Australian wine lists set a high bar, serving drinkers well, even when they’re not going full-bottle.
Australian wine lists set a high bar, writes MAX ALLEN, serving drinkers well, even when they’re not going full-bottle.
Ihave just come back from six weeks in
Europe, drinking and eating my way through the restaurants of England, Scotland, France and Spain. I have also spent what felt like a similar amount of time assessing the wine lists of all the establishments that feature in this year’s
Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide. Put the two together, and I can confidently say that we Australian drinkers are very well served by our restaurants.
No matter where you find yourself in this country, from a remote retreat in regional Tasmania to an inner-city laneway bar in Sydney, the quality, diversity and interest of the wines on offer in most of the places listed in this year’s Guide is really quite impressive.
That’s not to say that everything’s wonderful in Aussie wine list land. It’s still expensive to drink here compared to, say, Spain, where wine is almost ludicrously cheap. Thanks to our much higher taxes, business costs and mark-ups, Australian restaurant wine prices are notably steep (a common complaint of international visitors), especially at the posher end of the spectrum. To give you one extreme example, I bought a bottle at a restaurant in San Sebastián for as much as one high-end Melbourne restaurant charges for a glass of the same wine on its list.
And, as I was perusing the lists from this year’s
Guide, I couldn’t help thinking that many tend towards the formulaic, particularly when it comes to wines by the glass, as though all the somms went to the same somm school.
The by-the-glass formula goes something like this: two or three different bubbles (one Champagne, one prosecco, one pét-nat), half a dozen whites (including a Chablis and at least one obscure minerally variety), a pale-dry rosé, a skin-contact or orange wine, half a dozen reds (including a couple of young, whole-bunch juicy natural numbers) and maybe an ironic old-school Aussie.
Increasingly, the formula also includes offering an extra selection of older or rarer wines poured using the Coravin wine preservation system, and having all the wines available not just by the glass
(or half-glass) but also by the carafe (variously
375ml, 450ml or 500ml) and 750ml bottle.
But then my trip to Europe made me realise that although the Australian by-the-glass list may be formulaic, it’s a pretty damn good formula. It’s certainly way more adventurous and broad-ranging than the far less interesting or user-friendly offerings I found in equivalent European restaurants, especially the kind of everyday establishments that make up the majority of listings in our Guide.
In fact, I’m feeling so positive about Australian wine lists this year that I’ve decided to shake up the rating system a bit.
For many years now, I have used a system of one, two and three wine glass symbols to indicate the lists that I rate as good, very good and outstanding. As the general standard of lists has improved over time, so too has the number of restaurants with wine glass symbols attached. As a result, the system has become arguably less useful: if almost every restaurant in the
Guide has at least a one-glass rating, then how do you, the reader, discern which are the better ones?
So, I have rebooted the ratings system and set the bar higher. I last tried this five years ago but, in retrospect, I didn’t go far enough.