Happy 75th Birthday Roger!

Last week I had a chance to sit down and catch up with one of my all-time-favorite Vintners, Roger Roessler of Roger Roessler Wines. On the menu was lunch at Della Santina’s in Sonoma, a family owned and operated Tuscan soul food experience. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you stop by. To top it off, we were joined by our distinguished host, none other than owner and founder ‘Danny’ who shared endless stories from his upbringing in Italy to his exploits in San Francisco. What a special treat to share a meal with over a century and a half of knowledge and life experience.

We paired appetizers with with a Vermentino from Italy. Main course with 2004 Pinot Noir (La Brisa) from Roger’s private reserve and a Nebbiolo from Langhe!

By age 21, Roger had opened his first restaurant. He spent the following two and a half decades or so in the business of opening restaurants across the country. After accumulating what I would imagine a wealth of experience in the culinary and service industry Roger decided to dive into the wine world and share his passion for Pinot Noir with us. Taking a step back, this now seems like the logical thing to do. Food an all it’s nuance eventually must be paired with Pinot Noir. The highly personalized service and attention to detail carried over from all those years in the culinary and server industry.

I have been following Roessler wines for well over a decade now and can trace my profound appreciation for Pinot Noir back to that first visit to the Roessler tasting room just off the square in downtown Sonoma. I scoffed at the idea that anyone could  pour 16 different Pinot Noirs and they’d be discernible. Boy was my young palate in for the lesson of a lifetime.

Roger is a Vintner in every sense of the word. Roger Roessler Wines, a small boutique gallery winemaker in the truest form. Unshackled by any traditional estate. Over the years he’s sourced grapes from some of the most coveted vineyards as well as other small hidden gems you’ve probably never heard of. He’s also owned a few over the years. Bringing together a small team of passionate individuals around a singular mission – to bring you good Pinot Noirs faithful to their origins.

The Roger Roessler lineup reads like a compendium of Pinot Noir from up and down the pacific coast. A visit to their understated tasting room makes for a nice, focused quiet study. In one stop you can explore the various nuances of this varietal’s expression from one region to another. This is precisely why Roger Roessler Wines was picked as the 2020 Winemaker of the Year. They have played no small part in my journey through wine. I’m pretty sure you won’t be the same after a visit either.

Thank you for bringing us all those great vintages all these years Roger. I look forward to many more! Happy Birthday!

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2013 Aglianico del Vulture by Tenuta Del Portale, Italy

Tonight’s Occasion: 2013 Aglianico del Vulture by Tenuta Del Portale, Italy.

A little over two years ago I looked at the 2012 Vintage – one of my first forays into the world of Aglianico. This vintage comes with equal intensity albeit just a touch restrained but still a big wine no less.

Joining us for this review is Laura, a globetrotting Sacramento Food Blogger and Charcuterie Artista Extraordinaire. Check out her work on Instagram at @oneluckycat_77

Rustic nose with mushroom, tobacco, wet forest floor and an intense sharp leather. A slightly sharp acidic attack takes the palate time to adapt. Dry tart dark tart cherries accompany a thick dusty mouth feel. As it opens up the mushrooms intensify. A little later a very subtle raw honeycomb lingers in the back. It is so faint you’d likely miss it. Cherries turn ripe and a buttery vanilla emerges. Finish slowly pulls back but remains dusty, gritty, earthy and still massive.

I love everything about this wine. It is unapologetic. Big, Bold, Beautiful.

Molto Bene! 🍷😁👌🏽

2015 Riserva Sangiovese by Vino Noceto

Tonight’s occasion: a side-by-side with the 2015 Riserva Sangiovese and the 2015 Sangiovese by Vino Noceto.

This winemaker from Plymouth, Amador, California has been putting out an amazing Sangiovese with surgical consistency for as long as I can remember – well over a decade.

The Sangiovese alone is a benchmark by which I measure all other Sangiovese, regardless of where it’s from. I cannot overstate how well made it is. There is a more limited companion, the Riserva Sangiovese. I have been meaning to open both at the same time and explore them together, side-by-side.

Sangiovese

My previous notes hold. It is very well behaved. A mild mannered nose with hints of raspberry and cherry which become more prominent in a very well structured and balanced body. There is a subtle creamy under layer to the body. The finish is unmistakably peppery. The spice lingers long after the finish has faded away, like the tannins of a Syrah. It doesn’t take long to open up but when it does a light buttery, oak undertone permeates the entire experience. I consider this Sangiovese a prime example of what is possible with this varietal, in this region and the greater California wine region.

