The chefs are coming, and, for the first time, the sommeliers are coming with them. As the vanguard of the World's 50 Best Restaurants touches down ahead of the April 5 ceremony in Melbourne, a squad of top international sommeliers will be jetting in alongside the celebrity-dusted chefs for a wine-focused satellite program.
It's at the behest of World's 50 Best partner Wine Australia, which spotted an opportunity too good to miss.
"All these restaurants have a great food and wine story, and we want to acknowledge the importance of wine in helping to create the ultimate gastronomic experience," says Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia. "It's the first time a sommelier program has run as a satellite to the World's 50 Best Restaurants and it's really a way of redressing the balance."
On a more practical note, it's a rare opportunity to showcase Australian wine to 40 of the world's leading sommeliers, including Joo Lee from New York's Eleven Madison Park, Seamus Williams-Sharkey from London's The Ledbury, Guillermo Cruz from Mugaritz, and Pathompong 'Tui" Wangmanao from Bangkok's Nahm.
Not all come from the World's 50 Best pool: a panel of experts drew the net wider to include influential wine industry players from across Australia's key export markets.
"They're a really diverse group and have different interests depending on the philosophy of the restaurant they work in - whether it be formal fine dining, or edgy and sustainable. We've asked each sommelier what they want to discover more about Australian wine and it ranges from natural wine and new-wave winemakers to cool-climate and aged wines and the potential effects of climate change on wine production and regions," says Clark.
"Essentially this is an amazing opportunity to showcase Australian wine to the world. Our ultimate goal is to get more Australian wines on wine lists in the world's best restaurants."
The 40, along with another 10 young Australian industry up-and-comers described by Wine Australia as "skilled, passionate and ones to watch", will participate in a 10-day program taking in Sydney and Melbourne, the Victorian wine regions and a choice of landmark wine regions across the country. Naturally enough, they will also attend the World's 50 Best awards at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building.
One of the Australian contingent, Louise Naimo of Melbourne's Ides, says she expects it to be a slightly daunting whirlwind, but all in a worthwhile cause. "It's all about feeling connected. We've got a really exciting culture now for pushing the boundaries - everyone knows there are great things happening in Australian wine, but it's all a bit removed. There's more passion for a product if you've met the producers."