They spend their working days helping us navigate some of the most impressive wine lists in town, but where do Melbourne’s best sommeliers wind down when they clock off? Whether you’re after classic drops or honey gin from Belgium, here’s where the city’s top somms recommend drinking this summer.
Virginia Selleck – Magnum + Queens
Virginia Selleck, co-owner of wine store Magnum + Queens, is undoubtedly a top-tier somm. She’s been into wine since her twenties, and has spent time as sommelier at Rockpool, Cumulus Inc, Stokehouse, Belotta and Wilson & Market. Selleck is a regular visitor to the CBD and often finds herself looking for a quiet spot to sip and relax after running wine tastings.
She regularly heads to bustling city wine bar Embla for its esoteric list and relaxed ambience, helmed by chef Dave Verheul and fellow somm Christian McCabe.
“I like the spot where as soon as you walk in, head straight to the left, it’s the very side bit of the bar, right up against the window,” Selleck tells Broadsheet. “You’re tucked in, and you can see the whole room, and you’ve got a nice bit of light from the outside as well.”
Selleck is also still a regular at her old workplace, Andrew McConnell’s Cumulus Inc. “[It’s like] that old armchair that you like to go and sit in,” she says. The dining room is usually pretty busy, but the kitchen bar is kept free for walk-ins. Selleck orders a crisp white and the tuna tartare with goats curd and crushed peas. She loves that she can always find one of her favourite dishes on the menu.
“Nothing much really changes,” she says. “The menu will change – a little – but you’ll always find those dishes that have been there since the beginning.”
For cocktails, Selleck hits up Bar Di Stasio who she believes make one of the best Negronis in the city. “The presentation is always beautiful,” she says. “And they do it in that real Italian style, with waiters in their white suits and ties.”
“It gets busy, for sure. But there are a lot of times when it’s nice and quiet. I often use it as a back-up if I’m working from home.”
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Bar Di Stasio
31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Christian McCabe, Embla
“I wish there was some highbrow place that I frequent,” says Christian McCabe, co-owner of Embla and sister restaurant Lesa. “But it’s often drinking a shitty beer in a pub somewhere.”
Even so, McCabe has a few special spots he can’t help returning to, including France-Soir, which has one of the most extensive French wine lists in the city. McCabe says he’s been going there for 20 years, and wouldn’t be surprised if the laminated menu was “literally the exact same piece of paper” as it was when the restaurant opened in 1986. Drinking there gives him a chance to explore classic and old-world wines, in contrast to the more obscure and natural bottles he pours at Embla.
“I spend a lot of my time tasting wine and choosing wine for other people,” McCabe says. “There are elements of edginess in [Embla’s list], and I suppose I like to drink what a normal person would drink. Just to get perspective.”
It’s BYO, too, if you’d rather pair their bistro classics such as tripes au riesling (tripe in riesling sauce) or beef bourguignon with something from your cellar.
And even though City Wine Shop isn’t yet two decades old, McCabe reckons it feels like it’s been there forever, which isn’t easy to achieve.
“The people that go there all the time probably can’t remember the last thing they ate or what they drank, and that’s exactly what’s good about it.”
Like France-Soir, the classic, “out of fashion” wine (McCabe says with endearment) is part of the appeal.
The patio of the French Saloon is another of his top spots. It offers a tight wine list – just five reds, five whites, three sparklings and a rosé – which traverses old and new world. Sitting up there, wine in hand, McCabe considers two Embla regulars whose apartment used to be located on the site of the restaurant. “I remember them being quite upset when they got booted out,” he says. “Occasionally I sit there and think ‘if this was your apartment and you got booted out you’d be pretty upset.’”
For a more low-fi afternoon, McCabe suggests heading to the waterfront by Birrarung Marr or the Yarra in Abbotsford with an insulated bottle of rosé, followed by a stroll around the Abbotsford Convent. “It feels luxurious to get a nice bottle of wine and take it to the park with a sandwich. Not everything has to be a high-brow experience.”
11 Toorak Road, South Yarra
City Wine Shop
159 Spring Street, Melbourne
French Saloon Bar & Bistro
46 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
Kieran Clarkin – Kisumè
“For us the number one will be Bar Tini,” says Kisumé sommelier Kieran Clarkin, who is often out late after work. He has two criteria for a knock-off location: it’s got to be open and it’s got to be nearby.
He says the Spanish laneway bodega by the MoVida crew makes the cut because it’s open until 3am on weekends, and late most other nights. Grab a stool at the bar and order a midnight sherry and snack.
“I never look at the list,” Clarkin says. “[I] just ask the guys, ‘What do you think is fun right now?’”
His other pick is something a little less wine-focused – and a bit of a surprise: Young & Jackson.
“It’s a massive tourist trap in a shitty part of the city, where you’re just trying to get out of people’s way and people are just taking photographs and walking into you,” he says. “[But] you can have a pretty decent beer and it’s a very chill vibe.”
Clarkin notes that the size and turnover of the old pub means you can sit anywhere, sip a cold beer, and be pretty much be invisible.
3–5 Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Young & Jackson
Corner Swanston Street & Flinders Street
Banjo Harris Plane – Bar Liberty
Banjo Harris Plane champions small, local, and natural wine producers at Bar Liberty, the Fitzroy diner he co-owns with chef Casey Wall, Manu Potoi and Michael Bascetta (the group also owns Capitano). Between them, the team also have stakes in Rockwell and Sons and Above Board). But – like McCabe – the former Attica head sommelier is often tempted by the classic French offerings at France-Soir. “(It’s) their killer wine list, deep cellar, the fact they do BYO,” he explains. He takes visitors there for the wine, but also the tartare, the snails and the lamb’s brains.
Harris Plane guesses correctly that City Wine Shop has been selected already (“It’s one of those places where they never seem to rest, there’s always something new”) and moves onto his go-to Fitzroy North spot, Neighbourhood Wine Bar. It has a lengthy wine list covering regions from southern Italy to South Africa, and you’ll also find drops from countries you didn’t even know made wine (Japanese orange wine, for example, was a surprise to me). There’s also more than a dozen tequilas, around 30 rums, and even honey gin from Belgium and ginger liqueur from Holland. No matter what you’re drinking, Harris Plane says the best place to sit is right at the far end of the bar.
1 Reid Street, Fitzroy North
Where Sommeliers Drink is part of a regular Broadsheet series where Melbourne's best hospitality professionals let us in on their top picks around town. Find out where Melbourne’s best chefs were eating in Spring here.