WineSnobTV: Off The Beaten Path – Bumgarner Winery

Today Off The Beaten Path we are looking back in retrospect. We pay a visit to one of my all-time-favorite winemakers. I have been following Brian Bumgarner’s work for well over a decade now. His wines are some of the longest lived, oldest vintages in my cellar.

I spent the day chatting with Brian at their Estate, getting caught up and filling in the blanks on his story and journey up to that point. It was an honor, distinct pleasure and I am thrilled to take you with me.

This is a long form, free-flowing conversation. I recommend opening a bottle (I recommend, Bumgarner wine), kicking back and following along. I have added time-stamps below to help you navigate or skip ahead:

00:15 – Intro and background
03:58 – The beginning, chat with Brian Bumgarner
13:40 – Bumgarner Estate
17:08 – Winery dog Figgy
17:20 – A family business
19:09 – Greece and the journey through Europe
21:46 – What I love about Bumgarner Wines
22:26 – A look at 2018 Alicante Bouschet
23:56 – The story of Alicante
25:50 – Tasting notes
27:14 – Bumgarner Apple Cider
28:55 – Bumgarner Bumbly
30:28 – Always relishing the New
31:50 – 2020 Harvest
33:05 – The Pandemic and aftermath
34:49 – Reinventing and adapting to adversity
37:54 – Artisanal production
39:49 – Winemaking is challenging
40:46 – Exploring older vintages
46:54 – Walking the Semilion
51:00 – Walking the Sauvignon Blanc
51:30 – New graftings
52:50 – Aerial views of the Estate
53:25 – Sunset views with Brian Bumgarner
53:35 – My thoughts in closing
55:03 – A look at the 2016 Tempranillo

For more reviews, exploits and content on Bumgarner Winery, you can visit the following link:
https://winesnob.blog/tag/bumgarner/

Visit Bumgarner Winery official website here:
https://www.bumgarnerwinery.com/

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https://winesnob.blog/tag/sierra-foothills/

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2002 Petite Sirah by Cedarville Vineyard

Tonight’s occasion: 2002 Petite Sirah by Cedarville Vineyard, Fair Play, CA

Deep dark opaque, inky color. Out of the bottle, nose is a little shy, thick, warm, with a big, firm plum essence. A fine dusty granite lingers in the background. Swirling vigorously unlocks bursts of red vines licorice, damp woody leather, white pepper, spice. As it opens a distinct anise creeps forward – this wine’s sense of place. Hints of refined caramel linger in the distance, you’d almost miss it.

Big, bold, and beautiful! At almost 20 years of age, this wine greets with bold well integrated fruit, ripe plums, blackberries and blueberries, which create a firm, thick, monolithic structure. This is quickly accompanied by measured acidity and firm spice which both set the tone and create a vibrant stage. A thick viscous, creamy mouth feel emerges as it opens up. Transition to finish is seamless as an already massive tannic grip grows even more powerful, licorice and black currants jockey for second place. In the end, the palate succumbs to an ever tightening grip that lingers long after.

This is about as off the beaten path as it goes. For decades this Winemaker has been toiling away in this Vineyard, manifesting his singular vision for what is possible in this region. After almost two decades this wine shows impeccable structure, is surprisingly delineated, and remains vibrant. While tasting with owner/winemaker Jonathan this past weekend, I tried to imagine what the 2018 would look like and this 2002 confirms my thoughts. This Winemaker’s obsession with every detail shines here, from the vine to the wine. His wines make an essential study of this frontier of California Wine making. I highly recommend you take a look at his work.

Essentially a one-man show, he is very pressed for time and can only offer tastings by appointment only. Make enough time, don’t be late and enjoy a focused tasting of wines that represent the region in it’s truest form.

I’ve been waiting a few years now and I look forward to diving deeper into his wines here on WineSnob.

Nice work Jonathan!

Explore more Cedarville Vineyard wines on WineSnob.

2016 Mailbox (Red Mountain) by Glacier View Cellars

Tonight’s occasion: 2016 Mailbox (Red Mountain) by Glacier View Cellars, Woodinville, WA

Deep rich semi opaque color. Out of the bottle nose is a little restrained with primary notes of a tight crisp tart plum, secondary notes of anise, very distant woody tertiary notes and a honeysuckle so faint it likely goes unnoticed. Swirling vigorously unlocks a burst of nectar-like sweet dark cherry. Terroir is almost neutral but for a slightly wet sedimentary essence. I like it!

