Boasting stunning city views, a delicious menu and a stellar wine list, Vue de Monde has long been recognized as one of Australia's finest dining destinations. Head Sommelier Matthew Lamb and Wine Director Rocco Esposito tells us about how their lover affair with fine wine started, what they thinks makes a good wine list, and what they expect to see in the next 5-10 years in the food and wine industry.
Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
Matthew Lamb: Thank you very much! It's a huge honour to receive such recognition from such a celebrated panel of global wine authorities. We put a huge amount of work and effort into the wine list and program, and such acknowledgement makes those 2am nights of adding wines to the list all the more worthwhile.
Rocco Esposito: WOW! What great news and thank you so much! This is a massive privilege; we put so much effort both during working hours and off duty. Passion and hard work always pays off.
Where did your love of food and wine originate from?
ML: My love of learning is actually where my love of food and wine originates from. A few years ago now, I was asked to re-write the wine list for a cocktail bar I was then working at. Feeling big and tough, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I can clearly remember beginning to read up on new regions, grapes, viticultural practices I'd never heard of previously: it was akin to looking down the rabbit hole with no end in sight. That spurred me on to learn, read, taste further and is something that I still hold at the core of my passion for working with wine and food.
RE: It all started back in Puglia (where I'm from) growing up surrounded by great food & wine culture. It then expanded and developed abroad [in Australia] working with world-class industry professionals.
Was it always your intention to work with food and wine?
ML: Not at all, in fact! Initially at university, I undertook a Bachelor of Science majoring in Food Chemistry however came to the realisation that being trapped inside in a lab coat all day wasn't my end goal and shifted the focus more towards wine.
RE: Always - hospitality has been in my blood ever since I was born; and if I have a blood transfusion one day I am sure the blood group will be classified as ‘H' [for hospitality].
What is the secret to your success?
ML: I'll let you know when I get there. In the meantime, I intend to keep trying to learn something from everyone that I meet and to surround myself with passionate and driven colleagues.
RE: Success is such a big word; I'm not sure if I am successful yet. The moment you reach a goal, you want to achieve more so let's wait for the end score. However, our team is definitely the key and a huge thank you goes to all involved.
What food and wine trends are you seeing in Melbourne now?
ML: There are a lot of divisive movements happening across Melbourne currently, depending on where within the city itself you are. Natural/BD/Organic have their hotspots with the hipsters and people can't seem to get enough of American food venues also. There's certainly an affinity towards casual and relaxed style eateries with the Melbourne crowds currently.
RE: More and more people are drinking local wines, drifting toward small & boutique producers as well as favouring the biodynamic & organic farming methods. The natural/no SO2 wines are also on the rise. Wines crafted rather than forced is surely the choice of preference.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
ML: Two things are equally important in my mind for a good wine list. A defined identity is key to it all, in my opinion. Restaurants exist with styles and concepts for their menus, just as a wine list should to accompany. However, the truly most important element of a good wine list is having the right people to communicate it across to the guests. Without that, it's nothing more than strange words on a page.
RE: Balance first and foremost. Trying to be different can lean to personal choice, which is good only if it works in harmony with the food offering. At Vue de monde we have the outmost respect for the produce; the cuisine is quintessentially Australian that works with a wide range of wine styles. Right choice and balance up front, hard work backstage.
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
ML: I have nothing but the utmost respect for a winemaker from the Mornington Peninsula named George Mihaly (of Paradigm Hill), who has been a great friend and mentor in my wine life and as such feel a special connection every time I open a bottle of either of his Pinot Noirs; L'Ami Sage & Les Cinq.
RE: I have a soft spot for Beechworth (North East Victoria) where I think Giaconda & Castagna produce world-class single vineyard wines from tiny parcels of land. I love Beechworth so much that I now have a property myself, and I am also producing wine from it. But there's more: you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy…Barolo please!
What would you predict for the next 5-10 years in the food and wine industry?
ML: Right now, there are so many incredibly passionate and knowledgeable individuals championing Australian wine that I see it (Australian wine as a whole) doing nothing but continuing to rise and improve at a steady rate. I look forward to greater experimentation with high density vineyard plantings and other vineyard practices, and the beginning towards recognition of sub-regions within areas across Australia.
RE: A large number of vineyard owners care about the soil more than ever before. Wine is nothing then a pure expression of ‘there'; same goes to food: right produce, kept simple and not overworked. We work directly with growers sharing the same passion on a plate and in a glass.
What is your fundamental philosophy on food and wine?
ML: Drink as you feel. Some days you're absolute craving for a steak, and also in the mood for a glass of Riesling. And there is not a single thing wrong with that! Food and wine should make you happy: plain and simple.
RE: Drink well and spoil yourself from time to time. As Len Evens always said: “Life is too short to drink bad wine”. As far as matching wine with food… the motto is always “well balanced and contrasts”, but why not follow you gut feelings or cravings sometimes? In the end, I believe we should all drink well and in moderation .
What is next for you?
ML: More wine! Travel, adventure, and an ever growing company at work to keep me on my toes.
RE: Keep doing what I'm doing with more challenges either thrown at me or created by myself. A huge focus on winemaking too. But as long as there's good food, great wine and people to share it with, then I'm in a happy place.