Q&A with Halliday

Fast Five: Leanne Altmann

By J'aime Cardillo

9 Mar, 2023

In this series, we ask industry members to share the five drinks that shaped their lives.

Leanne Altmann is an award-winning sommelier, wine educator and wine communicator based in Melbourne, Australia.

A 2009 Len Evans scholar and perpetual student of wine, Leanne holds the WSET Diploma, where she was the top Australian graduate, and the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Certificate, dux. Leanne continued her practical wine and service education as the recipient of the Negociants Australia Working with Wine Fellowship, the Ruinart Sommelier Challenge, and the 2018 Vin de Champagne Award. She was named Gourmet Traveller Magazine's Sommelier of the Year in 2019. 

A passionate wine educator, Leanne is a Certified Educator with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and runs Level 2 and 3 in Wines for her teams. She has experience judging in regional and capital city shows, and has been named the next Chief of Judges for Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

After joining Cutler & Co. in 2009, Leanne was part of the Supernormal opening team. She has been in her current role of Beverage Director for Trader House since 2017. A recent project was the opening of Andrew McConnell’s newest restaurant, and Gourmet Traveller’s Best New Restaurant 2022, Gimlet at Cavendish House. Bar Gimlet and Supernormal Brisbane are slated for 2023. 

Leanne Altmann Leanne Altmann is the Beverage Director at Trader House Group.

01. Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
Growing up not far from McLaren Vale, wine was always part of my consciousness. My parents loved food and cooking, and wine was always at the dinner table (even though I didn’t pay much attention to it). In my first ‘proper’ restaurant job, I was fortunate to meet wine-passionate colleagues who relished the opportunity to educate this new young waiter about their favourite bottles. Time after time they’d put a glass in front of me and ask about it, and time after time I’d wonder how I could ever possibly learn the list when every wine smelled the same.

One evening after service my colleague passed me a glass of Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc and said: "So tell me about this one Leanne – what can you smell?"

And finally, *finally* it resonated with me – it smelled like a freshly cut passionfruit and newly mown grass, pulpy guava and ripe summer pineapple.

It smelled like victory. 

02. 1998 Guigal Côte Rôtie ‘Brune et Blonde’
Northern Rhône Valley, France
Increasingly enthusiastic about wine (and still completely naive), I was encouraged by a colleague to enter the Daniel Pontifex Memorial Scholarship, which gave a young South Australian waiter the opportunity to gain a world view of restaurants and wine in the very best way – through travel.

It was in the (rather terrifying) panel interview that I met Michael Hill Smith MW, who has had such an influence on my career ever since. When he called me one afternoon to tell me that I had been awarded the scholarship, I could scarcely believe it. And that feeling didn’t abate when I got to Paris a few months later, and Michael and his wife swept me off to dinner in one of the historic brasseries of Montparnasse. For a wide-eyed 20-something kid from the suburbs, it was a dream. We drank champagne with fruits de mer, and paired Châteaubriand with an appellation I’d read so much about and always wanted to taste – perfumed, peppery Côte-Rôtie.

All these years later, Guigal Brune et Blonde reminds me of the generosity of the wine and restaurant community, of the people who have shaped my career, and of the immense value of shared experience.  

03. 2005 Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru ‘Les Cras’
Burgundy, France
Some years ago, at the end of a long day of helping my brother-in-law move house, he offered to open something nice for us to drink.

This was in that time – in the distressingly distant past – when Burgundy was both affordable and accessible, and we drank the great producers a lot more frequently that I ever could now. But this ‘something nice’ turned out to be a particularly special bottle of Roumier Premier Cru.

I was enchanted from the start. It was lifted and ethereal, with that combination of translucency and power that you only find from the very finest producers. It was the kind of wine that really should have been drunk at the table, with a considered food pairing and elegant conversation. We drank it sitting on the floor, laughing, from the best glasses we could find in a nearby box. It remains one of the most memorable glasses of pinot noir I have had the pleasure to drink.

04. 2015 Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett ‘Oberhäuser Leistenberg’
Nahe, Germany
Dare I say this? I’m not sure if I’ve ever been disappointed with a wine that I’ve drunk from Weingut Dönnhoff. And as much as I would love to drink the GGs with more regularity, this is the wine that I reach for every vintage. The Oberhäuser Leistenberg vineyard is on a tributary of the Nahe, where the grapes find a balance of ripeness, freshness, and site expression that’s perfect for Kabinett – the only Prädikat that’s ever produced here.

There’s talk that Kabinett is a bit of a threatened species – as vintages change and become more erratic – and I desperately hope that this doesn’t come to pass. There may be wines with more power and intensity in the riesling world, but is there anything more alluring than fragrant, filigreed Kabinett, walking a knife edge of sugar and acidity? I simply adore it, and will not be convinced otherwise. 

05. Jacques Selosse ‘Initial’ Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
Champagne, France
I’m sure that many of us have those aspirational wines and producers that we’ve yearned to taste but have never been fortunate enough to drink. For my late husband Nigel, that producer was Champagne Jacques Selosse, and for years I searched high and low to find a bottle to share with him. Finally, I succeeded.

I’d made a reservation at L’Effervescence in Tokyo for his birthday and after a not-so-subtle suggestion to my parents, they organised a bottle as a gift. The maître d’ greeted us by name and guided us to a beautiful table that was already set with the most magnificent stemware.

I wish I could describe the look on Nigel’s face as the bottle was presented to him. Once he’d gotten over the shock and actually tasted the Champagne, he simply sat there for a while in contemplation, perfectly happy. The wine was great – complex and saline and masterful, a proper meditation wine – but that moment when the sommelier brought out the bottle is what resonates. It was everything that is wonderful about restaurants.

For me now, this memory is indescribably precious. What a wonderful thing wine is – an agricultural product that can communicate a place in time, and inspire a moment in time.

This article appears in issue #69 of Halliday magazineBecome a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.

Image credit: Kristoffer Paulsen.