We caught up with Karen Foster, Melbourne-based founder of The Wine Loop, on her top tips for wine lovers visiting Australia’s food and drink mecca.
- As a wine lover and epicurean how would you best spend 24 hours in Melbourne?
Being a South Melbourne girl, I’d start the day with a croissant or flan from Agathé Pâtisserie in the fantastic South Melbourne Market and a coffee from Market Lane on Coventry Street and take them on a stroll around Albert Park Lake for the great views back to the City.
For a brunch after the walk, I’d head to Wynyard on Clarendon Street (it’s hard to go past their Bacon Yumbo), check out the latest wines from Australian small producers at Magnum and Queen’s before heading into the city to pick up some Koko Black x Dan Hunter chocolate at the Koko Black store in the Royal Arcade.
If the sun is out, a riverside drink at The Arbory before lunch, or at Kirk’s Wine Bar on Hardware Lane, followed by a few shared plates sitting at the kitchen bar at Osteria Ilaria on Little Bourke Street.
After a late afternoon espresso pick me up at the legendary Pellegrini’s on Bourke Street, I’d head to Bar Americano for a pre-dinner drink.
For dinner, it would have to be the eponymous Henry Sugar menu and warm hospitality at this small Carlton North restaurant and wine bar just North of the city. Their seven- course tasting menu champions Australian producers and farmers and changes by the week -and you’ll find a fantastic line up of Australia’s most interesting wine producers. Their pâté made from lentils and four types of sherry, and their house-cured and smoked meats and fish are not to be missed!
To end the night, I’d head back to the city for a nightcap at Siglo on a warm night -probably in need of a lake walk again the following day!
- What are your top drinking spots, where budget is not an issue and why?
There are amazing bars and wine bars all across Melbourne, but a few call outs for quality wine lists would be Bar Liberty and Neighbourhood Wine in the Fitzroy area, The Alps in Prahran, and Atlas Vinifera in Richmond. All showcase what I think are some of Melbourne’s more interesting small producers and innovative wine styles in cosy, let’s while away the day, rustic Melbourne buildings.
- Melbourne has some of the best coffee in the world – where are the best coffee and breakfast spots and why?
There are so many amazing coffee and breakfast experiences in Melbourne that it’s hard to shortlist them! Other than Market Lane (try their Iced Coffee Spritz in Summer – it’s perfect for the Melbourne heat), St Ali, Proud Mary and Industry Beans are all firmly established on the coffee and brunch scene and The Hardware Société is getting rave reviews. In the CBD, I love the tiny Tom Thumb at 53 Flinders Lane.
What are your favourite places to eat and what makes them so appealing (atmosphere, wine list, great food?)
As well as Henry Sugar, I am also loving Etta, a cosy local dining room focused on local produce and with some of my favourite small batch wine producers on the list. I’m also enjoying Yagiz, a modern Turkish restaurant in South Yarra for sublime flavour pairings, along with Park Street Pasta and Wine in South Melbourne.
A kitchen seat at the new Lupo by Scott Pickett in Collingwood is also not to be missed for atmosphere and the spanner crab lasagne!
- There are often great wine tasting events/ festivals going on in the city – what are your favourites and should not be missed? When are they?
There is usually something going on for wine lovers! If you happen to be in town in July, Barossa Be Consumed is a great event for tasting both classic and new-wave styles of wine-making if you can’t make it to South Australia. Pinot Palooza (October) is a Pinot Noir lovers heaven – it’s a large event with wineries from both Aus and NZ pouring. Victoria’s wine regions often also hold their own showcases – such as September’s Rutherglen in the City . And if you want to see who are the best up and coming young producers, both Urban Wine Walk and Young Gun of Wine hold showcases a couple of times a year where you’ll get to see the best of what Australia has to offer in terms of style and innovation.
If you prefer something a little more up close and personal, you can join us for an event in The Wine Loop! We host events from February to November bringing together a winemaker from a small Australian wineries together with no more than 12 guests for a long lunch or dinner, so you never know which winemaker may be in town when you are!
- Melbourne is ideally situated close enough to some world class wine regions for great day visits – where is the best place to visit and what do you think are some of the best wineries to visit – who best caters for visit?
It’s so hard to pick in Victoria, as we have over 20 wine regions– and of course we are only a short plane hop from Tasmania too!
Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley are of course quite close to the city, but there are lots of other great smaller regions within easy reach of Melbourne too! Heathcote and The Bellarine Peninsula & Geelong wines regions are in easy reach, and Bendigo and the Macedon Ranges are all in reach too!
This new wine regions website is also a great resource for planning your trip! https://wineregionsaustralia.com.au/
- There are plenty of smaller producers who might not be on everyone’s radar – whose cellar door is worth the visit for the quality of their wine?
If you up for a roadtrip to the great red and Fortified region of Victoria, I’d recommend Scion in Rutherglen – and for their amazing rose!
Mac Forbes’ Graceburn Wine Room Cellar Door in Healesville, Yarra Valley, Quealy and Paradigm Hill in the Mornington Peninsula, Lethbridge near Geelong, Sutton Grange near Bendigo. And if you make it up to Heathcote, definitely drop by the brand new cellar door at Heathcote II and keep an eye out for the new Peregrine Ridge cellar door opening – it has one of the most spectacular view I’ve seen for a long time from a cellar door!
- Finally tell us about The Wine Loop
The Wine Loop is an exclusive, up-close-and-personal experience which brings a winemaker together with a group of 12 wine lovers for a long grazing meal. The intimate round table format brings every guest into the inner circle as the winemaker shares their story and experience – and guests get the chance to ask them unlimited questions about winemaking and the world of running a wine business.
With wines hand-picked by the winemaker including talking points such as barrel samples, experimental wines and rare releases from their own personal cellars, The Wine Loop lets curious guests drive the conversation.
Events are hosted at private dining rooms in top Melbourne restaurants. The Wine Loop personally meet the winemakers before they engage them, making it a deliberate goal to search out dynamic personalities and interesting stories from across Australia. Winemakers are typically the new guys and girls on the block, artisan producers, working with the new wave of grape varieties, at the cutting edge of winemaking in the country or using new business models.
Bring a friend, bring a group of friends or bring yourself! Either way you’ll find a winemaker and a group of wine-loving types ready for great wine, great food and great conversation.
The Wine Loop is on Facebook and Instagram @thewineloop and at https://www.thewineloop.com.au/