What defines a wine bar? Waiters that know their Semillons from their Sauvignons are a good start. And of course you need a comprehensive selection, not just from the big players (your Napa’s, Bordeaux’s and Barossa’s) but well travelled bottles from up-and-coming vintners in Macedonia, South Africa, even Chile. We reckon atmosphere plays a big part too. It’s not a proper wine bar without at least one piece of furniture upholstered in clichéd maroon leather, soft lighting and a sommelier so intimidating you start making stuff up (“Ah yes, the ‘74, an excellent year…two bottles my good man!”)
So where’s the best spot to get a good glass of vino in Melbourne? Here’s your handy cheat sheet.
Over 400 wines on offer? ‘Nuff said. The Alps comes from a seriously good vintage: it was started by the guys from Toorak Cellars and Milton Wine Shop, who seem to be making it their mission to help the inner East develop a mild alcohol addiction. You’ll find rare bottles from all over the world, a cracking bar menu (think charcuterie, cheeses and nibbles, all paired to perfection, of course) and even a monthly vino masterclass.
Carlton and wine go together like steak and a good Malbec, and most people agree that if you’re struck with thirst near Rathdowne St, Gerald’s is where you go. It’s a warm and inviting space, cosy in winter with the wind blowing a Melbourne gale outside, and the locals love it. There’s a degustation menu, rotating bar snacks, depending what’s in season, and a wine collection so extensive it can only be accessed by one of those Beauty and the Beast sliding ladders. For real.
City Wine Shop
Part bottle-o, part wine bar, all class–City Wine Shop is a CBD vino stalwart. If you’ve matched a Tinder date who lists their interests as ‘Wagner’ and ‘Portsea Polo’, bring them here and thank us later (or don’t, they sound like a bit of a nob TBH). City Wine Shop is popular with the theatre crowd who drop in for a pre-show tipple, and the staff are always on hand to run you through the extensive wine list. Funnily enough, it also knocks out an insane chicken schnitzel with coleslaw. Wash it down with a good Riesling.
Hampton Wine Co
The wine bar that put Hampton St back on Melbourne’s foodie map. Started by the team from Jacques Reymond, Hampton Wine Co is a clean-cut, modern venue, which fits its Bayside address to a T. The wall-mounted wine racks get the mental wheels turning while the waiters walk you through a menu of smoked salmon profiteroles with tomato dust, charred cos, almond and pecorino, or a cheeky lavender meringue with honey and blueberries for dessert. The best bit? They’re also a licensed bottle shop, so you can pick up a few ‘souvenirs’ to keep the good times going back home.
Milton Wine Shop
Wine and pizza, together at last. That’s the thinking behind Milton Wine Shop in Malvern. This isn’t the intimidating, snobby kind of wine bar (although we have a soft spot for those as well); think more relaxed Thursday night drinks, with pizzas delivered crusty and hot from neighbouring Pizza Gallery. Owners Mark Nelson and Lyndon Kubis (of Toorak Cellars fame) have assembled a great little boutique selection to go with your large peperoni (extra mushrooms), and friendly staff are on-hand to help you match the perfect bottle. A mid-week winner.
Tom Pockett Cellars
One of those Melbourne chameleon venues that morphs from Sunday brekky hang-out to late-night bodega as the sun begins to set. It’s a winning combo, particularly in Glen Iris, which enjoys brunch and burgundy in equal measure. Tom Pockett Cellars has a seasonal menu, but you’ll usually find hearty, wine-friendly staples like beef Carpaccio, beef cheek ragù, and even the odd Rueben sandwich. Plus you can wine in, or takeaway (it operates as a bottle shop too). Keep it in your back Pockett.
There’s a smidge of stylish minimalism about Lady Nelson’s. You get the feeling they know what they do, and they do it really well–no bells and whistles. On a Friday night you’ll find it buzzing in a quiet, sophisticated sort of way, just opposite Windsor Station. If a rager at Revolver isn’t your idea of a good Saturday night in South Yarra, give the revolving wine list at Lady Nelson’s a try. There’s a good mix of local and international drops, plus a select menu of well-paired nibbles to go with. Think meatballs in tomato sugo and crusty bread, chorizo with a paprika and cider glaze or a creamy chicken liver parfait on sourdough.
One of Melbourne’s best-known late night haunts, at least if you’re a fan of moody lighting and a mouth-watering wine list. Embla is a bit of an institution. A guaranteed date night home run. You wouldn’t expect much less from the team that brought us Carlton’s The Town Mouse. Embla does good trade in the mornings (it’s open at 8am for the discerning brekky crowd), but night is when it really shines. Sit kitchen-side and enjoy the energy, the sommeliers are on hand to recommend a good drop. Our pick? The Château Petit Roubié Picpoul de Pinet (a good mouthful, in more ways than one).
Cute name, cute bar. You’ll find Smalls tucked down an alley in South Melbourne, right next to local fav St Ali. This is a wine bar, hold the distractions. There are no neon signs, and not an espresso martini in sight. It’s all about the vino here, folks, and it’s served up by knowledgeable waiters to about a dozen lucky diners each night. Smalls owner Jess Ho (of Restaurant Revolution TV fame) created a space where you go to “not be seen”, rather than the other way around. It’s intimate, unpretentious and delicious. Give it a go next time your South Melb Market browsing turns into an all-day affair.
Still thirsty? Check out these seven new wine bars in Melbourne.
Image credit: Griffin Simm