A natural wine movement, and a move towards more fun, casual and niche.
”The wine scene in Sydney lagged behind Melbourne for quite a while, but has caught up in recent years,” says Bridget Raffal, sommelier at Sixpenny and Star Wine List’s Sydney ambassador.
Bridget Raffal grew up in Sydney but spent quite some time overseas, before returning home. Around four years ago, she crossed over from restaurant management into wine, and since 2017 she’s the sommelier at Sixpenny, a small fine dining restaurant in Sydney’s Inner West.
”The restaurant I was working for before didn’t have a sommelier, but had quite a large cellar, so I decided to do a bit of research. I quite enjoyed playing around with the list and wanted to get an education in wine, so I got certified through CMS and began the WSET Diploma,” she says.
The scene was definitely moving away from the fine-dining culture
Bridget says that the natural wine movement has dominated a large part of the conversation in Sydney in recent years, and at the same time been a major force for change.
”It’s a focus for many new bars and restaurants, and it’s helping people to be a bit more adventurous in their drinking habits.”
Sydney’s also seen a massive rise in small venues in the last few years, says Bridget, be they wine bars or tiny little hole in the wall tapas venues.
”The scene was definitely moving away from the fine-dining culture, and more towards the fun, casual and niche.”
But then, corona hit Sydney, just as everywhere else in the world. What the long time effects of the crisis will be is still too early to say.
”With the social restrictions and lockdown measures at the time, a lot of venues closed, while others switched their offering to take away or retail. There’s been a lot of support and people have been pretty excited about the prospect of getting take away from a degustation restaurant, plus everyone’s been working from home, so they’ve been eating and drinking more.”
What are the biggest trends when it comes to wine bars right now? Regions, countries, wine styles, etcetera?
”Natural wine, skin contact wine, easy-drinking chilled reds are really popular. Wines from Georgia, the Jura and Friuli get quite a bit of cellar space. You don’t see a whole lot of Bordeaux around, that’s for sure.”
How is Sydney different from other cities in Australia when it comes to wine bars and restaurants?
”Sydney lagged behind Melbourne for quite a while but has caught up in recent years. The New South Wales government never actually wanted people to go out and drink, so they made it as difficult as possible for a long time. Because of that, a lot of the bars opened up in restaurants, and food has often been a major driver.”
”Sydney’s always had a very strong Asian food scene so you can get great yakitori or Isaan Thai, but might have to look harder if you want casual Italian or French. The wave of small hole-in-the-wall bars is a more recent and most welcome addition to Sydney’s nightlife.”
How do you think the wine scene in Sydney will evolve the upcoming years?
”I’d say the trend for light and enjoyable styles will continue, as well as new world examples from Italian varietals. We’re gradually moving away from the idea that big, alcoholic reds are what we do best in Australia.”
Anything you want to see more of when it comes to wine bars and restaurants in Sydney?
”I’d like to see more day time drinking. Have a glass of wine with lunch please.”
Anything you want to see less of?
”I’d like to see less outrightly faulty wine poured out with the excuse ’oh, it’s natural’. We’re in a hot country, so if your list features unsulphured, low acid wines with a bit of residual sugar, then do us a favour and store them correctly so that people can enjoy them as the winemaker intended. If the wine’s looking mousy on day two, then don’t pour it. Otherwise, you’re presenting the worst aspects of a movement that should be greatly admired.”