Melbourne Winestores

By Michael Harden
Subscribe to
Pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©Mornington Peninsula Tourism]

Penfolds Grange - an Australian icon
Wine from Sunny Ridge, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Hesketh Scissor Hands Riesling, Beautiful Stranger Grüner Veltliner & Thirsty Dog Cabernet Sauvignon

With the most relaxed licensing laws in the country, a climate conducive to sheltering indoors over a bottle of red or two, a market culture that encourages people to try new things and Australia’s biggest market for imported wine, Melbourne has developed a well-educated and inquisitive wine buying public with some extremely good wine stores, bars and restaurant winelists to match.

Melbourne has not escaped the phenomenon of enormous price-warring chains able to sell liquor at rock bottom prices and many independent wine retailers are under pressure. Some have been forced out of the market but others have understood that to survive they have to be more than just a bottleshop. Realising that they cannot compete in terms of price with the big chains, many independents are focussing on the niche market of wine buyers who are interested in learning about wine and who consider wine buying an experience rather than just another shopping trip. Increasingly, it seems, the boring old suburban bottleshop is becoming an endangered species.

The Prince Wine Store in South Melbourne is a fine place to witness a wine retailer adapting beautifully to this new, more competitive climate. An extension of the wine store at the Prince Hotel in St Kilda, South Melbourne’s Prince Wine Store is arguably the best wine shop of its kind in Australia in terms of the breadth and quality of its stock, the education courses it offers and the level of knowledge amongst its well-trained staff.

It is a large place, but not overwhelmingly so and an edgy fit out – all slatted wood and concrete – includes a central, glass-enclosed ‘pod’ where shoppers are encouraged to flick through an extensive selection of wine books and magazines over a coffee.

There are tastings every weekend, monthly wine courses for beginners, amateur experts and professionals (including the internationally-recognised Wine and Spirit Education Trust course) and regular wine dinners that highlight particular producers. It is the kind of well run, well connected place where, if you can’t find the specific wine you are after, they will usually be able to track it down for you within two days.

If you’re just there to buy a bottle of wine for dinner that night though, the Prince Wine Store is a great place to shop. There is a 50/50 mix of international and Australian wine and an impressive range of cognac, armangnac, single malt and blended whiskey.

The logical layout has an ever-changing selection of excellent value for money wines at the front, shelves in the middle where varietals from all over the world are grouped together in one place (Australian sangiovese sitting alongside great Chianti) and then, further back, a selection of rare and brilliant wine bound to make any cork dork go weak at the knees.

It is reassuring to know that all the wine – whether you’re spending $20 or $200 – has been chosen according to the store’s policy of value for money. Make sure you talk to the staff and tell them what you're eating – they give good advice whether you're contemplating fish and chips or sashimi-grade tuna.

Just around the corner from the Prince Wine Store is another excellent wineshop filling a different niche. Cloudwine specialises in small, boutique wineries from across Australia and, according to co-owner Jacinta Plazzer, is biased towards places “where the owners spend more time in the vineyard than anywhere else”.

Originally an internet business started by three people who grew up in the country and spent their spare time visiting little wineries, Cloudwine now has two stores (South Melbourne and Brighton) and is a good place to taste what is going on with Australian wine beyond the big players. While all the major wine producing regions in Australia get a look in, the South Australian and Victorian sections are the largest in the shop and there are wines here from a number of off-the-radar producers that you won’t find in any other retail outlets.

If you’ve got a thirst for Italian wine, Enoteca Sileno in North Carlton is the place to cure what ails you. The bottleshop section of this stylish Italo-centric complex has a room dedicated to Barolo and Barbaresco, a whole wall of grappa and is a good place to have all your pre-conceived ideas about the worthlessness of Frascati shattered.

Started as in importing business by Gino Di Santo in 1953, Enoteca Sileno has gained a well-earned reputation as treasure trove of superb Italian produce - parmesan, oil, pasta, vinegar, sugo and so on – and an increasingly good range of exclusively imported Italian wine. Since moving into the Rising Sun Hotel building on Nicholson Street, Enoteca Sileno now boasts a sleek ‘vino bar’ where you can try a wide variety of Italian regional cuisine (highlighting products from their produce range) over a glass of ten-year-old Barolo or a bottle crispy dry, thirst-quenching Frascati.

Enoteca holds regular tastings in its Barolo room and, according to manager (and Gino Di Santo’s son-in-law) John Portelli, the fact that they import all the wine here themselves means that you won’t find these producers anywhere else and, because they cut out the middle man, prices are very reasonable.

“All the wine we bring here is chosen by us to match the food we serve both in the produce shop and the Vino Bar,” says John. “It is important to taste food from a particular region with wine that comes from the same region as the dish, just as they do in Italy.”

With more boring old bottleshops morphing into winestores with attached bars, restaurants and education facilities, wine lovers have never been so spoilt for choice as they are in Melbourne now.

© Michael Harden



  • Melbourne (VIC)

Our Recommendations

To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.

To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >

January 19th, 2010
Subscribe today - it's free
Subscribe Button

Subscribe now - for news and reviews, our newsletter (optional), to join our forums, and more.

Enter your email address and click the Subscribe button. We respect your privacy.

Log in

Enter your username...

Enter your password...

Log In Button

Forgotten your password?


Kerry's corner - your free benefits


Premium listing