Champagne Bar, Sofitel Darling Harbour, Sydney
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
Follow the labyrinth of cobblestone roads along the bohemian back-streets of Paris’ St Germain des Pres and you will discover the hidden delights of Dilettantes. Don’t let its unassuming shop front fool you; venture inside, take the stairs and descend into its deep, cool cellars. There, within its 17th Century walls, you will find an extensive collection of grower champagne from some of the region’s leading vignerons, many impossible to source within Australia.
Owner, Fanny Heucq, kick-started the business in 2012 based on a desire to bring high-quality grower champagne to a wider audience and procure opportunities for distribution abroad. The daughter of third-generation winegrower and meunier specialist, André Heucq, Fanny brings serious wine lovers together with inspirational and terroir focused champagnes within the setting of her intimate cellar.
Browse across portfolios from 25 producers who, according to Fanny, have been selected for their “notion of agriculture, season and place”. Among them, take your pick from Didier-Ducos, Franck Bonville, Gaston Chiquet, La Borderie, A.Margaine or perhaps Claude Cazals or J.Lassalle.
“My parents’ champagne is one of the best sellers because people want to discover what my family has to offer. But Eric Rodez is perhaps the best known from my selection,” says Fanny.
You needn’t brush-up on your French before visiting either. Staff are bi-lingual and there are handy technical reference cards for each champagne provided in English.
Tastings are offered daily and by appointment. During regular opening hours, visitors can experience three champagnes by the glass as part of a ‘terroir’ tasting flight. If you’re in a group of 10 or more, special tastings may be arranged by appointment at night.
Time your visit right and you’ll have the chance to attend one of Dilettantes’ regular ‘meet the grower’ tastings. Capped at 15 participants, these intimate gatherings provide an opportunity to meet with partner winegrowers, taste through their portfolio and contribute to discussion in a relaxed environment.
For those wanting complete immersion in the grower champagne experience, Dilettantes has partnered with oenotourism providers, Oenospheres, to offer one / two-day or tailored trips to Champagne for a reasonable price.
Dilettantes’ customers are fairly evenly split between tourists and the French – around 30% are Parisian. It’s a good sign that genuine lovers of champagne will always find something of rarity and value here.
22, Rue de Savoie, 75006 Paris, France
Open from Tuesday to Saturday 11am – 7.30pm and Thursday 11am – 9pm
Le Dokhan’s, Paris
Tucked away from the tourist thoroughfare of Paris is a little known boutique hotel called Le Dokhan’s in the mostly residential Trocadero district of the 16th Arrondissement. It is home to Paris’ first dedicated champagne bar, nestled to the side of its small lobby.
The hotel’s atmosphere is undeniably inviting. Paired-back Parisian chic interiors assembled by acclaimed Paris designer, Frédéric Méchiche, succeed at keeping the vibe low-key and intimate. References to the decadence of 19th Century life are here and there; neo-classical style wood panelling, gold highlights, chandeliers and antique mirrors. There is also a sketch or two by Picasso. But its charm is best when the sun goes down. Candles dance to the mellow tunes of French classics, champagne becomes a precursor to sex and the hustle of life fades away.
Before you are spellbound by its allure, choose your glass into which your champagne will be poured; there are five kinds. Then, select your bottle from a list of no less than 240, buy by the glass, or take a flight of three featured for the week. Flights start at €30 and stretch to €64 for ‘grandes cuvées exceptionnelles’.
Head Sommelier, Arthur Challet-Hayard, will be there to look after you; he is the fresh-faced and enthusiastic curator of the bar’s vast vinotèque extending back to the 1976 vintage. The Bordeaux educated sommelier was appointed to head the bar in late 2017 and travels to Champagne at least once a month. There, he spends time amongst the vines and in the cellars with some of the region’s leading producers. He’s keen – if not young – yet as passionate about terroir as he is of the wine itself.
Allow him to help you navigate the wine list’s regional flair which conveniently orders producers by growing area. Along the way, spy rare beauties such as Gosset’s 1998 Celebris, a 1990 bottle of Fleury or Bruno Paillard’s 1996 Blanc de Blancs.
You will notice well-known brands sit alongside little-known estates of which Arthur is particularly passionate. Expect to see the likes of Jacques Lassaigne, Olivier Horiot and Selosse interspersed with Bollinger, Salon, Krug and others.
Sip and soak up the atmosphere or sip and snack from the very French appetiser menu of caviar, foie gras and other Maison Petrossian specialties. There is also a champagne and caviar degustation for the epicureans.
Surprisingly, Paris is a city that offers relatively narrow diversity when it comes to champagne at bars and restaurants. Lovers of wine and those seeking something a little less ordinary will find consistently good selections – and the comfort of a plush greet velvet chair – at Le Dokhan’s.
117 Rue Lauriston, Paris, 75116, France
Open daily 6.00pm – 12.15am
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