The Winery, Sydney, Australia

After a few false starts at finding a proper establishment that took not just their wines but also their Australian wines seriously, I finally stumbled upon The Winery. I should have started here and so hopefully this post will help any fellow winesnobs out there get a decent start to their visit to this part of the world.

The Winery is a Wine Bar, “A quirky urban garden oasis in the heart of Surry Hills” and I would agree on all counts. It is also warm, welcoming, inviting, rustic, simple. It is as one would imagine, Australian. I was looking for a place where I could explore Australian wines. Hopefully small batch production, artisan wines. I realized this was a tall order for a big city like Sydney but I knew there had to be a few of them.

I wanted to get an overarching sense of what Australian wines are all about. There is such a thing. Similar to the overarching theme one refers to when they say “Big California Pinot” or “Napa Cab”. I also wanted to get a feel for the overall quality and hence maturity of the Australian wine industry overall.

Fortunately I arrived at the right time. They had just upgraded to a new tasting station which afforded many more wines to be available for tasting on demand. Once I explained what my objective was, my hostess was very gracious enough to let me explore wines and vintages previously unavailable for tasting.

All the Aussie wines I tried were good, well made wines. This is perhaps the single biggest overarching theme of this trip. See, in California, if you ask for an Aussie wine, you’ll most likely be presented with YellowTail… That’s like asking for a California wine and getting Gallo… Nuff said. Below are three wines that stood out the most for me as well as my notes from this outing.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon by Tomfoolery

Slightly fruity nose with good berry, a little plum and oak. Restrained body, mild acidity, showing good balance, structure and moderate fruit. 14.5% ABV is unnoticeable. Smooth finishes, once opened develops long gentle tannic grip.

2018 Grenache by Tarot

Clean crisp wine. But this is an illusion. This is a bid powerful wine. At 14.9% ABV, an iron fist in a velvet glove. Nose subdued with hints of strawberry, oak, cherry and the faintest of earth in the background. Oak and cherry carry through the body, introducing heat and mild tannin. A surprising amount of structure once opened. Finish throws a fake as massive spice and tannin make a late entrance towards the end. This wine is no joke. If this Tarot is any indication of your fortunes, you’d better buckle-up. 😳

2014 Shiraz by Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard

 

Trying to read this wine is akin to stepping up to an old brick building and trying to sniff the bricks. It just won’t work. The nose is very reserved, giving only hints of berry, faint raisin, cherry. Leather, mineral, licorice and black currant only momentarily when swirled vigorously. This wine does not like to be disturbed. A massive tightly integrated body proves a challenge to pick apart. Minerality is pronounced. Very structured, inky, earthy come to mind. The finish quickly gives way to super heavy massive granite tannic grip that just won’t quit! I think I just found my new favorite Aussie wine! đŸ˜­đŸ·

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 EntrĂ©e.

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…

Accessories: Stemless Aerating Wine Glasses

Hi Folks! I’d like to say a little about this not so little accessory I have been using for a while now (at least 6 months). I want to talk about the Stemless Aerating Wine Glass by Chevalier. I’m extremely skeptical when it comes to wine accessories as I generally find them wholly ineffective and unnecessary. They very often come across to me as expensive gimmicks designed to fool your better judgement and generally take advantage of inexperienced wine enthusiasts.

Well that was the perspective I took when I first spotted this particular accessory over a year go. I held off for at least 6 months before ordering one myself. The short version of this story is: it is way more more effective than it looks. For once I found a wine accessory that actually lives up to and exceeds it’s promise.

Over the last 6 months I have done side-by-side tests with all manner of wine aerators and decanters. The best case scenario has been, this glass gets you an hour head start out of the bottle. The worst case scenario is still a 15 minute head start compared to decanting. I am not exaggerating my estimates. At first blush it looks ridiculous, over-the-top and unbelievable. Then you pour your first glass an it hits you.

This has become an indispensable tool in my wine evaluations and reviews, instantly unlocking all the flavors and layers hidden within each vintage on demand. I highly recommend this wine glass for anyone who has any appreciation for wine no matter how sophisticated or unsophisticated.

You can find this accessory on Amazon.com. Just follow the links below:

In WineSnob Heaven you get to sleep in a wine barrel.

Source: http://www.quintadapacheca.com
Source: http://www.quintadapacheca.com

Heaven is real! Heaven does truly exist and it is right here on Earth! Specifically in Portugal. I stumbled upon this gem of a winery in Portugal that has accommodations (read Hotel Rooms) you can book. What is so special about their accommodations? Well, I won’t bother you with the details but the short version is, YOU SLEEP IN A WINE BARREL!!! Please go to their website and explore it for yourself at here.

