You won’t find Wine Odyssey Australia on any local lists of “Best Sydney Wine Bars” because it’s on a touristy street and its selection lacks geographical variety. But if you want to try a wide array of Australian wines without having to order a full glass of everything you sample, there’s no better place. The bar occupies several eclectically decorated rooms on the rambling ground floor of what was a hotel in the 19th century. In the first room, enomatic wine dispensers contain 44 wines starting at about $2.50 for a small portion of about two sips. A card obtained at the counter automatically keeps track of which wines you taste and how much. Most people taste a few, decide on a favorite and have a glass in one of the cozy lounges.
Even at the lower end of the price scale, the wines frequently impressed me with their strong personalities and fine balance. An exotic Krinklewood Verdelho, fruity Mitchelton Marsanne and bold Yarran Wines “Leopardwood” Yenda Durif (Petite Sirah) all offered excellent value for the money. The ripe Handpicked Wines Capella Vineyard Pinot Noir and powerful Golden Ball “Gallice” Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend cost a little more, but they offered a commensurate increase in quality.
I also purchased a two-sip sample of Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds “Grange” from 2005. Flying in the face of the current fashion for wines expressive of terroir, this blends Shiraz grapes from several regions with 8 percent or less (depending on the vintage) of Cabernet Sauvignon, all aged for 18 to 20 months in new American oak.
You would be justified in wondering exactly what you get for spending $125 for a full glass of the stuff, and whether it could possibly be worth the money. I certainly felt no regret at spending $25 for a two-sip sample. After all that time in new oak, a wine would need plenty of fruit for balance. The Grange had opulent fruit to spare, but even more remarkable was the finesse with which the wine shifted gears from gorgeous fruit to supple spice to velvety tannins.
Even for a wine of such quality and power, the question remains whether it, or any wine, could be worth such stratospheric prices, regardless of one’s ability to pay. Wine Odyssey Australia offers the rare opportunity for those with $25 to decide the issue for themselves.
39-43 Argyle Street, The Rocks. Tel. (61) 2-8114-0256.