When Scott Pickett, chef and owner of Estelle, combined two adjoining but independent restaurants to become one composite Estelle earlier this year, the initial purpose was to unify halves. On one side: the kind of fine-diner that’s become synonymous with Pickett (see also: Saint Crispin, Matilda). On the other side: a bar to accommodate people while they wait for a table. But three months on, Pickett has discovered his informal “Estelle Wine Bar” has taken on a life of its own.
Where the restaurant features sheer concrete walls, black trim and a spectacular feature light from Melbourne lighting designer Christopher Boots uniting the room, the wine bar is moodier. It has a long copper bar, a green marble communal bench and black leather padded booths.
Pickett has embraced the emerging personality of the smaller space. “It’s a bit more intimate than the restaurant itself,” he says. “A little quieter, calmer and cooler. Sleek black lines, high and low seating. There are more candles. You can pop in for dinner or a snack, or for a casual drop-in drink on the way to the movies.”
But the clearest difference is that the wine bar has quietly become home to one of the best local wine selections in town.
As well as having a mostly-local 300-strong wine cellar, around 15 by-the-glass options are served using the coravin system – special devices that bottles to be poured without removing the cork. This means sommeliers can open top-shelf (read: expensive) wines to only serve one glass.
“Coravin is a big thing at the moment,” says sommelier Tristan Vinson, also beverage manager at Pickett’s sister venue Saint Crispin. “I can open wines people mightn’t [otherwise] be able to afford.”
He points to standouts including the 2017 Chaffey Bros KontraPunkt kerner, an organic and vegan white wine from the Eden Valley in South Australia. Vinson says this is Australia’s only kerner, a German grape hybrid engineered in the early 20th century from riesling and trollinger.
“It’s really interesting,” he says. “Very floral with lovely white peach, white petals [and an] amazing bright sweetness to it, with a little bit of chalkiness. But it tastes like a red grape.” Vinson says it pairs perfectly with Estelle’s puffed veal tendons, a bar snack Pickett describes as “a big prawn cracker but made from veal”.
Another highlight is a 2018 Kooyong Beurrot pinot gris from the Mornington Peninsula. This one is a “great example of whole-bunch-pressed pinot gris”, says Vinson. He says the notes are “kaffir lime and lively green apple flavours with zesty acidity”.
The bar’s 2017 Rougeot Sous la Velle is a “super energetic” white burgundy, grown in the foothills of Meursault. A chardonnay Vinson says stands up against any red, it displays “white floral notes” with white peach and almond. “A lot of texture, a lot of body to it,” says Vinson. “This is your wine if you want to have [a white] with a steak.” It’s regularly paired with meat dishes such as Estelle’s Ranger Valley rump cap with allium and buckwheat.
But a real crowd favourite for “those in the know”, says Vinson, is Standish Wine Company’s 2016 The Relic, a shiraz viognier blend from the Barossa Valley.
“Heaps of skin contact, heaps of tannin structure,” he says of the big red. “You’re getting all of these interesting notes you don’t see in run-of-the-mill Barossa shirazes – bright black berries, dark cherries, dark chocolate, smoked vanilla bean, fennel seed, confectionary notes of liquorice. Usually you just get a bit of pepper, a bit of fruit.”
The wine’s boldness means it works especially well with richer meat dishes, such as Pickett’s legendary Wagyu bolognaises, served inside a cheesy toasty with kimchi at Estelle. A “fucking beautiful” pairing, claims Vinson.