Dark plum turns slightly sweet and ripe on the attack, along with a burst of acidity. Soon after they agree to play, a healthy dose of spice makes an appearance. The three permeate the entire experience through the finish. A measured dose of tannins provides great structure without dominating. As it opens up, a subtle bouquet of spice notes linger. A measured amount of oak emerges to render a melange of various background notes. Hours later the finish is dominated by black currants anise and firm tannic grip. This Bordeaux style blend is young yet showing so beautifully. I can’t help but wonder what it would look like in another 5-10 years.

I stumbled upon Glacier View Cellars through casual mention while out exploring the local wine scene in the greater Seattle a couple weekends ago. Stephanie, Owner/Winemaker so accurately embodies what I live to explore – the small artisan winemaker off the beaten path. Her style is mature beyond her years, her execution has a certain precision and restraint to it.

Nicely done Stephanie!

WineSnob TV:
You can watch more about my visit to this winery while tasting in Woodinville here:
Off The Beaten Path – Woodinville, Seattle, Washington

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Prolific Vines

Tonight’s occasion: 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Prolific Vines Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.

Deep, dark, rich color. Slightly warm, restrained nose with notes of blackberries, and subtle dark plum. Terroir is subtle and in the form of a slight sandy, loamy leather. Oak is very measured, and makes its presence known through a very distant licorice and cedarwood. You would likely miss it.

Body is precise. Balanced front to back. Fruit is carried over as a slightly dry dark plum. Crisp, measured tannins provide clean structure, creating a classic foundation from attack to finish. Transition to finish is seamless, culminating in a subtle back and forth between creamy and dry tannic grip, ultimately leaving the palate parched. A reminder of its youth. A hint of spice caps the experience. This is more of a nuanced Cab than most people might be accustomed to. I suspect this ultimately has to do with the climate. It does not have the typical overpowering characteristics of say a Northern California Cab (aggressively acidic, tannic, spice).

This is a great Cabernet Sauvignon. It is showing surprisingly well for its relatively young age. It should age quite nicely, given more time to further integrate. I would pick up a few bottles. Enjoy one now and revisit this vintage in about 5 years. This is a pre-release look at this vintage. I previously reviewed the 2016 and looking at my notes, the 2017 is very reminiscent of it, surprisingly consistent if not a tad more mature.

It was nice to finally visit this little estate tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains (see photos from my visit below). I especially want to thank Dr. Julie and her husband Albert for being to kind and gracious for hosting me and giving me an extended tour of the property and the vineyard. It was a real treat. It was inspiring to see the amount of work they have put into making this passion of theirs become a reality. This is what I love most about being off the beaten path.

I very much look forward to visiting them again soon. If you do decide to attend one of their tastings, don’t forget to ask Dr Julie if she has any of her Tomato Jam on hand. It is simply sublime and unlike anything you’ve had. You won’t be disappointed. Join their club to secure your annual allotment of this very limited and unique wine.

Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Earlier this year I was presented with an opportunity to take a look at a couple wines from a little winery I had never heard of before. It was Dawn’s Dream Winery, situated in Carmel by the Sea, just south of Monterey, CA.

Without knowing much more I of course jumped at the opportunity. A quick lookup of the winery, suggested this was right up my alley – a small batch production, artisan winery off the beaten path. The bulk of their offerings were Pinot Noirs for which this region – California Central Coast – is known for. It also told me there was a certain level of maturity in their craft as Pinot Noir can be one of the most unforgiving varietals to work with at every step of the wine making process.

A week later I received two bottles. One was their entry Pinot Noir (Rechael) which I reviewed here – Wine Review: 2017 Pinot Noir (Rachael) by Dawn’s Dream. The other was their Signature Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) which sits at the top of their lineup and which I reviewed here – Wine Review: 2017 Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) by Dawn’s Dream. This gave me a great perspective and appreciation for the dynamic range of this winemaker’s skill. I was delighted to find that both wines were very well made, especially the Ben Sogno which had a unique expression all by it’s own. I found it most interesting and intriguing.

COVID-19 and the Lockdown

Just as I was wrapping up my reviews, I began planning a trip down to Carmel, to learn more about this winery, do a deeper dive into their wines and an overall appreciation for what they do. Unfortunately COVID-19 and the ensuing Lockdown put all my plans on hold indefinitely.

