Whether it's sipping, snacking, or wining and dining in style, Australia's latest wave of wine bars has it covered. Here's where to settle in for winter and beyond.
Words: Fiona Donnelly, Michael Harden, David Matthews, David Sly & Max Veenhuyzen.
Neighbourly is the operative term at the new south-coast venue from the St Isidore team, who recently announced the closure of their Milton restaurant. Due to open as the first spring shoots appear, Small Town, a 20-seater just off Milton's main drag, sees the team refocusing on the simple things. "We never intended for St Isidore to be a special-occasion place," says co-owner Jo Thomas. "Here we'll be distilling the dining experience to good wine and simple, delicious food. More fun. More concise." Inside, the space is bright and warm, with marble and timber accents, and food is stripped back and coastal. Expect mud crab with rice, curry leaves and fried garlic, and snacks such as sea urchin roe on nettle crackers. Sasha Siljanovic's wine list, meanwhile, ramps up the by-the-glass options with an emphasis on thirst-quenchers from small producers, plus a few classics.
What to order: A vin de soif-style cinsault from South African maker Testalonga. And there are always longnecks of Melbourne Bitter.
4/41 Wason St, Milton
Scrawled on the wall of Byron Bay's first natural wine bar are three rules: eat with your hands, drink with your mouth, and (in the tradition of Spain's great tapas bars) throw your napkin on the floor. Opened by Shelter co-owner Andy Love and winemaker Peter Windrim, it's a place in step with the new, fancified Byron, but it's still a riot: customers spill into the front alley, staff shake to the soundtrack, and there's plenty of drinking with your mouth happening, with a list that includes petit manseng from Jilly, riesling from Mac Forbes, and bottles from Hungary and Georgia.
What to order: Let them guide you, but throw in a gilda and the crisp whiting with chimichurri for good measure.
9 Bay Ln, Byron Bay, NSW, 2481, (02) 6680 9606, supernaturalcellars.com.au
Having taken over the restaurant below their cult craft-beer room, the Bitter Phew team have been slowly putting things in place for a wine bar to complement their upstairs offer. It's been quietly open, and the pendant lights and brushed brick walls sure are pretty, but as Nicholas Louis (formerly of The Dolphin Wine Room) puts the finishing touches on a wine list heavy on ambers from Italy and juicy French and Australian reds, expect things to get even better. Snacks are low-intervention, too – think good burrata and duck ham. Or you could always order Mr Crackles in.
What to order: Nico has form from The Dolphin and Cumulus Up. Engage him, and drink happy.
137 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010
The new local darling of Pyrmont, where wine guy Enrique Mendoza and partner Monica-Paula Zotti run the floor with style and grace to match a room accented with a sweeping marble bar and lush banquettes. Mendoza's list follows his whims, but what whims: he pours the likes of supple Laurent Savoye gamay and rosé from Granite Belt guns La Petite Mort from a clipped by-the-glass offer, and sells fine Georgian wine by the bottle. There's cheese and charcuterie, snacks, and a few larger plates, but go for the $45 tasting menu ($45!) that starts with a spin on devilled eggs and ends strong with milk parfait with feijoa.
What to order: The tasting menu, clearly. But if you're in the neighbourhood on a Saturday morning make it a Mimosa and an oozy Croque Monsieur for brunch.
52 Harris St, Pyrmont, NSW, 2009, (02) 8591 3660, barclementine.com
Leigh Street Wine Room
Sydney chef Nathan Sasi (Mercado) has laid down roots in Adelaide, transforming a former dry-cleaning shop into a bar stocked with low-intervention wines. More than 400 of them, to be exact, ranging from internationals such as Maison Pierre Overnoy to natural beauties from the Adelaide Hills. There's a strong local angle: the food, which includes the likes of pumpkin and sheep's curd agnolotti and Roman-style braised tripe with chickpeas, flies the flag for South Australian produce, while tableware is sourced from Jam Factory. It all backs up a design by Studio -Gram that, with its long arched ceiling, echoes Barcelona.
What to order: Try something special – such as Jacques Puffeney's "farewell vintage" 2014 Arbois – and stay for dessert of Pedro Ximénez canéles.
9 Leigh St, Adelaide, SA, 5000
Paloma Bar and Pantry
Big hotel operator Palmer Hospitality Group, who also run upmarket rooftop bar 2KW, have moved into Peel Street with a homely bar embracing a casual southern Mediterranean air (rather than Mexico, as the name suggests). A small but carefully chosen wine list features mostly South Australians focused on textural Mediterranean varieties, with a smattering of Portuguese whites, Spanish tempranillo and Provençal rosé. Elsewhere, drink interests roam – lots of cocktails (with a fondness for tequila), several sherries, a large range of beers. A modest pantry is stocked with quality charcuterie, rillettes, tinned seafood, cheese and more, with customers encouraged to mix and match as they please.
What to order: Something light and delicious – 2018 SC Pannell Basso Garnacha, perhaps – with hot-smoked ocean trout and mustard mayonnaise.
20 Peel St, Adelaide, SA, 5000, palomabarandpantry.com.au
Denton Wine Bar
The fifth incarnation of Simon Denton's CBD-fringe space is its most minimal. The Japanese accent of Kappo and Nama Nama has gone, replaced with a Euro-style wine bar, all timber and scrawled blackboard menus. There are just six items on the food menu – think charcuterie, salmon carpaccio, porterhouse – supporting a focused wine list of young locals and impressive Old World vintages that work for both the buffs and the people who love indulging them.
What to order: Wine from the Denton family's Yarra Valley vineyard made by Luke Lambert and selling at $10 a glass.
