Food & Culture

Making a splash: why bottle shops are coming together with wine bars

It's a drinking hybrid we can all raise a glass to.

By Georgie Meredith
Public Wine Shop, Melbourne
On Sydney's Oxford Street, a bottleshop doubling as a wine bar is casting a spell. It goes by the name of P&V (that's Piss and Vinegar, by the way), and it's a concept with a bit of magic about it. Guests can grab a bottle of something eccentric from the tightly packed shelves and drink it in the adjoining courtyard right there and then. An always-changing wine list is on offer by the glass, paired with a neat yet varied menu of delicious small plates. And you'll find an eclectic community of customers, from highly regarded sommeliers sampling the jewels of Jura, to local passers-by who may not know anything about wine at all.
The bottle shop-meets-wine bar model hit Australian shores in the late 1990s, but draws on a rich European history. In Paris, they're known as caves à manger – literally "cellars for eating" – which you'll find peppered throughout the city's streets. They're effortless and convivial, offering an array of curated bottles to take away or drink in situ, alongside a menu of humble yet delicious bites to eat. In Italy they're known as enoteche (the plural of enoteca), which originated as little shops in regional towns where visitors could sample a selection of locally produced wines, along with a few snacks, for a small fee.
Back on home soil, the hybrid is having a moment. In the past two years, not only have we welcomed P&V to Paddington, but also a string of newbies to our cities, such as Paranormal Wines in Canberra and Public Wine Shop in Melbourne. They may vary in their DNA, but each ultimately follows the same formula: bottle shop in the front, wine bar out the back (or vice versa).
Paranormal Wines, Canberra. Photo: Ashley St George
Generally, wines on display come under the term "natural", although they aren't limited to this style. Nevertheless, they're interesting, and you'd be hard-pressed to find something without a fun label or poetic name. They're also sold at retail price, a happy difference to your standard wine bar or restaurant.
At Paranormal Wines, which joined Canberra's Provan Street in 2021, an array of colourful and carefully selected bottles line the walls of a shed-like interior. Tempted by a fresh and fruity white blend from the Loire Valley's esteemed Domaine Pithon-Paillé? Or a lively Mornington Peninsula shiraz from female-owned Allevare? Once purchased, customers can sip at one of the Scandi-esque wooden tables for just $15 corkage.
Co-owner Max Walker welcomes this transparency to the cost of wine. "The most important thing is bringing down the price of boutique, organic, biodynamic and sometimes natural wines," he says. "A lot of restaurants lean on wine as the money-maker by marking up the cost price at three, four or sometimes even five hundred per cent. It's quite frustrating that some restaurants end up charging exorbitant prices for a product that wasn't designed to be drunk in that way. But the wines are also paying for the multi-million-dollar fit-out and all these other things. I always have to explain why wine is more expensive in restaurants than it is in bottle shops."
Wines on the shelf at Public Wine Shop. Photo: supplied
Campbell Thomas Burton, owner of Public Wine Shop in Melbourne and one of the industry's most respected merchants, agrees. Since opening in 2020, Public Wine Shop has evolved from a simple pop-up wine store to a seven-days-a-week communal dining space. Guests can sit and savour a bottle off the shelves for a $25 corkage fee, or enjoy a rotating list of wines by the glass.
"We love the model of doing something a bit more casually and being able to sell wine at retail prices," says Thomas Burton. "People can take something home or to the park, but also have the option of hospitality, so you can sit in the venue and listen to nice music. And if you want to have a gin and tonic after, you can do that too. We love the crossover."
Another thread weaving these places together is the type of people they're hoping to entice: those who know their wines, and those who don't. "I'm trying to capture two markets – people that are really into this stuff, who know that $80 for a bottle of Radikon is a really good deal, but also those people that come in and just want a $10 glass of prosecco," says Walker.
Even if you do live by the grape, buying a bottle of wine can be an overwhelming experience. A non-threatening approach, such as Walker's, makes stepping into a place like Paranormal a genuine joy.
"Wine can be a big, scary and mysterious thing to get into. You can get burned by the wrong sommelier or store owner, but there are myriad wines out in the world and I get excited to give somebody something they've never had before," he shares.
