The 2022 Wineslinger Awards – the fifth annual edition of the wine guru’s guide to the best haunts in Australia right now – have just been announced, with the winners crowned at a trophy presentation in Melbourne.
As voted on by around 150 of the country’s leading sommeliers, winemakers, hospitality tastemakers and journalists, the four trophies presented were the top spot ‘Wineslinger’; ‘Best New Haunt’, for the best newcomer; the ‘Maverick’, recognising a venue pushing the boundaries of possibility; and the publicly voted ‘People’s Choice’.
“Each of these four venues bring their own unique concept to experiencing and discovering wine,” said Wineslinger founder Rory Kent. “As a snapshot of four venues from the Top 50 Wineslingers in 2022, they’re a sign of just how enticingly diverse the options are for people to enjoy wine around Australia.”
With 11 venues from around the country new to the Top 50 in 2022, it just shows how much industry depth there is, and how many exciting things are happening across both city and regional locations all around Australia.
“These places bring joy and thrill and a sense of discovery and adventure to wine,” continued Kent. “They’re places where we all go to discover something new. And while we’re recognising these four outstanding trophy winners right now, all these venues around Australia deserve to be celebrated equally. These are the bars, restaurants, enotecas and pubs that make our wine-drinking scene world class, and just so much fun.”
The Wineslinger – Dear Sainte Éloise
Dear Sainte Éloise has taken out the big one, the Wineslinger Trophy. Over the last five years, owners Matt Swieboda and Nate Hatwell have firmly cemented a new institution to pair with their legendary wine bar, Love, Tilly Devine. The 550-plus wine list, curated by Swieboda and sommelier Felix Auzou, focuses on organic and biodynamic producers who work with as little winemaking intervention as possible. There’s a by-the-glass list of about 25 – plus saké and fortifieds – with new or featured wines chalked up daily. There’s also a low-waste, sustainable undercurrent to the venue that extends to the menu where whole beasts are sourced to utilise every last piece of the animal. And the produce, like the wine, is organic or biodynamic, except for the rare exception.
“We opened Dear Sainte Éloise in 2017 as a wine bar, but it has evolved into a fully-fledged dining destination,” says Swieboda. That food focus may be sharing a bit more of the limelight with the wine these days, but the venue is just as welcome to the casual visitor.
“We’re honoured to be recognised for the work we’ve been doing with wine at Dear Sainte Éloise,” said Swieboda. “We feel it’s a reflection of the hard work put in by our incredible staff – notably manager sommelier Felix Auzou – to create a list that not only showcases superior terroir, organic/biodynamic viticulture, and hands-off winemaking, but also rewards curiosity by encouraging guests to try wine styles that they may never have had the opportunity to have tried. We believe it’s a list that achieves these goals and has continued to go from strength to strength over the past five years.
“With the Wineslinger trophy, it’s especially meaningful as it’s been awarded by our colleagues — fellow sommeliers, winemakers, wine writers, bar owners — many of whom have helped to make Dear Sainte Éloise what it is today. We look forward to celebrating with all of you.”
The Maverick – Testun
Perth’s Testun has taken out the Maverick. Keen for a taste of unconventional Italy, where the drinking and dining rules get bent and the room gets rowdy? That’s the spirit at Testun, a wine bar that steps away from rigid formality to add a splash of fun. Styling itself as a neo-Italian neighbourhood osteria, the room has a lively, loud and rambunctious atmosphere, which made an immediate impact since opening in the heart of inner-Perth nightlife hub Mount Lawley in mid-2022.
The ownership quartet of Fabio Trequattrini his son Francesco (a co-chef), sommelier Antonio Di Sanzo and chef Christopher Caravella say they represent a new wave of Italo-Australiano advocates. “We make fun of things that everyone else takes way too seriously.”
“The attitude is a little DIY, and a lot about not giving a damn what everyone else is up to,” says Francesco. “Testun started from an idea rather than a product. It has an easy carelessness, even though it’s very thoughtfully operated. We want people to feel comfortable, to be included as if they came to our nonna’s house. But it’s also a little bit unhinged, and that’s always to be expected.”
