It's Oscar season for fine dining, and one Australian restaurant has scored a gong.
After the announcement of the World's 50 Best Restaurants in New York comes another coveted international honour roll, the awards from UK publication The World of Fine Wine.
Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney won the award for best by-the-glass list for its lengthy selection of luscious wines available in single pours. The nod comes after Perry's surprise announcement that Rockpool's fine dining cousin, Rockpool Est. 1989, is being rebranded as Eleven Bridge in August.
Says judge Elin McCoy: "Though many restaurants have upped the quality of their wines-by-the-glass lists, [Rockpool] wins for its amazing diversity, high quality, and helpful descriptive notes."
It is very, very hard running an extensive listing of wines by the glass – the stock management required is quite horrendous.Jeni Port
Head sommelier Richard Healy puts together the list with assistant Gary Armstrong, and it's a constantly changing document – the list is reprinted at least three times a week, and the program changes on a weekly basis. "We need to offer value with more modestly priced wines as well as more exceptional wines by-the-glass," says Armstrong. "We're continually looking for the next set of wines, so it's evolving rather than set in stone."
With almost 60 wines available by the glass from a wider cellar of 4500 varieties, Rockpool's enviable list showcases exciting smaller Australian producers alongside hard-to-find imports. "There's a nod to current trends in terms of, say, these occasional unfiltered wine but the list as a whole is no slave to fashion," says wine writer Cathy Gowdie. "It's intelligent and balanced, with lots of classic varieties from classic regions but it also has plenty to offer the curious, with out-of-the-ordinary Eastern European wines balanced by South Australian shiraz for drinkers who'd rather something familiar with their Rockpool steak."
Wine expert Jeni Port agrees the lengthy blend of international and Australian wines make the list an international contender. "It also features many aged wines, which is always very important when considering wines by the glass, because so many lists are just all young wines," she explains.
Another feature of the list is the extensive tasting notes for each glass, and the option for half-glasses as well as full glasses. "It gives wine trainspotters a chance to try something exceptional and hard-to-get without committing to a whole glass," notes Gowdie. "It's not often you'll find a 1999 vintage [such as the d'Arenberg 'The Dead Arm' shiraz, $50] being sold by the glass."
Of course none of the glasses come particularly cheap – most are around $20, with a glass of Domaine Christian Moreau chardonnay coming in at $50 and 150ml of Rare Tawny from Seppeltsfield going for $160.
Port nominates standout drops including newcomers such as the Circe Pinot Noir from Gippsland in Victoria, and the Austrian Blaufränkisch, while judge McCoy liked Schmolzer & Brown's Pret-a-Rosé made from sangiovese and pinot noir as the go-to glass.
"It's not a cheap place to eat – you've got to take into account the food menu and its prices there," says Port. "The prices are within that fair boundary. I personally don't mind seeing a really special wine that is more expensive – you only want one glass, and you've bought this fantastic special wine ... that you'd never normally get to taste. They're a special treat."
Says Gowdie: "With this range, and the knowledge that every wine will have been correctly cellared – and the whole Rockpool experience as part of the package – it's not hard to argue there's value here."
Pop a cork
Is it hard to keep so many bottles on the go for single glasses? "It is very, very hard running an extensive listing of wines by the glass – the stock management required is quite horrendous," Port says.
Armstrong laughs when asked about keeping so many bottles on the go. "It's a relatively large program and we're very fortunate in that we're quite busy, which helps us deal with stock issues," he says. "We use a wonderful device called a Coravin which allows us to pour wine without actually opening the bottle."
As the Coravin pours the wine without pulling the cork, the volume is replaced with argon, a heavier inert gas. "It would be wonderful if we could pour a bottle of first class Bordeaux every service but the reality is we have to ensure wines that are in superb condition," he says. "We can't open a bottle for the glass and waste the rest of the bottle."
Rockpool was in good company at the awards – the attracted more than 4500 entries, with 817 of the lists bestowed one, two, or three stars. "The informal criteria that guided our assessments included diversity, quality of the wines, depth of vintages, and an individual stamp that marked the list as original and different in some way," McCoy says.
Nine restaurants won the judges' Best in the World awards, with at Hotel Lisboa in Macau winning best overall wine list.
Joël Robuchon's list features more than 16,400 labels with some seriously flashy names, from single vineyard Champagnes to the best red Burgundy and Bordeaux at dizzying prices.
New York's Terroir Tribeca was named the world's best wine bar for its selection of on-trend bottles, including a lengthy list of rieslings. "Just looking at the jazzy design and reading the list is entertainment," McCoy said.
The best hotel wine list was won by The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee for its comprehensive selection in a rural setting, while Emirates picked up best airline wine list for its program of route-specific wines.