Tailored navy suit, designer length stubble and brass buckled suede loafers – Alexandre Rougeot cuts a striking, unmistakably Gallic figure. Unsurprisingly, the 28-year-old sommelier and his cultivated flamboyance are the progeny of winemaking glitterati on France’s Côte-D’Or.
The good news for wine buffs is that he’s now calling Melbourne home, continuing a history of French imports to this town that includes success stories like Jacques Reymond, Nicholas Poelaert of Embrasse, and SBS’ go-to Frenchy Gabriel Gaté. Rougeot’s strengths though are strictly viticultural.
Leaving France for romance down-under, he’s turned mercenary for exclusive New Zealand winery Craggy Range, a label with a growing presence on Melbourne wine lists.
With arguably one of the most acute but as yet unknown wine noses in town, a discerning Burgundian palate, and a staunch belief in wearing his ‘Sunday best’, Rougeot is more than equipped to guide Melbourne’s Francophile community. He agreed to share the places in Melbourne that have made him feel most at home.
Wine – City Wine Shop
City Wine Shop is a well-known haunt of Melbourne’s discerning thirsty and hungry. The food is great, but it’s the wine that makes this place home for Rougeot.
You can see why immediately: a blackboard behind the bar announces an upcoming Burgundian wine masterclass, centring on winemaking doyenne Lalou Bize-Leroy. It turns out that she’s a close family friend and Cote D’Or neighbour.
We find a quiet spot along the bar, our backs to the ceiling-high wall of bottles. “It directly reminds me of a nice wine bar in France or Italy,” Rougeot says. “And there is amazing food here also.”
A concise and quality wine list also prevents this from being an overwhelming experience for the average drinker. But for the heavy hitters, the cellar is stocked with rare bottles that ascend into the four-figure price range.
“It's the people, the interaction, a passion, an involvement. It's about good people, good stuff.”
Coffee – Kotch Lane, 49 Blessington Street, St Kilda
Kotch Lane emboidies the kind of ramshackle cool that feels like you’ve climbed into a cubby house. It’s the perfect place to let a Sunday morning slip into a Sunday afternoon and Rougeot is a regular.
“For me it's a morning coffee place…you feel relaxed” he says. “You take your coffee, and every Sunday I enjoy a muffin. It's the perfect way to be with people. It's how I am in France."
There is the distinct feeling of people coming together here, chairs and furniture being re-arranged to squeeze in some one else.
The coffee is good and it’s what keeps Rougeot coming back. In fact, he confesses: “I now take a long black to draw the pleasure out, otherwise I’m taking four espressos in a row.”
Cheese – Emerald Deli, Shop 44/45 Deli Aisle, South Melbourne Market
The cheese room of the Emerald Deli is a pungent fantasy of delectable imports and local produce. Stacks of gooey soft cheeses rub shoulders with blues and obscure handcrafted goodies. The room immediately conjures memories of European delis; the aromas are rich and heady, the labels exotic and the diversity astounding.
Rougeot comes here for his personal, home-grown favourite, Abbey de Citeaux – a washed rind cheese handmade by Burgundian Monks. It’s a religious experience, of the fromage kind.
Cheese is only the beginning at this comprehensive deli. It’s a bona fide gourmet’s one-stop shop.
Restaurant – 38 Chairs
The effusive warmth of this Italian eatery spills onto the street terrace to welcome you in.
“When I arrived [in Melbourne], I was trying places that weren’t French,” Rougeot recalls. “I came here and I felt welcome. They always greet me: ‘Ciao Bello!’”
The backlit Elektra coffee machine is like the glowing heart of the place, radiating in the middle of the hubbub. The fare is simple and traditionally Italian. Rougeot recommends the hearty Osso-Bucco. For something lighter, he suggests the charcuterie and to finish off with a bomboloni, oozing with a custard centre. Here, things are done simply but well.