Sydney’s Wine Bar Revolution

Heart - Add to profile

May 12, 2017

by ALEX GREIG, Online Writer

The mere provision of wine does not a bona fide wine bar make – it’s more than that. The wine list must be special – sommelier-designed and thoughtfully composed. It must serve food – a civilised selection of cheese is the bare minimum. And ideally, it’s small, cosy and dimly lit, the type of place for an intimate tete-a-tete or a romantic date. These are our Sydney go-tos. 

Love, Tilly Devine 

Tilly Devine was herself more interested in the sly grog trade than fine wine, but the streets of Darlo her razor gangs patrolled have long given way to more salubrious pastimes. Named in the crime matriarch’s honour, Love Tilly Devine’s backstreet location harks back to the old days but its two small, rustic rooms are unlikely to ever see a bar brawl (or a razorblade pulled from a pork-pie hat). There’s a list of more than 180 wines, and you won’t find the big names here – it’s all about single-vineyard varietals. Wines are grouped according to flavour; accordingly, under Salty + Super Fresh Whites you’ll find Thomas Braemore Semillon from the Hunter, Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills and Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri from Georgia.

91 Crown Street, Darlinghurst

Bar Brosé

It may be called Bar Brosé but trust us, everyone eats at this narrow Darlinghurst spot. Peruse the wine list in between bites of Late Night Sandwich and you’ll find an eclectic array – more than 140 currently – compiled by sommelier Katrina Birchmeier with an emphasis on natural drops and helpful categories such as Whites with Texture and Body and Red with Curves and Grip. “We focus on wines that are grown organically, bio-dynamically and have as little intervention as possible in the cellar,” Birchmeier tells us, adding that the effect is to “impart a sense of place and time… the essence of each vintage and vigneron in every bottle.” Small, high tables at the front are generally occupied by patrons enjoying the snacks – a glorious Blooming Onion or a puff of cheesy Gougère – that go so beautifully with wines such as a cloudy, aromatic Skin Fermented Muller Thurgau from The Hermit Ram.

231a Victoria Street, Darlinghurst

Monopole

When Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of Bentley, Yellow and Cirrus fame decide to do something, they hit it out of the park. So it goes with their little Potts Point wine bar/eatery Monopole. Hildebrandt has compiled a wine list of more than 500 rare and boutique wines and Savage’s menu is designed for supping while sipping – think chicken terrine with sourdough, scampi with sherry vinaigrette and house-cured Kurobuta pork cheek. The space – dark-wood floors, warm lighting, leather banquettes and bar seating – encourages smaller groups and hushed conversation, and the wine-bottles-as-decoration speak to many evenings well-spent.

71a Macleay Street, Potts Point 

Timbah

If you’re one of the first arrivals at Timbah of an evening, you’ll be among those who decide which four reds and which four whites the evenings tipples-by-the-glass will be. The list focuses on small producers and interesting varieties such as sancerre, vouvray and montepulciano with weekly updates. The prices are very pleasing too: from $7 a glass or $35 for a bottle. The welcoming, warmly lit space is tucked away down a steep hill off Glebe Point Road through an unassuming doorway next to long-running local bottle-shop Glebe Liquor. The ever-changing menu is designed for sharing, with produce grown above the bar on a terrace garden, but a cheese plate is an excellent place to start.

Unit 1/375 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

10 William St

The wine list at 10 William St is controversial – just ask the NSW Police, whose officers informed co-owner Giovanni Paradiso that the position of his daily, ever-changing chalkboard of wines by the glass could encourage heavy drinking. The chalkboard remains; ask the bartenders for recommendations from among the whites, reds, oranges and naturals. Sit at the bar at the back of the room or nab a table from the few up front and peruse the menu. The kitchen has seen two high-profile residencies: first by current Hubert chef Dan Pepperell and next by Tassie chef Luke Burgess. Now, the pans are in the hands of Italian chef Enrico Tomelleri. Classic 10 William dishes such as a soft, doughy pretzel with whipped bottarga remain, and there are always two or three pastas to choose from such as pappardelle with braised beef and gremolata.