P&V Paddington, Sydney. Photo: Maclay Heriot
Having the ability to engage with a diverse range of customers in this friendly, fun and casual way ultimately invigorates a sense of community. This is especially true for Sydney's P&V, which – with its weekly line-up of wine education classes – has become a hub for those seeking to brush up on their knowledge. Guests can head to the store's flagship in Newtown to learn about the impact of altitude on wine, or for a masterclass in absinthe and pastis at their newer watering hole in Paddington.
"You can build culture around your business by giving people a little bit more," says Mike Bennie, P&V's co-owner. "It's about the enhancement for the people that walk through the front door, doubling-down on the welcome to educate and delight different people with an experience."
Thomas Burton agrees. "For me it's about beautiful service and engaging with our customers correctly so they're getting what they want."
There's also a key point that differentiates Paranormal, Public Wine Shop and P&V from your regular bottle-o: the food. And it's dramatically increasing their appeal. While Paranormal focuses on easy snacks, such as marinated red peppers, sourdough toast and Ortiz sardines straight from the tin, Public Wine Shop and P&V have taken on fresh-faced chefs to bolster their menus.
Hobart-born chef Ali Currey-Voumard (Gourmet Traveller's 2019 Best New Talent) joined the team at Public Wine Shop mid-last year. With little more than a plug-in oven, stove top and toaster grill, she's producing a line-up of wine-friendly dishes brimming with local produce. "Ali's doing an amazing job with not very much," says Thomas Burton. "Everything is ordered and cooked for that night's service, so the menu changes all the time. We're pickling and fermenting a lot of things, and cooking with a lot of fresh, organic food. Really simple, good quality vegetables, hardly any red meat at all unless it's raw – lots of tartare – and a couple of pastas here and there." The menu has seen triumphs such as vitello tonnato and beef carpaccio; poached ox tongue with mustard fruits; and grilled red mullet with mayonnaise and dressed sorrel.
When queues for the wine bar started forming outside P&V's door along Oxford Street, Bennie knew it was time to up the snack game, taking on Wesley Cooper to shake things up. "We wanted a bit more substance, and to change the menu up like the wine list changes up," says Bennie. "We found Wes, who's just really eager and keen, and wants to build a culture around the place. He's come out of working the line at The Old Fitz and Fish Shop, so he just got what we were talking about," he says. "We wanted organic, seasonal and light wine-food."
Kingfish crudo drizzled with yuzu koshu one night, perhaps, or spring crudites of radishes, fennel and baby Dutch carrots served with a smoked eel crème fraîche.And this is just the start. A plethora of Aussie enotecas have opened in recent months, with more in the works. You can find Loc in Adelaide, which describes itself as "kind of like a bottle shop, but a bar instead", Upstairs Wines on the New South Wales Central Coast, and Italian-focused Paski on Sydney's Oxford Street.
Each offers something unique, but collectively, they're changing the way we drink. They're places we can revel in great food and community, with a glass of something delicious in-hand. They're places with a bit of magic.
Wines of While, Perth. Photo: Lulu Cavanagh

A few old favourites to try

This natty haven has become a must-tick on the Perth bucket list. The wine bar, bottle shop and restaurant, which was opened in 2018 by ex-surgeon Sam Winfield, has become renowned for its food as much as its 600-plus selection of natural wines. Delight in a plate of zucchini flowers stuffed with scallops, ricotta and herbs while hydrating with a glass of something local, like Si Vintners's Baba Yaga.
A Melbourne stalwart, City Wine Shop pairs classic European fare (literally, catered by The European next door) with a beautiful selection of wines from around the world. Guests can pick a bottle from the shelf, which currently includes an excellent array of vintage Champagnes, and perch at the bar or dine at one of the street-side tables alfresco. It's a wine-soaked slice of Europe.
East End Cellars has been around since 1998. It wasn't until 2014, however, that owner Michael Andrewartha opened an adjoining wine bar and tasting space. Here, diners can enjoy a full à la carte menu for lunch or dinner, accompanied by a bottle from the shop (maybe a Luigi Baudana barolo from the historical vines of Serralunga d'Alba), or a selection of drops by the glass.
  • undefined: Georgie Meredith