1 Flinders Ln, Melbourne, Vic, 3000, (03) 9639 9500
A classic of the bar-meets-bottle-shop genre, Luxsmith Bar combines a concrete and steel fit-out with a low-key, friendly attitude ideal in a small neighbourhood watering hole. Food is limited to snacks (nuts, scratchings) though sibling restaurant Luxsmith is next door for the famished. The wine list eschews funk for easy drinking but with plenty of interesting stuff including South African chenin blanc or shiraz from the Adelaide Hills. Plus anything on the shelves can be drunk on site for $15 on top of the retail price.
What to order: The list has a penchant for Italian wine, jump in and explore.
Cnr Charles and Gamon Sts, Seddon, Vic, 3011,(03) 9362 7333, luxsmith.com.au
Magnum + Queens
This bar and bottle shop started life as an online wine store, but lucky for us, co-owner Virginia Selleck, a sommelier who lists Cumulus and Rockpool on her CV, missed the face-to-face of hospitality. The result is a bar offering an exciting selection of wine from funky Adelaide Hills blends to meticulously crafted Champagne. The wine talk is exemplary, as are the snacks, from Ortiz anchovies served with pickled onions to cheese with quince jam.
What to order: Wine, of course, but there's also a single cocktail, currently an Imbroglio Spritz, made with Poor Tom's Campari-like Imbroglio, prosecco and soda.
274-276 Coventry St, South Melbourne, Vic, 3025, (03) 9696 3185,magnumandqueenswine.com
A discreet sign and simple gold lettering on the staircase are the only markers for this first-floor wine bar, so keep an eye out. Upstairs, interiors have a classic edge, with dark wood panelling, brass details and bentwood chairs. Sommelier Eleanor Cappa (ex-MoVida) has put together a list that plays off the surrounds but isn't constrained by them – options range from Georgian rkatsiteli and organic negramoll from La Palma, to wild-ferment chardonnay made in Queensland. There's also serious ballast in play with hanger steak with café de Paris butter, or chicken liver parfait with blood-orange jam and milk toast.
What to order: Taramasalata with house-made crisps. And to drink? Jim Barry's Clare Valley assyrtiko.
39 Melbourne St, South Brisbane, Qld, 4041, [maeve.wine]
Arc Dining and Wine Bar
With former Saint Peter chef Alanna Sapwell on board, the wine bar side of Arc isn't geared to take a straight-line approach. A bowl of vinegar-spiked saltbush pigs' ears, or swordfish tartare served on hibiscus leaves and topped with salmon roe are fine matches with a glass of Sigurd chenin blanc from the Barossa, or a Campanian fiano. But even the fries, coated in sardine salt, are worth a look. There are views over the Brisbane River, and a retractable roof guarantees you'll stay dry, whatever the weather.
What to order: Something small-batch and left-of-centre from sommelier Ian Trinkle's 400-plus list, but there's a cache of old-school drops, too.
5 Boundary St, Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane, Qld, 4000, (07) 3505 3980, arcdining.com.au
When winter arrives, the best cure is comfort food with cred. Mosconi's pretty Moreton Bay bug ravioli with crustacean oil and saltbush fits the bill. As does its duck ragù with guanciale and sage served over pipe rigate. The wine list is wide-ranging – try a glass of Amato Vino's wild-ferment sav blanc, say, or a gutsy Sicilian nero d'Avola from Cantine Europa. Interiors conjure the café-bars of Italy, with patterned tiles underfoot and a marble-topped timber bar.
What to order: One of Mosconi's namesake Barolos, or homegrown variations on the theme, such as a nebbiolo made by Owen Latta in central Victoria.
164b Arthur St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, 4006, (07) 3151 1898, mosconi.com.au
Modelled on the botecos of South America, this South Fremantle newcomer is right at home in its boho beachside suburb. Community is ingrained in Madalena's DNA, from its wine list – a celebration of new-wave WA producers, written in conjunction with Freo local bottle shop Wise Child – to a diverse crowd taking in everyone from students to families. To eat, expect deftly handled seafood from Andrew McConnell alumnus Adam Rees.
What to order: Weekend fish specials ($40 for two people) such as Albany nannygai with chamomile butter tick the boxes for both value and sustenance.
406 South Tce, South Fremantle, WA, 6162, madalenasbar.com.au
Wines of While
Perth's ground zero for natural wine opened with a bang and the party hasn't let up since. Sam Winfield's cosy bar and bottle shop is a deeply personal affair, from the strict wine-buying policy – every wine, at a minimum, has to be made with organic grapes – to a tight menu that mirrors the list's French and Italian bias (great house charcuterie! Satisfying pastas!). Arrive early to maximise the chance of scoring an outdoor table.
What to order: Winter sees the introduction of gutsier numbers like roasted Jerusalem artichokes with brown butter; quiz the staff for something suitable to match.
458 William St, Perth, WA, 6000, (08) 9328 3332, winesofwhile.com
Those familiar with the predilections of Hobart restaurant Dier Makr won't be shocked by its sibling wine bar Lucinda's love of natural wine. It's a snappy list gathering together minimal-interventionist stuff from the Old and New Worlds and teaming it with a superb list of "comestibles" that might include braised rye served with spinach and a soft-boiled egg, turnips with nori cream or lamb ribs with black sesame. The fit-out is beautiful – clean and serene – and the service that particularly attractive style known as Hobart Friendly.
What to order: Lucinda provides a safe space for you to step out of your wine comfort zone – ask for direction.
123 Collins St, Hobart, Tas, 7000