Building upon ground cut by Mudgee’s di Lusso Estate nearly a decade before, the team from Handpicked Wines have brought their cellar door to the city. In the elegant, Kensington Street space, smooth Scandinavian-inspired design sits comfortably over the building’s postindustrial brewery remnants.
The large room is split between wine lounge and bottle shop; separated by curved tasting bars where you can pull up a comfortable stool and embark upon a tasting adventure for between ten and twenty bucks. By dropping coin on a tasting - we did the Explorer Tasting ($20/6 wines) - the pressure is removed from you having to make a purchase to justify taking up so much of the staff member's time.
Beyond proximity, what makes the Handpicked Cellar Door more interesting than other cellar doors is that it draws in wines from their three vineyards located in key winemaking areas – the Yarra Valley, the Barossa Valley and the Mornington Peninsula. In addition they also offer a curated collection of wines from around the globe, selected from vineyards where the Handpicked Wines globetrotting winemakers also have a say in how the grapes are grown, and how the resulting wines are produced.
Their forty wines are broadly arranged into three categories – Regional, Collection and Single Vineyard. Regional wines are Handpicked Wines’ everyday drinking wines, priced between $24 and $34 a bottle. From this collection I quite enjoyed the 2016 Handpicked Regional Selections Rosé ($28.99) from the Yarra Valley. This salmon pink savoury Rosé is a long way from the candy pink sweet Rosé that seems to dominate the Australian market. It’s made on pinot noir grapes, some of which were fermented with marsanne skins, which gave this lightly floral, easy-drinking wine more savoury kick.
The Collection wines are a bit more premium, with bottle prices running between $45 and $69. These wines are selected to give more of a sense of place, so you’ll be able to taste clear differences between the same varietal selected from different wine growing regions. We explored pinot noir, pitting the 2015 Handpicked Collection Pinot Noir ($59.99) from the Mornington Peninsula against the 2012 Handpicked Collection Pinot Noir ($59.00) from the Central Otago region of New Zealand. The first wine was a likable quaffer, bright ruby in the glass, with spice and raspberry notes dominating the silky smooth palate that ends with a whirl of vanilla on the tongue, and a whiff of charred barrel on the nose. It’s made from two different pinot noir clones, which you can find in big tanks in the cellar door’s Experience Room where they do wine education classes. In direct contrast, the Central Otago pinot noir is more powerful, offering up cherries, spice and savouriness, with stronger acid. It’s the kind of wine that makes you want to sip it slowly over a platter of cheese.
At the top end of the price scale, sitting between $59 and $159, the Handpicked Single Vineyard wines are your unicorns – the best of the best. I found myself wooed by the 2014 Handpicked Highbow Hill Vineyard Marsanne ($59.99) from the Yarra Valley. I’m a fan of white Rhone-style wines, and this one is a beauty; think spiced pears, peaches and honey balanced by acid in a dry but textural white wine. We also took home the 2015 Handpicked Collection Grenache ($69.99) from the Barossa Valley. As well as the expected jam, this wine has soft tannins (the things that make wine grip your throat) and savoury characteristics that helped to make it a bit more interesting that your usual jammy Grenache.
If wine tasting isn't your thing, just sink into a lounge chair in their wine bar, where they’re serving the same wines by the glass. This also affords you the opportunity to get your teeth into some boutique cheeses and charcuterie, compiled by the experts at Formaggi Ocello.
A Small Charcuterie Board ($24) gives you three meat selections from their list of five. Wrapping it around crisp grissini, we were impressed with the moisture levels in the prosciutto di San Daniele. The two contrasting salumi - chilli and truffle - helped to refresh our palates after all the wine.
Accepting Baby Cheezus ($18/2 cheeses) into your life might be harder to stomach. How does one even begin to choose between blue, washed rind, soft and hard cheeses, and narrow it down to just two favourites? Well, if you want to avoid Cheese Dreams ($36/4 cheeses) you’ll have to find a way. Not keen on nightmares, we showed great restraint and pitted Quadrello de Bufala - an Italian washed rind buffalo milk cheese - against a hard, raw milk Challerhocker. The brine-washed Swiss cheese won battle cheese hands down. What a friend we have in cheeses!
In case I’ve made the Handpicked Cellar Door sound a bit too serious, they’ve also got a frivolous side. Not only are they doing events pairing wine with shoes or with yoga, they also offer up the opportunity to drink a DIY Prosé Cocktail ($14). Yes, it’s time for Frosé, the cocktail darling of 2016, to make way for this frothy, citrusy blend of Prosecco and lemon sorbet.
Plus, you get to decorate this one yourself using Persian fairy floss and edible flowers. There's nothing quite like boozing that also fires up your creativity and keeps your Instagram at peak envy-inducing cocktail-porn.
Handpicked Cellar Door
50 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 9392 9190