Ghanem Group’s sommelier Penny Grant talks all things wine, sommelier, Blackbird Bar & Grill
It is very easy to sell wine that we want to drink ourselves, but a great sommelier will identify your likes and dislikes to find your perfect drink within the allocated budget ...
Although most of us at The Weekend Edition office would consider themselves oenophiles, in reality we have trouble discerning between primo vino and pedestrian plonk. We’ve all got that one friend that ‘knows’ wine, and is responsible for guiding us towards drops that will actually tantalise tastebuds, rather than ignite a sickly buzz. Penny Grant is most likely that person for her group of friends. As head sommelier for Ghanem Group – the crew behind esteemed venues such as Blackbird Bar & Grill, Donna Chang and Byblos – Penny also is responsible for curating each venue’s specific wine lists. From robust reds to rousing rieslings, Penny has got her finger firmly on the pulse of Australia’s wine scene. Want proof? Penny will be spearheading the vino component of Blackbird’s contribution for bug and oyster trail Sea to the City on Sunday October 13. We chatted with Penny to get her thoughts on curating the perfect wine list and what we can expect from Blackbird at Sea to the City.
Take us back to the beginning of your wine journey! Can you remember the moment (or a particular drop) that spawned your love of wine?
It was a bottle of sassicaia, a Super Tuscan wine that my mother let me have a try of when I was 16.
Being in the business of wine sounds like a dream job, but what was it that ignited an interest in becoming a sommelier?
Having worked in the industry from a young age, it was a natural progression from waiter to sommelier. I did have some amazing wine mentors who helped ignite my passion and push me further.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills one needs to make it as a sommelier?
Reading a guests needs. It is very easy to sell wine that we want to drink ourselves, but a great sommelier will identify your likes and dislikes to find your perfect drink within the allocated budget.
Every venue would have a range of different requirements for its wine list – how do you go about curating the best possible list for a particular venue?
We work closely with our chefs to ensure the wine list plays to our food, our clientele and our climate. Every wine needs to earn its place and have a guest in mind. In the end, the wine list is not a representation of us as sommeliers, but of our entire offering.
Wine is one of those things that feels good to splurge on – if money is no object, what names are at the top of your list for amazing wines?
Krug Rosé, Keller G-MAX Riesling 2004, Armand Rousseau Chambertin 2001, Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1999.
On the flipside, if you’re sipping on a budget, what are some things to look out for to ensure you don’t end up with a dud bottle?
In Australia some of the best value for money wines you can find are rieslings, specifically dry ones from Coal River Valley in Tasmania, also Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia. When in doubt look at the scores from the royal wine shows across the country, where all the hard work is already done for you!
Our mouths are already watering thinking about the offering for Sea to the City – what will the Ghanem Group be bringing to the table on the day?
We love to champion local wines at Blackbird, so we will be showcasing the amazing wines that Ray Costanzo from Golden Grove Estate in the Granite Belt has been producing, including his sauvignon blanc and rosé. On a side note, Ray is also a member of the rural fire fighters and has been very busy battling the blazes in Ballandean, a true local legend!
Sea to the City is a celebration of all things bugs and oysters – for those of us who are rookies, what are your tips for pairing wine with seafood?
Seafood is at its best when served simply, and the same is true with wine. Keep it simple – classic varieties like riesling, semillon, unwooded chardonnay and rosé. If there is a little chilli in play, try a riesling with a touch of sugar like kabinett styles from Germany.
It’s a very exciting time to be a wine drinker in Australia at the moment – what are some trends that you’re seeing come through that you think are going to take off?
I love that the light dry red is becoming popular. Most winemakers are using a blend of pinot noir and shiraz, making wine very approachable for a wide range of drinkers. Try Fleet Red and Yarra Yering Light Dry Red, both from Victoria.
Be sure to stop by Blackbird Bar & Grill’s pop-up at Sea to the City on Sunday October 13. More details can be found here.