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.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

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.

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