My wind… I mean my mind is blown! I must go here! No question about it!

www.quintadapacheca.com

Rusack, Santa Barbara


Another gem from my weekend exploring Santa Barbara County wineries was Rusack. I was first introduced to their wines by a fellow wine snob Dr. G at one of my wine summits. She brought a bottle of their Syrah. I can’t remember what vintage it was but I do remember enjoying it. I usually like my wines big, bold and full of character. I like my wines demanding my full attention. Pairing is nice from time-to-time, but for me a wine worth noting, is a wine that stands on it’s own. The Rusack selection did not disappoint.

So naturally I had to pay them a visit. After Sanford and Benedict Vineyards, this was next on my list of musts. The grounds were understated, neat, and homely. The patio/deck in the front, nestled under old growth California oak afforded a perfect place to setup your picnic (which they encourage) and enjoy a good vintage while immersing yourself in what it must feel like to be a gape vine on this estate. Clear warm sunlight cutting through a never ending cool crisp breeze. The climate in this region is amazing. I never wanted to leave. In fact, the tour came to an abrupt end at Rusack as I wondered if I really wanted to gamble the rest of my afternoon wandering aimlessly around the area.

But what about their wines?
Oh yeah. That! Well, I spent at least and hour in their tasting room sampling everything they had to offer. They poured and All-Star lineup. From some very creative whites typical to this region, to some big beautiful reds. The Tasting Room Manager was one of the best hosts I had yet. He was very knowledgeable and only too happy to geek-out about their wines and the region as a whole. He was gracious enough to explore  wines off the beaten path and showcase some of their more creative endeavors.  It felt more like a field trip.

I’m more of a Red wine drinker but I must say I enjoyed every one of their Whites. I found them more pleasant than expected for a California White. Buttery, complex, fruity noses and not too acidic. My favorites were their Pinot Noir and Syrah. These wine were big, bold but not overbearing. They drank well but I could tell they would be even more amazing if laid down for another 5 or more years. This is exactly what I look for in my wines. I love following a wine through it’s life, patiently waiting for that moment it is peaking and at it’s fullest expression.

The most interesting wine they were pouring was their Zinfandel. This varietal is native to the Northern California region where the climate is much more harsh, hot and dry. This makes for really hard sometimes unbearable wines with big raisin-y fruit, very high alcohol and peppery finish. We typically call them fruit bombs. I really don’t like them. So when presented with their Estate Zinfandel, I was only too curious to see how the more mild, gentle climate and rich terroir here would be expressed through the grape. I have to say it was some of the best most tame Zinfandel I’ve had yet. I love what they’ve done with it. I did not encounter any other Zinfandel on this trip. It was a nice surprise.

I big part of how I gauge value in a winery’s offering is not just a good well-built wine, but also at a compelling price point that permits me to collect at least half a case of my favorites without having to break the bank. I’m not really into buying one bottle here and there. I want to be able to follow the wine. I have to say Rusack’s offerings presented good value for the wine snob.  I was also delighted to discover a separate menu of their Library Wines. These were an assortment of Reds from the 2007 vintage most of which were priced pretty much same as their new releases. This is exactly what gets my attention! When a winery caters to those who are interested in exploring their wine even further by tasting verticals and comparing vintages while contemplating the nuances and how that affected the wines.

I settled out on the patio/deck with a 2007 Pinot Noir. It was their last bottle. It was perfect. I also tried a 2007 Syrah. These two are what I left with. Several bottles of each, from both vintages. I look forward to posting about them in the near future.

If you’d like to learn more about them, visit their web site below:
https://www.rusack.com/

 

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Santa Barbara

2018Sanford_5My trip to Santa Barbara wine country this past weekend had been a long time coming. I had never visited the region before this weekend. Occasionally, a friend or guest to one of my wine summits would bring a bottle from this region to share. I was always intrigued by the fact that I had yet to sample a mediocre wine from this region and the central coast at large. Perhaps my friends just have good taste. Either way I was poised to answer this and many questions on this trip.

There is no shortage of interesting wine country to explore here in California (especially Northern California). Enough to keep the most curious Oenophile thoroughly occupied. My interest in the greater Santa Barbara wine region was really sparked by long time Sonoma vintner extraordiaire, Roger Roessler (rogerroesslerwines.com). I have been following/collecting/savoring his creations for well over a decade now. You will be seeing quite a few posts about his wines. What drew me in was his passion for Pinot Noir and the sometimes overwhelming variety of Pinot he would put out not just from Sonoma, but from all up and down the West Coast. His selection reads like a compendium of California Pinot Noirs. Each one strikingly different, unique in it’s own right. An expression of what he liked most about that region.

