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…

Reserve: 2011 L’Autre by Terre Rouge.

Tonight’s occasion: 2011 L’Autre by Terre Rouge. This is a GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mauvedre. A red blend from one of our favorite winemakers. Warm rich nose, with lots of cherry and plum wrapped in just the right amount of oak. Earthy mineral terroir is nicely expressed. Body is all business. Very structured, complex and balanced. Just the right amount of acid, tannin, fruit, oak, and terroir. A vibrant finish plays back and forth with tannin and spice, finally relenting to long lasting tannic grip. Once opened up, the tannins begin to spread from the finish to the back of the body, slowly dominating the entire experience reminding you that even though this is the 2011 vintage, it is still young and nowhere near it’s fullest expression.

We opened a 1992 GSM by this winemaker earlier this year. It was a true honor to partake in such a well built well preserved wine. So tonight we continue to explore this winemaker’s craft and how it evolves. There are moments where we feel fortunate to indulge in such art in a bottle. This would be one of them.

Reserve: 2008 Red Label Pinot Noir by Roessler

Tonight’s occasion: 2008 Red Label Pinot Noir, Sonoma County by Roger Roessler of Roger Roessler Wines. After opening up for at least 15 minutes it reveals a well balanced nose with that signature Sonoma earth, a little oak and berry. The body remains vibrant with a hint of fruit, good acidity and ever so faint spice heading into the finish which fades away into the sunset from there on.

I am down to just one of these Red Labels. It amazes me every time how his Pinot ages oh so gracefully all the while remaining so approachable over such an unusually long life span. This vintner’s wines may be drinkable now, but the real reward is years or even a decade later. This is a bittersweet occasion but one I’m so grateful for.

Wine Review: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon by Altue, Chile

Tonight’s occasion: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon by Altue, Chile.

We are truly living in a golden age for wines in general. I am sitting here contemplating the finer points of a great little wine from lesser known corner of the world in Chile and thinking to myself, not only is the wine well made, it is one hell of a steal. Mere decades ago, such a moment would have been highly unlikely.

Pleasant nose with plum, cherry, oak, earth, and at least one other floral note that combines to create a subtle butterscotch twist (for lack of a better descriptor). Once opened I detect a hint of minerality. This all carries forward into a mild mannered body with oak and vanilla more pronounced and fruit diminished. Minerality carries forward to the body as well. The body is light and understated for a Cabernet Sauvignon. None too acidic. It reads like a big California Pinot Noir. After about an hour the body develops a noticeable buttery caramel character. The finish is graceful and quickly fades away with a suggestion of tannin. Once opened, the cherry is more pronounced in the finish.

Overall this is a smooth wine. I love noticing the terroir in a wine. This tells me that little has been done to the wine in the way of altering its expression. It is an honest wine. Approachable. It is not overly complex. At 13% ABV it is also not a laborious, exhausting affair either. You can open a bottle and slowly follow it through your evening without suffering from palate fatigue. This is a fantastic EDC wine (EDC = Every Day Consumption). For the price Casemates Wine is offering it presents great value for the price. This is a great way to stock up your cellar.

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:

How to stock your Wine Cellar – Casemates

Ladies and Gentlemen. Today I’d like to present to you, Casemates.com. I often get comments about how my wine enthusiasm must be expensive to maintain. Well the truth is, it really isn’t that expensive. One of the main reasons for starting this blog is to show you and any aspiring winesnob that your love for wine does not necessarily have to be an expensive one. You do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy good, great and sometimes exceptional wines.

Enter Casemates. They play no small part in my overall cellar strategy. This group dates back to mid 2000s. I discovered them when they ran Wine Woot and very quickly came to rely on them for great wines at great prices and sometimes ridiculous bargains. They now play a key role in stocking my cellar with great EDC (Every Day Consuption) wines. While the wine deals they feature are often inexpensive, this is no indication of their quality. It is not uncommon to find deals ranging between $80-$180 per case. Some of these wines have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with wines in my reserve that are 3-5 times the price. There are few things sweeter to a winesnob than opening a bottle with friends and watch their surprise when hear how little it cost. We are truly living at a great time when great wines are well within reach and Casemates is playing a key role in that respect.

Moving forward I will try to highlight deals on wines I am familiar with. If you have any questions or would like my feedback on any of their offerings, please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram (@winesnob.blog). You can also follow Casemates on Instagram (@casemateswine).

This post is not sponsored in any way by Casemates. As with all my content, it is a pure reflection of my personal experience, opinion and my desire to support those who’s work I appreciate.

EDC: 2014 Pinot Noir by Apriori Cellars

Tonight’s occasion: 2014 Pinot Noir by Apriori Cellars, Sonoma Coast. Oh this wine! Where do I start? It is a highly understated and I would dare say underrated Pinot. In contrast to most of the Pinot I review which are big bold Pinot that need to take long naps to arrive at their fullest expression, this one is made in the more traditional Burgundian style. It’s refreshing to see a delicate, light easy Pinot.

There are no overpowering notes anywhere in this wine. At 12.5% ABV it is extremely approachable. You can enjoy this wine all day and not experience any palate fatigue. You can pair it with a delicious steak or enjoy it straight. The nose is very subtle with a hint of oak, rose and berry. Of course it has that unmistakable Sonoma earth. The body is buttery and smooth with a feathery finish that almost vanishes instantly. Thank you Casemates Wine for bringing us another winner! I’m perplexed as to why I have not yet visited this winemaker in person. 🤔 I surely need to fix that soon! Great job guys!