A good ending

No sooner than wineries were allowed to reopen (under new health and safety guidelines), a new opportunity presented itself in the form of an invitation to come down and spend the weekend exploring Dawn’s Dream wines. Determined to not let this one slip away, I immediately checked my calendar and booked the next available weekend!

I left early Saturday morning and made the drive down from Sacramento in good time. Arriving about an hour before the noon opening time, I took some time to explore the local scene in Carmel by the Sea. It is a beautiful, quaint, little community with lots of texture, color, interesting architecture. It feels almost out of a fairy-tale with lots of small independently owned boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and bistros.

Finally! I found it!

Tucked away behind a corner building, and set back with two narrow entryways, I finally found Dawn’s Dream Winery. You’ll probably miss it on your first pass but will surely find it on second glance or after checking your google maps. I arrived just before the Tasting Room opened. It was outdoor seating only and the weather was perfect! I found a cozy spot and my host immediately began walking me through the wines (see tasting menu below).

I found the atmosphere at Dawn’s Dream Winery Tasting Room to be calm, quiet and reflective. The decor and presentation was impeccable, deliberate and somewhat minimalist if not uncluttered. This was very much in harmony with their wines which I found to be all about subtle nuance. The service was professional, prompt and no more than was necessary. The wines were allowed to speak for themselves.

Intermediate-to-Advanced Palate

This leads me to my next point. I think their wines should appeal nicely to the Intermediate-to-Advanced palate. I can see a beginner or a less mature palate finding themselves a little lost here, primarily because their wines resemble more the traditional old world Burgundian style. They fall on the dryer side of the spectrum. Being primarily Pinot Noir, their expressions are delicate and nuanced with characteristics only a more experienced palate would be able to discern, recognize and appreciate. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, exploring the whispering notes in relative calm and tranquility.

In a part of the world where the “Big California Pinot” reigns supreme, I highly recommend Dawn’s wines, if for nothing else, to gain a good reference point for what I think Pinot Noir was really meant to look like. I was able to take tasting notes as I worked my way down the menu. Below are my notes (and some of Dawn’s notes) for each of their offerings.

2019 Pinot Noir Rosé

We agree. Light, crisp, refreshing. Complex for a Rosé. This is not surprising as it is in fact a Pinot Noir. Interesting. Tart white plum and stone fruits, Good earthy leather. Haha You don’t see that in a rose. Great concept. I obviously haven’t been paying attention to Rosé of Pinot Noir. I love the subtle nuance the grape brings. See Dawn’s notes below.

The new vintage of our award-winning Rosé draws you in with its delicate hue of peachy pink and introduces itself with lively hints of tangerine, lemon zest, and ripe apricot. Your mouth is flooded with a supple texture and notes of ripe strawberry and watermelon. This wine is best described as precise with its crisp acidity leaving your mouth watering, craving another

2019 Chardonnay

Very aromatic. Crisp. Clean. Just the right amount of acidity. See notes. Of whites, chardonnay tends to be my least favorite as most seem to be off balance but this one walks that fine line surprisingly well. This is a Chardonnay I can get behind. Nicely done! See Dawn’s notes below.

Our golden “Nugget” delights with characteristics of tropical fruit and a hint of lemon zest on the nose highlighted by refreshing and off-dry notes of pineapple and guava. With only 2 months on 75% new French oak and no malolactic fermentation, this wine is rich while still maintaining a crisp and playful acidity. It would be the perfect aperitif with oysters or aged Gouda.

2018 Rachael Pinot Noir

Fairly consistent across vintages. Echoes my notes on the 2017. Great pleaser for the advanced palate. Light, crisp, aloof, fun, easy. See Dawn’s notes below.

This beautiful vintage starts with a wonderful aroma of rich plum and dark cherry. An essence of fresh cedar is on display with a touch of cinnamon and clove. Your mouth is filled with flavors of bright, wild raspberry and it finishes with soft acidity, making this wine very approachable. Our Rachael Pinot is consistently a crowd favorite!

2018 Alyssa Pinot Noir

Deeper color, slightly bigger nose. More intense berries and a little plum. Feels rich. Fuller, rounder mouth feel. A touch more structure and more pronounced spice finish. A little more layered. More of a sipper. Subtle dry tannic grip on finish. Classic medium bodied Pinot. Nicely done. See Dawn’s notes below.

Ripe pomegranate and violet tickle your nose while candied orange peel dazzles the tip of your tongue with a sumptuous acidity. The finish is silk-soft and swift with touches of black cherry and spice, making this 2018 vintage a most promising release of our beloved “Alyssa” Pinot Noir!

