John Hooper loves his wine.
John Hooper loves his wine. The owner of Halo Restaurant, on the Barrack Street Jetty, has as much passion for serving innovative local produce as he does opening the perfect wine to accompany it.
Halo’s wine menu has been expanded to about 260 different bottles, so it’s safe to assume Mr Hooper knows a bit about wine, and wine menus.
A good wine list is truly an art form, he says, striking a balance between quality and price, quantity and versatility.
Some can resemble leather-bound tomes, an embarrassment to moderately sized phonebooks. Others can be so triflingly small that the words ‘please turn over’ are rendered obsolete.
But often size is the least of a poor wine list’s problems. The prevalence of BYO is a backlash to exorbitant mark-ups on wine. The situation is made even worse given the current discounting bonanza dominating the retail wine sector.
Describing value as a core tenant to a good wine list, Mr Hooper believes restaurants must have value in their wine list as much as in their menu.
The tag of ‘restaurant with a view’ often carries with it the image of inflated prices and a mediocre range, he says, and nowhere is this more evident than in the wine list.
“I’ve seen some places mark up their lists by as much as 300 per cent, which I think is disgusting,” Mr Hooper says.
“The restaurant game is very competitive and it has been that way for a very long time now. Often the first thing to go when restaurants begin to tighten their belts is their wine list.”
The passionate restaurateur, who opened Halo’s doors in November 2003, believes a culture of laziness may be responsible for making good wine lists a thing of the past.
“It’s a full time job in itself,” he says, acknowledging that growing his wine menu has been an evolutionary process.
Bolstering the wine list as Mr Hooper has done has not been simply to cram as many different wines onto the pages as possible. After all, with around 2,000 wineries in Australia producing 20,000 different wines, that would be the easy way out.
“You have got to control it at all times,” Mr Hooper says. “In this current climate, I’ll get five to 10 different wine reps ring me each week trying to push their wines onto the list. It is extremely competitive.”
It seems to be that, as broader understandings of wine grow, and diners become more savvy with food and wine matching, wine lists need to mirror a widening appetite of choices.
It should now be common place to find varieties like tempranillo, viognier, sangiovese, marsanne and pinotage sitting comfortable next to the ubiquitous cabernet sauvignon and unwooded chardonnay.
Even further, as Halo’s list is one of the few to demonstrate, Australian wine drinkers are increasingly moving towards organically produced wines necessitating special provision on a wine list.
And all of this discussion about the complexion of a good wine list seems to be going on in the absence of the once lauded gatekeeper to the dominion of wine menus – the sommelier. This month, a leading hospitality and catering journal published a story on the imminent demise of the sommelier in the dining rooms of Australia.
It’s a sentiment with which Mr Hooper agrees.
“It’s all got a bit lost in this country – everyone’s got a bit precious with the whole idea,” he says.
“What you need to concentrate on now is solid wine education across the breadth of your staff.”