The atmospheric and permanently bustling Perth restaurant, Balthazar, is one of the best places in Australia to drink wine. The walls are lined with the great and the good bottles; regular diners lap up the constantly changing and extensive by-the-glass selection; serious wine tragics spend hours perusing the extensive, rich and deep list.
But there’s something that sets the wine list apart at Balthazar. Unlike almost every other list in the country, where Australian wines are arranged by grape variety, here all the wines are arranged by region. So, under the heading ‘Margaret River whites’, semillon sauvignon blends and chardonnays are listed together – because that’s what the region does best. Clare Valley whites? Just rieslings, of course. Reds from the Yarra Valley: pinots, cabernets, merlots and shirazes. And so on, region by region.
It’s a brave and bold move by Balthazar restaurant manager and wine list compiler, Daniel Morris. Why brave? Because it doesn’t make searching for a favourite bottle all that easy for diners. Other restaurants have tried it and been panned by restaurant critics. But, when I saw the wines arranged this way, I thought it just made so much sense. And it works because of the effort Morris has made to train his staff.“We rearranged the list a couple of years ago,” says Morris. “We wanted to really highlight the terroir of Australia’s regions, not the grapes. Where wines are from is more important than what grape they’re made of.”
After all, argues Morris, we approach European wines regionally so why not take the same approach in Australia? “You need a lot of knowledge on the floor to pull it off,” Morris admits, “so we train all the staff to be mini-sommeliers: to ask people where they want to drink from, rather than what. We want to take them on a trip over the course of a meal.” It would be great to see other restaurants follow Balthazar’s lead.
Balthazar, 6 The Esplanade, Perth, WA, (08) 9421 1206.
WORDS MAX ALLEN PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL CHESTNUTT
This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.