Sydney’s latest champagne bar seems right at home alongside the city’s picturesque harbour. Situated on level three of the new-ish five-star Sofitel Darling Harbour, its contemporary French design is impressively refined – as one might expect – but it’s not without soul.
The bar is home to around 100 different cuvées by the bottle, 12 by the glass, sourced from several champagne portfolios. Whilst its philosophy is to provide enough brand reference to speak to customers, long-term plans suggest the bar itself may become the reference point for those seeking something more in-depth.
“By having brands like Pommery, Taittinger, Ruinart and Roederer, it appeals to a wider audience,” says Food and Beverage Operations Manager, Vincent Martzloff. “When we opened, we needed to create traction and establish brand reputation, but I think this is the first 12 months.”
“What we will do is dissect [our offering] into smaller and more intimate wineries and have a sense of journey for our customers. Our aim is to give customers a palate of education.”
Paris born Martzloff knows a thing or two about champagne. Some of his strongest childhood memories are of drinking Gosset and Ruinart every summer at his grandfather’s house in Troyes. “My granddad loved champagne. They’re two champagne Houses that my palate has been educated with. It brings back a lot of memories,” he muses.
Educated at Paris’ prestigious culinary school, Ferrandi, Martzloff completed a series of postings in fine dining restaurants and hotels in Europe before heading to Australia. A one year stint became ten, and a career was forged with a distinct flair for champagne.
Brisbane gave Martzloff an uncommon exposure to some seriously good champagne. There he met Bernadette O’Shea for whom – according to Martzloff – there is no comparison. A 1996 vintage champagne dinner organised by Bernadette for former boss, John Gambaro, set the wheels in motion for what would come.
“Bernadette is amazing. She knew everything about the ’96 vintage and all about the maisons we used. Everything we opened was fantastic. To have someone of that calibre in Brisbane is unique.”
Martzloff is hoping to secure Bernadette for a series of vertical tastings at the bar to complement an ongoing champagne education program. It’s all part of a long-term strategy to diversify the bar’s appeal.
He has already collaborated with the Champagne Bureau Australia on a champagne masterclass and, earlier in the year, secured Clovis Taittinger for a special event. There are bigger plans again to attract chefs de cave and other industry identities for tastings including an exclusive program. Martzloff intends to offer the hotel’s loyal platinum members rare tasting opportunities in the intimate surrounds of the hotel’s Club Millésime located on Level 35.
“We appeal to both tourists and locals; but we are targeting locals who really want to know about champagne. Around five percent of customers ask more in-depth questions about what they’re drinking. I think that’s what’s missing a bit. Champagne is very much on the rise in Sydney and we want to give our customers a bit more to explore and be part of a journey,” says Martzloff.
A good starting point is having Louis Roederer’s off-beat Philippe Starck Brut Nature 2009 as the signature pour and at a good price point; just $25 a glass.
“We did that because we really wanted to promote something different but also be generous. We have a fantastic team of ambassadors that promote the champagne’s difference as a zero dosage champagne. People say ‘wow’, when we pour it,” he says.
Perusing the champagne list, one can spy vintages dating back to 1995 including the faultless Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires. But if Martzloff gets his way, older vintages will be added in the near future, taking the collection from around 100 different cuvées to more than 150.
“We want to create an extensive vinotéque but we also need to be smart from a business point of view. We are lucky to have an owner who is very passionate about champagne and other wines. In addition to champagne, we have 800 other wines stored across two different Vintecs. It’s a ‘wait and see’ but also we need the right demographic for it,” he affirms.
The Sofitel Champagne Bar’s human connection makes the tasting experience more than just about the product. It’s a beautiful bar, with some exceptional cuvées, and passionate staff. A visit late at night, with the beauty of the lights from the harbour, is a must when in Sydney.
Level 3, 12 Darling Drive, 2000 Sydney, Australia
Open daily Monday to Thursday 5pm – 12am, Friday 3pm – 1am, Saturday 3pm – 1am and Sunday 3pm – midnight
WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Paul Field