash Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters
Garnished with burnt cinnamon and nutmeg blend

Syrup is prepared with 6:4 Demerara sugar:water, healthy amount of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg is steeped in.  Two whole star anise add a hint of flavour as well.

All ingredients are put into a shaker, dry shaken, followed by a vigorous wet shake. Double strained over an ice globe into a rocks glass. Freshly ground nutmeg is sprinkled on top, followed by flamed fresh ground cinnamon.

If you’d like to know more about the competition or the cocktails, check out google. Everything is there. But a number of publications such as Culinaire Magazine has features on this event.