Tagliolini chitarra, anchovies, dill, rye bread #pastabar

A post shared by 10 William (@10williamst) on Apr 6, 2017 at 11:31pm PDT

10 William Street, Paddington

The Wine Library  

This seat of learning serves the civilised oenophiles of leafy Woollahra with a globetrotting wine list of more than 500 wines with an emphasis on Italian and French short-run labels and small, single-vineyard organics. The long, high bar at Wine Library is lined with stools – perfect for popping in solo for a cheeky sip and a snack – and the dining room out the back serves those seeking a longer sojourn. The menu has all-day snacks such as spiced nuts, pork-and-paprika empanadas and panini. Things get more serious in the evenings with Mediterranean-imbued share plates of fried gnocchi with salami and goats cheese, braised lamb shoulder with chickpeas and salt-cod fish fingers with paprika mayonnaise.

18 Oxford Street, Woollahra

121 BC

This is where you’ll discover your new favourite wine. It could be a fiano from Campania or it may be a barolo from Piedmont, a sip heightening every bite of sticky balsamic pork ribs. The concept at 121 BC is a thorough inventory of Italy’s wine regions, a labour of love undertaken by Giorgio de Maria whose focus is sustainable, low-intervention drops. De Maria’s partner in wine is Andrew Cibej whose small plates – the blackboard menu changes daily – are designed with sipping in mind. Patrons line the three sides of 121 BC’s dark shiny bar, eagerly ordering snacks and glasses of wine and making new discoveries. The pours are smaller (and priced accordingly) to encourage sampling through Italy’s regions; each of the 20 is represented by a by-the-glass option. The most satisfying part is that you won’t have to leave your newfound love behind – pop into the shop next door and grab a bottle to share with unenlightened friends.

4/50 Holt Street, Surry Hills

The Lodge Bar

Red-velvet drapes, Chesterfield sofas and a long leather banquette heighten the sense of a secret gentlemen’s club engendered upon entering the dark, subterranean space. A menu made up of snacks, small plates, a small selection of large plates and a solitary dessert (but when it’s Eton mess, do you need to bother with anything else?) is bolstered by a Sunday Long Lunch, a collection of seven dishes that changes week-to-week and could include roasted Bannockburn chicken or 12-hour braised beef cheek. The Lodge's wine list, curated by sommelier Thomas Hoff, focuses on no particular regions, preferring to seek out the best in the world – so under Crispy & Crunchy Whites you’ll find 2012 6Mura Giba Bianco vermentino from Sardinia and Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner from the Adelaide Hills.

3/415 Darling Street, Balmain

Bloodwood

When it first opened in 2010 Bloodwood was a godsend for locals seeking something beyond Thai or big, noisy pubs. The long, narrow space’s raw-brick finishes, exposed pipes and reclaimed materials spoke of a whole new Newtown experience. Now, small bars proliferate and nearby Enmore Road has staked a claim for the gourmand’s byway of choice but Bloodwood maintains its status as the Inner Westie’s wine bar thanks to its neighbourhood vibe, biodynamic wine list and King Street position. The menu is seasonal, rustic and designed to share – perhaps some fried chicken with Szechuan, maple, iceberg lettuce and cucumber; and the chickpea pancake with zucchini, dukkah and Persian fetta. And always, always the polenta chips with gorgonzola sauce.

416 King Street, Newtown 

Fix Wine Bar + Restaurant

Formerly Fix St James, this little city refuge is a weekday affair, catering to the needs of frazzled CBD workers with a list of more than 250 wines that’s designed to be interesting, eclectic and accessible. Buy a taste, a glass or a carafe of some of Fix Wine Bar + Restaurant’s selections – owner and sommelier Stuart Knox currently recommends Thivin Brouilly from France and Samuel’s Gorge Piñata People Gamay from McLaren Vale. There are snacks and small plates – a journey from Italy (salumi) to somewhere between France and Asia (confit duck spring rolls with red curry sauce) – as well as serious meals such as a one-kilo Riverine T-bone.

111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney