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! 😭🍷
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
Gary Farrell was my first stop as I wandered through Russian River Valley in search for Pinot Noir that I felt was representative of the region. Before I continue, I feel I must inform you that their tasting is by appointment only. This creates an atmosphere of calm and serenity devoid of any noisy crowds and distractions. Combined with the hilltop view of the valley below it creates an environment ideal for focus and reflection on what you are tasting. I think for the discerning palate this presents good value as you explore this region and what it has to offer. I will surely make an appointment on my next visit to this region.
The grounds were impeccably maintained, minimalist architecture and clean balanced interior decor really complemented the overall energy and experience. The staff were very warm and courteous and although I did not have an appointment they did go out of their way to at least get me a sampling of two of their Pinot Noirs from the region. They also offered to add me to their up-coming wine tour/tasting session however I was pressed for time. Very gracious indeed.
That being said, I was perfectly content sampling two of their Pinot Noirs as this would give me and quick idea of the caliber of the wines on offer. I must say, I was not disappointed. I instantly thought to myself, “this is what I came here for”. Rich, layered, complex, structured Pinot Noir. Further review of their menu revealed more Pinot Noirs from some of the most coveted vineyards all up and down the West Coast. I selected one of their Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley which I will be reviewing tonight and will post my thoughts.
This weekend I finally got around to exploring the Russian River region. After a weekend of camping in Bodega Bay with friends it seemed only fitting that we make a slight detour through Russian River on our way back to Sacramento.
I have had some amazing Pinot Noir from this region and I was eager get out there and get a sense of what it is about. I wanted to personally see what it is about this region that produces such great Pinot Noir.
As I meandered through the winding back roads sometimes almost getting lost, I wished for something off the beaten path. Small, family owned and operated wineries. No sooner than the thought crossed my mind, I noticed the sign to Gracianna Winery. I did not recognize the name. It did not show up on my google map search. I thought to myself, this could be precisely what I was looking for.
The grounds were neat, uncluttered, minimalist and generally understated. The Winery sits lower in the valley and is very easy to completely overlook. As I pulled up I had no expectations whatsoever. I merely wanted to taste some Russian River Pinot. The tasting room is one of the more interesting ones (read cool) I’ve seen in a while. It is and indoor/outdoor setup, welcoming you in one side and leading you to a terrace/patio and into the vineyards where your detailed tasting happens among the vineyards.
On the tasting menu were the following wines with some of my initial notes.
2018 Arozza Rosé – Rose was delicate, smooth and buttery.
2018 Sauvignon Blanc – Oakey, smooth, mild acid, hint of citrus, gentle overall.
2015 Chardonnay – Beautiful, delicate, buttery great floral notes, complex.
2016 Pinot Noir – More Burgundian style, crisp clean nose, subtle oak, subtle acid, hint of spice, delicate balance. What I was looking for.
2014 Pinot Noir – More of a big California style Pinot albeit restrained. Once opened huge earth/terrior dominates the nose, beautiful, perfect balance of jammy fruit, berry, bold tannin for a Pinot especially from this region. Rich. Should lay down a little more to fully develop. I will have to revisit this.
It is difficult to do an in-depth tasting on site while tasting other wines. So I picked up a bottle each of the Pinot Noir, one of which will be tonight’s occation and will post my thoughts shortly.
The Tasting was conducted by staff with extensive knowledge on the wines and the region at large. This really helped guide the tasting and added great perspective. The tasting was occasionally punctuated by the owner Trini who’s warm lively energy I found very reassuring as he shared the history of the winery going back generations. Equally impressive was his son’s ventures into viticulture and enology. This family is truly all about the love and passion for making great wines. It was a truly special and personal experience.
Thank you Trini, Fernando and the entire Gracianna Family. I look forward to seeing you all gain.
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!