Richard Healy, Head Sommelier at Rockpool Bar & Grill, talks what has influenced his taste in wine, what makes his wine list stand out, and which young sommelier we should watch next.
Congratulations! Rockpool Bar & Grill has been awarded three stars, the Best By-the-Glass Wine List in the World and the Best By-the-Glass Wine List in Australasia in the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine List 2016. How does it feel to be recognised in this way?
Flattered and humbled frankly. We take a lot of pride in the wine list and the wines by the glass is a snapshot into what the team is interested in so it is humbling to be recognised in this way.
I always think that if you have an interesting by the glass list that is diverse in styles, regions, prices and so on then guests will always want to keep coming back to see what is on offer. Hopefully this award piques the interest of all wine lovers who would love a great place to dine along with an interesting glass of wine.
Where does your love of wine originate from?
Through working in a top tier bottle shop in Western Australia. I was fascinated by the spectrum of what was available and how it was always a changing landscape. Then fascination fell in to travel and study. From there it was more or less a rabbit hole I’ve yet managed to escape.
What do you think has influenced your taste in wine?
Time. Initially I wanted to taste everything and anything (and I still do) but now I just want really great, classic example from the reference point producers from reference point regions. Painfully I’m spending a lot more money on wine now which is part and parcel of the process (I just can’t let my wife find out).
Where was the last place you visited? How did it inspire you?
I just got back from visiting Rockford in Barossa. Robert O’Callaghan, owner of Rockford, is immensely inspiring in what he does. He is unwavering in his methods, which have not changed since his first few vintages, and his support for the rest of the region; be it for other winemakers or the local gold course.
It’s impressive to see someone with that much passion, purpose and scruples. He is a character.
What makes the wine list at Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney stand out?
Well, it’s not a small list and we also have access to many bottles from David Doyle, who is one of our owners. Also the legacy set by Sophie Otton and Michael Engelmann MS very much set the direction and architecture for the list. I’m honoured to be the caretaker of the list and program.
What food and wine trends are you seeing in Sydney at the moment?
The whole spectrum with lots of new venues opening with some boundary pushing going on from the new guard. A lot of the generation who learnt under the greats (Neil Perry, Tetsuya Wakuda, Peter Gilmore for example) are opening venues and doing it well.
Wine wise it is a similar story. We have great established producers in Australia but there is certainly a renaissance happening in pretty much all regions in Australia. Great cool climate Syrah’s from Victoria keep emerging, the Adelaide Hills is going wild with new, tiny producers making interesting wines and each state is turning up each vintage with new wines with real stories to tell. It’s an exciting time for Australian wines if you know where to look.
Which restaurant do you think boasts the best wine list in the world today?
Palais Coburg in Vienna is pretty impressive. I would be glued to that list for hours, at the neglect of my dining partners, if I managed to make it back to Vienna.
I must say I do check in on the list of The Modern in New York frequently due to my friendship with Michael Engelmann MS. He has pushed that list so quickly into a beast of list with detail, depth and breadth. That list impresses me immensely.
I also do really like the list of Gramercy Tavern in New York also. I often reference it to see what wines be do not yet have here in Australia.
Is there a young sommelier that you believe will go on and do great things in the industry?
There are many in Australia but I think my friend Jake Lewis, who works at Momofuku in New York, will go on to do amazing things. He has the passion for study, humility (which I think he gets from osmosis from his Canadian partner) and what seems like a constant drive.
He is the sommelier to watch in my mind.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
Balance, suitability and approachability. These are terribly important.
What is next for you?
I am currently studying to fail the Master Sommelier exam this year in London. Fingers crossed.