Cookie, in Melbourne's CBD, is a self-styled "beer hall, eating house and disco" and loudly lives up to that description - so when you manage to find a seat among the crowded tables you don't expect to be handed a quirkily illustrated, information-rich 90-page book, chock-full of affordable bottles from all around the world. And then find the brilliant selection of wines accompanied by Cookie's general manager and list-compiler Gus Braidotti's handy and hilarious tips on "wine, life and friendship" such as drink your red wine a little cooler and your white a little warmer; visit your mum more often; try something new; and "make a point of watching Paris, Texas at least once a year".
It's this personal touch that, for me, has long made Cookie's list special - something I find common to all great lists: a tangible sense of the all-consuming love of wine that inspires a sommelier to create something more entertaining, more engaging, more enthralling than just a catalogue of bottles. That's certainly what I'm looking for when I pore over a list.
I've been poring over the nation's wine lists for the GT Restaurant Guide for more than a decade. There's no doubt the sheer number of very good lists out there continues to grow. But some, like Cookie's, have soaked their way more persuasively into my affections than others. These, for me, set the standard for breadth, depth, passion, presentation and personality; I could drink from them every day and not get bored.
We don't have an official Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide Wine List of the Year Hall of Fame.
But if we did, it'd look a lot like this.
As well as romping in as the latest Wine List of the Year, the vibrant, beautifully illustrated, mouth-watering selection at Restaurant Hubert in Sydney has nestled immediately into my rollcall of all-time favourites.
There's just such an irrepressible sense of joie-du-vin to be found in its 40 pages. It's a boisterous approach that's notably different from my other, more well-established fave Sydney lists: Aria, with its cool, smart design, rare wines by the glass offered through the Coravin preservation system, and emphasis on old Australian bottles; and Nick Hildebrandt's seriously impressive and influential list at Bentley with its effortless balance of classic and cutting-edge - the list, perhaps, by which many other serious wannabe Sydney somms' efforts are judged.
In Melbourne two of the top lists are found a few hairdressing salons away from each other on Toorak Road: the enormous offering of often good-value wines at France-Soir would be at home in the very best Parisian bistros, let alone downtown South Yarra, while the level of detail - evocative and educational descriptions for every wine - in the beautifully laid-out list at Sardinian gem Da Noi is exemplary, as is the all-Italian selection of wines.
Regional Victoria boasts many stunning wine lists, but the ones I most like to immerse myself in are at Ten Minutes by Tractor on the Mornington Peninsula and at the Royal Mail Hotel in the Grampians. I just love the former's staggeringly in-depth and informative text and richly appropriate emphasis (given the region) on chardonnay, pinot and Burgundy; and the latter's staggeringly broad and deep selection of international and local bottles at almost unbelievably fair prices - not to mention its unparalleled collection of red Bordeaux.
In Brisbane, the list that consistently blows me away is at 1889 Enoteca. One of the first Australian establishments to champion natural wines, this place is still doing a great job of introducing locals to new and unusual wines, predominantly from Italy, in an exciting and accessible way; the selection kicks off, for instance, with a bunch of delicious oddities for under $70 a bottle. And in the Barossa Valley winemaking town of Tanunda you'll find one of the finest lists of them all.
FermentAsian is famous for chef Tuoi Do's exquisite Vietnamese food, matched by partner Grant Dickson's extraordinary passion for wine: 90 pages of wines from near and far, cutting-edge and classic, each with an in-depth description, most offered at remarkably reasonable prices. Dickson describes it, perfectly, as "a beacon to pilgrims of the palate whose questing brings them to the Barossa in search of vinous exploration, evocation and education, and a valuable resource for the local wine fraternity".
The clincher? Despite having one of the best lists in the country, FermentAsian accepts BYO wine at midweek dinners and all lunches. That is truly love.
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