2018Sanford_7
Pinot Noir. Bougie Grapes…LOL

One of Roessler’s Pinots I have enjoyed over the years is his S&B Pinot. The S&B stands for Sanford and Benedict. Initially I did not quite appreciate the significance of the name. I assumed it had personal significance to Roger. Over the years as my appreciation grew and after many discussions with him about his various wines and their inspirations, I realized the true meaning of the label. As Roger shared his thoughts on the region I realized it carried profound significance.

As my visit to this region neared, I began researching and learning more about the region and it’s history. In one evening of casual reading, I realized the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard was more than just another California winery. It was a cornerstone  establishment in the larger region with a storied history, started by true pioneers (and purists) Roger Sanford and Michael Benedict. They paved the way for the region by showing what was truly possible – growing and making truly exceptional Pinot Noir.

My first stop was Sanford and Benedict Vineyards. Now owned by the Terlato Family. I left with the impression that they have done a terrific job of preserving not just it’s name and identity, but the legacy that brought it’s Pinot Noir and the region at large to notoriety. As It still felt somewhat understated. The grounds were clean and free of clutter. The buildings had a bit of a subdued presence with more of an quiet established feel. The wine list was very straight forward and to the point, all small production Estate wines. One signature Pinot, two single block Pinots and one reserve blend of a couple blocks.

All it took for me was my taste of the signature Pinot – the 2014 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir. It was one of the most delicate and complex California Pinot Noirs I have had and certainly deserves a post all its own. As the tasting progressed, our host was gracious enough to take us outside, show us the vines, grounds and tell us about what makes it all truly special. I also couldn’t help but notice how perfectly trimmed/pruned the vines were. I haven’t quite seen vines and grounds this immaculately maintained before. As my visit progressed it became obvious why their grapes are so sought after far an wide. I began to realize their estate wines served as a thesis, a guide and reference on how to grow and  make a Pinot Noir. Sanford and Benedict set a very high bar for all wines in the region. I spent the rest of my weekend looking back at Sanford and Benedict every time I tasted wines. A tough act to follow. A tall legacy to beat. A few came close. I finally understood why a winemaker would come this far for grapes.

If you are even anywhere remotely close to this region, Sanford and Benedict is an absolute must! It alone is worth making the trip.

I found a great write-up on their history here:
https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2018-edibles-and-potables/back-land-richard-sanford-and-tao-pinot-noir

For more information, please visit their website here:
http://www.sanfordwinery.com/

The Journey Begins

Napa Valley
Napa Valley

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
~Paulo Coelho, Brida

Welcome my fellow Oenophiles!

This blog has been a long time coming. It’s inception dates back to over 10 years ago, over many exquisite vintages. My resolve obliviously not strong enough to see this project through to launch. Granted, in my defense the past 10 years have been perhaps the most transformative, exhilarating and all-consuming  in every respect. That did not however keep me from my journey to becoming a self confessed wine-snob. As such I have over a decade of back-posting and cataloguing to do.

My goal with this blog is to share with all, my exploits, adventures, discoveries about all things wine. I plan on posting for the most part under three broad categories:

  1. Reserve Wines – Over the years I have amassed and maintained a sizeable collection of wines in my reserve. Occasionally I will open or sample one of these vintages and discuss my thoughts. I am also continuously searching for new and little-known wines/winemakers to follow and add to my long term reserve. These are well-built artisan wines I feel offer(ed) great value at the time, are often seldom known and lend themselves really well to the aging process.
  2. EDC Wines – Ahhh… of course. You will see quite a few posts about EDC Wines. EDC stands for Every Day Consumption. One of the keys to successfully maintaining an aging a long-term reserve is maintaining and equally interesting supply of EDC wines. These are typically less complex, mass produced wines that offer a great value for a comparatively low price. They act as a buffer for those special wines in your reserve. These are two-to-three dimensional wines for those days you just need a decent wine or you need a good second bottle to follow the reserve wine you just opened to share with friends. Without a good EDC selection, you risk completely depleting your reserve before it has had a chance to fully mature.
  3. Lifestyle – This category will cover everything else from wine storage and management to accessories; from trips through wine country to musings on various regions and what I like (or dislike) most about them. I will talk about all that goes into my pursuit of good wine – which might sometimes feel overwhelming but keep in mind that it has been a gradual process over many years of appreciation, refinement, trial and error, discovery and mostly little investments of time and resources here-and-there.

So without further ado. I will dive into the thick of it with my next blog post. Please stop by from time-to-time and share your experience with me. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another 10 years to write my next post!

Cheers!