2018 Nicole Pinot Noir

Love the color on this one. Vibrant ruby red. Great intensity on the nose. Good oak and caramel, touch of plum. Creamy body. Great tannic structure and balance. Long gentle but intense finish with lots of grip. Touch of spice. Right up my alley. Nicole demands your attention. Love it! See Dawn’s notes below.

Named after Dawn’s oldest daughter, the 2018 vintage of Nicole makes a bold statement right at the nose with aromas of intense cooking spices and a sweet touch of sugarplum. Hints of bright red cherries and violet on the palate roll into brown sugar and cardamom with daring tannins at the finish. An incredibly food friendly wine that will age extremely well for several years in your wine cellar.

2017 Bel Sogno Pinot Noir

See my in depth review of this wine here. See Dawn’s notes below.

“Bel Sogno” means Beautiful Dream, and this proprietary red blend is exactly that! This exclusive wine begins with dark, blue fruits and adds complexity with wet slate, anise, and vanilla. A rich textured mouth feel reveals notable chalky but balanced tannin giving power and length. This wine displays elegance and restraint despite this being a very substantial Pinot Noir.

2018 Eliza Jane Sangiovese

Dark rich color. off the bat. Nose with heavy punch of leather. Trying to pinpoint what spices I’m picking up but they are very present in the earthy leather, intense and unmistakable. Unlike your typical Sangiovese, this one is a touch jammy/chewy but dry (without being sweet). Lots of dark plum, bark cherry and black berries all most expressed in solid, imposing tannic structure (unlike the typical Sangiovese). This certainly is an interesting, unorthodox take on a Sangiovese. I like it. I would lay this down for a while. I keep drifting back to that earthy nose.

The 2018 Eliza Jane is our inaugural Sangiovese named after Dawn’s first granddaughter. This big, bold and beautiful wine expresses deep aromas of ripe strawberry and cherry which develop into darker fruits of blueberry and blackberry over light characteristics of coffee, dried earth, and thyme. This wine is lush and giving with fine silky tannins.

Meeting Dawn Herself

I did not expect to meet the woman behind this understated winery but at the end of my visit it was great to finally meet the mind behind it all and bring my experience full circle. I could see how it all came to be. I found Dawn to be a bit reserved, deliberate, measured and thoughtful in her delivery. She is clearly passionate about her vision for the winery and giving back to her community, specifically women and children in need. I found her conviction and passion for leaving the world a better place refreshing. The world needs more people like Dawn, especially in these times.

Meet Jack, Dawn’s husband, photo-bombing our shot…LOL

Great Wines for a Great Cause

Dawn’s dream has always been to help create dreams for others by donating her product, money or time to support nonprofit organizations both locally and globally.  Dawn’s passion for helping women and children equals her passion for making wine. Dawn has produced award-winning wines of exceptional quality and elegance while maintaining a business model that allows for the opportunity to give back… [Read more here].

I look forward to checking on Dawn’s Dream Winery regularly and following their future releases. Thank you for sharing your dream with me Dawn!

 

2016 Cabernet Franc by Medeiros Family Vineyards

Tonight’s occasion: 2016 Cabernet Franc (Santa Clara Valley) by Medeiros Family Vineyards.

Late last year as we wrapped our year long rediscovery of the Fair Play and greater Foothills and South El Dorado Hills region we stumbled upon this humble winemaker as he was just moving into his new humble estate in Fair Play. After sharing some wine with him and hearing his story, I couldn’t be happier to welcome another talented winemaker to the region.

Nose is thick and full of berry, plum and an intense sweet cherry. Atypical for a Cabernet Franc. A subtle hint of leathery terroir lingers in the back. The body is fruit forward however not as much as the nose would suggest. The plum carries over into the body. This is a Cab Franc and I don’t expect more than two or three dimensions in the body. This one is no exception. However like a well built Cab Franc, what is does, it does really well. Excellent chassis provides good structure. Massive crisp tannic grip begins to dominate the affair before it’s over. Other than its ever tightening tannic grip the finish is dry, clean, and smooth. Great contrast. No spice. This is a classic California Cabernet Franc.

I look forward to following his work closely. 😁🍷🍷🍷

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! 😭🍷

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…

Gary Farrell, Russian River Valley

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.

Have you visited this winery? What did you think?

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