The Tetsun list even has some “goon” wine options, providing an affordable choice from producers and natural winemakers who have embraced and adopted the cask format with a modern, forward-thinking approach. “Goon reminds us of the wine we grew up around: simple, genuine and honest drinking,” says Di Sanzo.
“Being open for only 6 months, this is a great achievement for the Testun team,” continued Di Sanzo. “We have been putting so much work and passion into making our vision come to life and this recognition means so much to us. Yes, we are a loud and a little bit nuts but it’s good to know that our unconventional approach to things is appreciated by our friends, customers and peers! We want to dedicate this result to everyone that has showed us support, love and believed in us as a group of young stronzi!”
The Best New Haunt – Bar Merenda
The Best New Haunt just goes to show how exciting regional dining and drinking is these days. Bar Merenda, located in regional Victoria’s picturesque Daylesford, is an intimate wine bar where the focus is on shared plates, with a unique wine list that celebrates classic Victorian producers alongside cult international makers.
Owners Andy Ainsworth and Clare O’Flynn grow some of the produce on their own plot, as well as sourcing locally, for a weekly menu that is built for the purpose of enjoying with wine. Bar Merenda is the sum of strong creative inputs. It combines O’Flynn’s skills as a designer and illustrator with her husband Ainsworth’s experience with managing wine-centric venues.
“We wanted to create a wine bar with a sense of place,” says O’Flynn. “Everything on the plate is derived from the beautiful local produce available from small farmers here in central Victoria, and on the wine front, we have a large selection of our favourite central Victorian grape growers and winemakers, alongside their counterparts in the Old World. It’s a wine bar that identifies with place and time, just like our favourite wines.”
“A year ago we, two Sydneysiders, rolled the dice and opened a little wine bar on a sleepy street in our newly adopted home town of Daylesford just as it seemed the pandemic was winding down,” added Ainsworth. “We’ve had such wonderful support from our local community and visitors from other parts of Victoria and further afield who have come to experience the terrific produce of the Macedon Ranges and surrounds alongside some beautiful wines from near and far. These are things very close to our heart and we are so chuffed to be recognized as ‘Best New Haun’” in the Wineslinger Awards. At a time when good staff are increasingly scarce, we’d love to recognize the great work of our small team that have helped us make our little bar a happy place for all those people that have visited in our first year. We look forward to seeing more wine lovers in years to come.”
The People’s Choice – Bowden Cellars
Only open since mid-2021, Bowden Cellars has certainly caught the imagination of the wine-drinking public, taking out the 2022 People’s Choice Trophy. A bottle shop and tasting room nestled in a chic reinvention of a manufacturing plant, Bowden Cellars champions South Australian small-batch producers. The focus of the team is discovering wine, with the food offering by way of their kitchen partner, CARŌ Club.
Wine buyer and co-owner Josh Voigt says Bowden Cellars is one of few venues with a complete focus on South Australian wines, spirits and craft beers. Local producers are on hand to pour their wines every Friday. Even the bar snacks promote SA produce, including Riverland dried apricots, Barossa mettwurst and Willunga almonds. It’s a parochialism Josh makes no apologies about.
“We have a special love for small-batch, boutique producers, and South Australia provides us with easy access to a diverse range of regional expressions,” says Josh. “I really want to get some of the emerging Mediterranean styles into people’s glasses, because these grapes just grow so well here.”
“It’s a huge honour to be recognised for for such a significant national award,” said Voigt. “It’s incredibly motivating to know that all those long, hard fought hours following this passion that we have is actually landing and having a positive impact on the local community. For the Bowden Cellars team, this a huge deal! We’ll be proudly wearing this as a massive badge of honour for a long time to come. The positive impacts of this award will mean we continue striving for the best experience possible for everyone who walks through our doors, to generate conversation and to showcase the amazing array of produce that we work so hard to bring to the masses. A big shoutout to the Young-Gun team for not only the opportunity to be involved and become recognised for this but also for working tirelessly to ensure the Australian wine industry stays relevant, refreshed and vibrant in what we all share, and do for a living every day!”
Each Wineslinger Trophy Winner will receive an immersive Mornington Peninsula winemaking experience hosted by Mike Aylward of Ocean Eight to be held during vintage 2023.
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