Wandering around the streets of Adelaide near the iconic Central Market on Gouger Street I happened across a new icon – the Marquis. Glancing inside I was stunned by the sight of the wine wall stretching down the middle of this French-themed restaurant and wine bar – although don’t be fooled, it has an impressive beer and spirits collection too!
On entering I was welcomed by the friendly staff, before chatting with the sommelier, Chi, who came to Adelaide from Sydney, and has worked at the Marquis since it opened in September 2011. We had an informal chat about the philosophy behind the wine choices in this goldmine of wine. We talked about grüner veltliner, categories of French champagne and the China market – it was a treat to talk to someone so knowledgeable and worldly. Here are a few snippets:
What makes you decide which wines to buy in?
Chi: The first thing would be the market. We can get thousands of wines from around the world from our suppliers but what we buy is more market driven. People in Adelaide are still going more for Australian wine, especially their own South Australian wine. Shiraz, riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon are the varieties that are the most popular at the moment. But because we also want something more unusual, something they may never see otherwise, like some of the Austrian grüner veltliners or the German rieslings, or some Spanish or Chilean wines, we have a selection of those.
Around 60% of our wines are Australian. Of course there is nothing wrong with the Australian wines, they are all good, but if you drink the same kinds of wine every week you might get bored. There is a good chance to come here and try something a bit different, something that is quite hard to get in the market.
What are some examples of interesting wines you have here?
Chi: We have a selection of Austrian grüner veltliners, which is quite popular in Sydney and Melbourne but unusual to see it in the Adelaide market. I am personally from Sydney so I know a bit about the market there. Also some of the Italian white wine that people have probably never heard of like trebbiano and erbaluce. With the red we are a restaurant with a French background so we have a fairly big focus on the French red wines. We do have a fair bit of good quality Burgundy, and French champagne of course – even with the champagne, people might get bored with the same ones, so we do have a selection of grower champagnes as well.
What is a grower champagne?
Chi: This is where the people grow their own grapes, and then make their own champagne. Examples would be Jacques Picard, Jacques Selosse and Vilmart, just to name a few. So for example, Möet would buy most of its grapes from the growers to make their champagne. Like Penfold’s Grange, they do not grow their own grapes, they buy from the growers. Something like Bollinger would be a negociant champagne. On the label you can see if it says NM it means it is a negociant champagne, if it is RM it is growers champagne. There are seven classifications but these are the two you see the most.
Detecting a mild accent, I asked Chi where he lived before Sydney. Hong Kong he said. Aha! Hong Kong is the hub of the wine trade in Asia, since there is zero wine tax in Hong Kong so you pay no tax when you buy alcohol. Plus most of the wine buyers will go through Hong Kong because of the wide reach of contacts in the market. In a place whose name means ‘fragrant city’ it is appropriate that it be the hub of trade for a product that enlivens the senses.
I told him that I had been reading that the Chinese wine production is surpassing Australian wine production (by volume) and that they are even exporting wine to Australia, so:
Have you got any Chinese wine in yet?
Chi: No, the industry in China is still at a primary stage at the moment, they are still learning, and they have a range of the more obscure varieties. In 30 or 40 years, there will probably be something iconic coming out of the region but not for the moment.
Back to the Marquis, in your role as a sommelier, when people come in for meal, do you automatically come over to talk to them or do they have to ask see a sommelier?
Chi: It depends – we can see when they walk in how they look at the menu, what questions they ask, as to their degree of wine knowledge. They may look at the wine list and be a bit flustered so we may go over everything, but obviously some of the guests are quite knowledgeable and pick out whatever they like. We need to be flexible. We usually wait until they have ordered their food and we try to get one or two bottles to match with their food.
There are also 32 wines available for purchase by the taste (30ml) or glass (150ml), which on the day I visited included French champagne, French red wine (Côtes-du-Rhône), Argentinian cabernet sauvignon, Italian Soave, and some iconic Australian wines.
As well as over 700 wines, there are more than 100 spirits including whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, India, Australia and the USA; aperitifs, brandy, rum, gin, vodka, tequila and liqueurs. And fear not beer lovers, there are over 60 beers from all the world! Take a look at the photos below of some of the wines you can buy to drink on the premises or to buy retail (at a 20% lower price). To see the full collection, treat yourself to a visit! Come in for a champagne breakfast or a light lunch, full dinner or nightcap at the bar.
Many thanks to Chi for taking the time to talk to me.