Our Favorite Wine Bars in Melbourne

·3 min read
The menu board at Marion
The menu board at Marion

Harvard Wang

There are moments in Melbourne, when you're sitting at a charming sidewalk table with a glass of wine in hand, looking out over a cobblestone streetscape, that you might imagine you're in Europe. My hometown is an amalgamation of dozens of cultures, but the sidewalk cafés and casual wine bars of Italy have perhaps shaped the city and its restaurants most thoroughly. After World War I, Melbourne became a preferred destination for Italian immigrants who brought their penchant for sidewalk wine-drinking with them. We're still reaping the benefits. We are also constantly evolving. While you can still grab a glass of Chianti at the 87-year-old Jimmy Watson's on Lygon Street—Melbourne's answer to Little Italy—the wine bar scene in the city is evolving as fast as the broader viniculture of Australia.

Sometimes, that does mean hewing close to the European ideal, as with Geralds Bar on leafy Rathdowne Street, its storefront full of vintage ephemera. Geralds has a sister bar in San Sebastián, Spain, and much of the food is influenced by that connection: baccalà with potato bread, Basque cheesecake. The wine list is broad and mostly European, with a by-the-glass list that changes nightly.

About 10 blocks south is the acclaimed Carlton Wine Room, a brighter, larger version of the classic Melbourne wine bar. The kitchen turns out fresh, modern Australian snacks, and the list is broad enough to cover any number of tastes. One of the owners is Andrew Joy, a local winemaker who has found great success with his Little Ra Ra label, a lovely example of funky natural winemaking.

Bar manager Josh Begbie and head chef Zackary Leon Furst in front of Bar Liberty
Bar manager Josh Begbie and head chef Zackary Leon Furst in front of Bar Liberty

Dominic Xavier

Another place to explore exciting Australian pét-nats and skin-contact whites is Bar Liberty in Fitzroy—look for the spray-painted sign. This intimate but fun wine bar was originally opened by a former sommelier at Attica, one of Australia's best restaurants, and the list is split between exciting newer Australian winemakers and European labels. (There's a particular affection for wines from Jura.)

Also in Fitzroy is Marion, which offers fantastic people-watching from its window seats that face trendy Gertrude Street. The list here shares the cellar with next-door fine diner Cutler & Co. (both are owned by Andrew McConnell, one of the city's most respected chefs), meaning Marion guests have access to close to 450 bottles, including unicorns, local gems, back vintages, and accessible varieties. The food menu caters to just about any whim, from sardines on toast to a whole lobster.

Our latest wine bar evolution is sustainability, demonstrated most brilliantly at Parcs. Opened in April of this year by the team behind Sunda and Aru—two of the city's most inventive Southeast Asian restaurants—the emphasis here is on reducing waste in the food, and the wine list is low-intervention-focused. Upon opening, chef Dennis Yong's "umami e pepe" became instantly iconic, the dish a play on cacio e pepe using hokkien noodles and miso made from stale bread.

Besha Rodell is a columnist for The New York Times and the chief restaurant reviewer for Melbourne's The Age newspaper.