Riserva Sangiovese

Color has a hint of brown and a touch darker compared the Sangiovese. Nose on the Riserva has unmistakably a more oak. This is expected as it is barrel aged 6-8 months longer than the Sangiovese. This has the effect of smoothing out the edges and giving it a velvety mouth feel. It seems a tad more acidic.

Like any Sangiovese, I think it’s meant to be paired with food, especially meats. The Riserva even moreso. They both paired well with the New York Steak but it was pretty obvious this is where the Riserva really shines. It instantly cut through the steak, creating one seemless cohesive, creamy, buttery smooth experience. Wow. Hints of caramel, cocoa and tobacco emerge when paired. I’m not one to pair my wine as I like to fully immerse myself in all it’s nuance and complexity but this wine absolutely must be paired appropriately. The Riserva makes a great treat for any guest with a discerning palate. The Sangiovese is very approachable and an accessible price point, easily making it a very high quality every day wine.

I always keep several bottles of this Sangiovese in my cellar as a reference and to show fellow WineSnobs what is going on off the beaten path.

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2017 Sonoma Pinot Noir by Pali Wine Co

Tonight’s occasion: 2017 Pinot Noir (Riviera – Sonoma County) by Pali Wine Company.

Shy nose. A little plum and dark berries. There’s a hint of that Sonoma dirt in the back. Body is fruit forward but shows good balance overall with mild acid and moderate tannins. A good overall mouth feel with notes of cocoa and cherries. Smooth finish which quickly dries out with a touch of spice. The wine paired excellent with smoked BBQ ribs.

This is a great EDC (Every Day Consumption) wine. It presents good value at an approachable price point. It’s definitely what I call a pleaser. Wine is all about mood and if you’re in the mood for a good well made wine without necessarily over analyzing the experience or breaking the bank, you should consider this wine. It is still a little on the young side. I think it just might surprise you 2-3 years from now.

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Altitude at Shangri-La, Sydney, Australia

The view from my table of the Sydney Harbor at Altitude, Shangri-La.

It was my last day of just over a week long trip to Sydney, Australia. I had just finished the guided tour of the Opera House (highly recommend) and had a few hours to kill before chasing the sunset from across the Harbor. I settled in at the Opera Cafe, tucked underneath the plaza. It turned out to be the ideal place for a winesnob to sit back and take in this gorgeous and breathtaking city while exploring some Australian wines – more on that later.

I have dined at few signature Shangri-la restaurants before and they were all amazing. The most recent for me was The Market by Jean-Georges at the Shangri-La Vancouver. It was a 5-star experience. Altitude was one of the outstanding items on my todo list for this trip and a fitting finale to my bucket list visit to Sydney.

So while at the Opera Cafe, I picked up the phone and called to make reservations – I highly recommend you do so as well. I wanted to explore something creative, something thoughtful, something inspired. I studied their seasonal menu and could tell there was a creative mind behind it. A culinary artist. Someone whose sole purpose and passion is to bring you their best without compromise.

Reception was prompt, quick, brief. I was seated within seconds of showing up. Accommodations were more than adequate for a table of one (with a view of the harbor) especially considering it was a full house (on a Thursday night). But I did not come here to be catered to or coddled. I came for the food and my host got right to it as soon as I sat down. As I mentioned before, the menu is seasonal so I took a shot of it for you to explore.

My very knowledgeable host started me off with a Pinot Noir. Ten Minutes by Tractor, Victoria. Here are my notes.

Subtle Aromas, cherry, touch of oak. Mildly acidic body, balanced. Smooth finish with subtle tannic grip. A crisp clean Pinot that drinks more mature than its age indicates. It’s a good quality Pinot. Not very complex or layered but it doesn’t have to be, to be good. More on this later as it paired well with the Entrée.

Entrée

For the entrée I went with: Duck liver parfait with rhubarb chutney, candied walnuts, mountain pepper and brioche. Here are my notes.

Duck liver parfait is sublime. Rich. Layered. Complex. Contemplating the creativity that led to this dish. Indulgent without being over the top. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but it is just right. Good balance in all its elements. Liver essence is very restrained and more of a suggestion. Presentation was unique, different, artistic, beautiful. I don’t think I’ve eaten, let alone enjoyed so many flower petals before in one sitting but I can definitely say it tastes even better than it looks. I’m contemplating licking my plate but I have a feeling this would hardly be the place to pull a stunt like that. The Tractor Pinot had a bit of an effect of resetting my palate. As it turns out he host’s recommendation was spot on.

