Although the stereotype of the beer-swilling Aussie would seem valid to the casual observer of happy hour at any pub in the country, Australia ranks far below the majority of European countries in litres of alcohol consumed, per person per year. However, that’s not to say that Australians don’t enjoy their drink.
With Australian wineries winning global acceptance and accolades, and the spread of microbreweries throughout the country, the past two decades have seen alcohol consumption in Melbourne become much more discerning.
Alcohol is considerably more expensive in Australia than in most European countries (due to high taxes), but some very enjoyable (and recommendable) bottles of Australian wine can be had for as little as $15-25.
Although it is illegal to drink in public in Melbourne, the law is rarely enforced unless the person drinking gives the authorities reason to enforce it. Technically all drinking must be done within a licensed premises (which can include lane ways and sidewalk seating), but the number of outdoor events in parks and gardens lends itself to casual drinking. Laws also exist to govern noise and late night licensing, so if you are settled in an outdoor cafe at night, drinking with friends, your waiter may ask you to move inside.
Minors (those under 18 years) cannot buy alcohol, or consume it. The exception to this last rule is when they are consuming food and with a guardian. This exception was created to accommodate European families who customarily allow their children to drink wine with meals. You do not have to be European to enjoy this exception, though, and many kids like the sophistication of having a little diluted wine when they are dining out with their parents.
If you are unsure about wines, or are a connoisseur, it is worth buying wine from a specialty store that can offer good recommendations. Apart from one of Victoria’s many vineyards, you can sample wines at almost any wine cellar. Here are a few of the best, and most accessible to the CBD:
The Prince Wine Store
2a Acland Street, St Kilda
(03) 9536 1155
Part of the iconic Prince Hotel building, this wine store is a relatively new addition to cater to the increasingly sophisticated tastes of Melbourne drinkers. You can try one of Australia’s many traditional and experimental wines, or order your favourite import. The atmosphere is authentic and pricing is mid-range (although more exclusive labels such as Veuve Clicquot will set you back more).
Nick’s Wine Merchants
1219 High St, Armadale
(03) 9822 9100
The name of this place makes it sound a bit rough and ready (like Sam’s Automart), but don’t be fooled. Everyone at Nick’s knows and loves their wines. They will offer you samples (usually with a well-selected cheese accompaniments), and are happy to talk at length about all things wine. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything. However, it is unlikely you will want to leave empty-handed.
Wine House Melbourne – Old and Rare Wines
133 Queensbridge Street, Southbank
(03) 9698 8001
(03) 9698 8000
Housed in a beautiful heritage brick building, the Wine House can be a bit tricky to find if you are unfamiliar with this industrial-looking end of the city. Persevere and the range and expertise you will encounter at The Wine House is worth it. Free samples and good pricing if you buy by the case.
Good quality wine can also be found at Vintage Cellars (Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD) which has a number of smaller stores across the metropolitan area. http://www.vintagecellars.com.au
The most popular alcohol merchant in Melbourne is Dan Murphy (everywhere). These large-scale stores boast over 4,000 product choices. The chain has over 32 locations across Victoria and prides itself on having the lowest prices and best selection. http://www.danmurphys.com.au
If you are adventurous with the internet, you might want to try a quirky Australian site called Boozle. This little gem lets you look for daily alcohol specials across the country, including wines. Great when you are planning a party! http://boozle.com.au/