The entrée was a real Amuse Bouche. A Piece de Resistance of sorts. It really set the tone of the Chef. It was a no-nonsense showcase of what was in store for the evening. From this point on I knew I had to pay attention to what came next.

In preparation for the main course and in keeping with my one request – only Red Australian wines – my host recommended the following wine (my notes below).

2011 Whisson Lake Pinot Noir from Adelaide. Ahhhh what an old timer. Brown aged caramel color. Rich nose with terroir, licorice, a hint of cherry and one or two floral Aromas I cannot discern at the moment. There’s something faintly minty up front. Leathery, spicy body. Mildly acidic. Finish has old oak. Gentle, spice and tannins wrap it up. You can tell this was a big Pinot in its hay day.

This is my kind of Pinot and the reason I have a cellar. I would buy current vintages and lay them down for 8 years or so. A late stage Pinot. Subtle. Mellow. Should pair well with this Chef’s style – very complex dishes with subtle, delicate flavor profiles.

Main Course

For the main course I went with my host’s recommendation: Swordfish ‘cutlet’ with broad beans, celeriac, soy-pickled broccoli, bottarga, parsley and marjoram emulsion. Here are my notes.

Swordfish is slow cooked/seared in butter. Served with a minty herb puree. The gamey Swordfish, softened by butter combined with the puree is amazing. Fresh herbs give the dish a nature’s garden like feel/personality.

The bottarga breading/dusting is an intense alternative to bacon prosciutto. I’ve never had anything quite like this. Very multi dimensional plate with clearly delineated and complementary flavors. Lots of structure. Very technical.

For the side dish I went with: Sugar snap peas with prosciutto, ricotta and mint. Here are my notes.

Snap peas are perfect. Al dente. Fresh. A little sweet. A little grilled flavor. It has a celery-like crisp to it. Crunchy. The cheese and bacon bits just seem like a natural extension of the flavor profile however I can only imagine how many iterations it took to get this right. Little sesame seed regalitos provide an interesting nutty diversion. This side dish is interesting enough to be its own main course plate. Well done.

The Sideshow

After studying the menu earlier in the day I was really curious about the bone marrow, however the updated seasonal menu did not offer it on its own. To my surprise and delight the Chef went off-script and prepared me the bone marrow as it’s own side dish. I saved it for last. See my notes below.

Roast bone marrow with bread crumbs and red wine sauce. This should be on the dessert menu. Not because it’s sweet. Quite the contrary. It is rich! Wow! I wasn’t expecting this. It’s rich, kind of like pork belly, with more dimension and texture. I sprinkled some of the bottarga on it and WHOA!

Dessert

For dessert I opted for the: Selection of Australian cheeses with seeded flatbread, walnut salad, and cumquat compote. At this point I began to feel it was time to put down my proverbial pen and take in the whole experience. Below are the only notes I could muster.

Cheese plate. Play with complex delicate flavors to your heart’s content. I leave it up to you.

With great satisfaction, I sat back and enjoyed a second glass of the 2011 Pinot Noir while taking in the view of the Sydney Harbor below. My visit to Sydney couldn’t have ended on a better note.

The Chef

Chef Insup Kim is the one behind every masterpiece on exhibit at Altitude. I say exhibit because I honestly felt like I was looking at edible art. The lines between visual and taste senses at times seemed to blur. The Chef, the painter, and food his medium. It was not very obvious who the chef was and by the main course I was already asking myself who was behind this art/food. There was an urge to go back to kitchen and see for myself who was sending these plates out. Just as I follow certain winemakers for their exquisite craft and attention to detail, this Chef is certainly one to follow closely and watch/taste his art as it evolves over the years. I was thoroughly impressed.

Final thoughts

A few nights before my friend and I went to check out this cramped hole-in-the-wall wine bar and restaurant in South Sydney. It came highly recommended for wine enthusiasts. The non-nonchalant and aloof  bartender offered little in the form of tastings. Wines were by the bottle only. He recommended a Pinot that was clearly spoiled/corked. Pulled straight off a high shelf in the bar dining area, it was warmer than room temperature. After complaining that the bottle was bad, it was taken back. I was told that in this part of the world (Australia), wine is made differently. I knew this was just not true because of all the amazing Australian wines I had up till that point. So two decent pasta plates, one cocktail and three small glasses of Barolo later (had to play it safe), that evening still cost me considerably more than my experience at Altitude. This leads me to the conclusion, you absolutely cannot visit Sydney and not stop by Altitude. You will find the experience and value proposition very approachable and well worth it. When I do make it back to Sydney, the first place I will be dining at is Altitude…