Mike Bennie is a drinks guy, working prolifically across magazines, digital, events and at PNV Wine + Liquor Merchants, the two bottle shops in Sydney that he co-owns, and the Australian Organic Wine Awards, which he chairs, as well as making the odd drop of wine himself. Though he lives north of the mighty Murray, he’s a frequent visitor this side of the border, and a very vocal supporter of Victorian drinks (many of which he sells at PNV). He’s also an MFWF collaborator of many years (you might have seen him holding court with Eric Wareheim at Hope St Radio in March 2022).
Among his latest credits is the contribution he has made to a new title, How to Drink Australian, by former Melbourne somms Jane Lopes and Jonathan Ross, “a lively, in-depth and sometimes surprising exploration of the why, the how and the where of the most exciting wine producing country in the world today”.
Here’s how Mike drinks Victorian.
The last three delicious things I drank were the wonderfully fresh pink wine expression that is the 2022 A & C Ainsworth Rosé; the thirst-slaking, Campari Spritz-esque, non-alc Gruppetto Spritz Veneziano; and a gulp of the piquant and air-in-your-hair bitterness of Beechworth Bitters Orchard Amaro.
As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is a tough one to narrow down, but I roll out of my flights to Melbourne and onto the end of the bar at Embla nine times out of 10 when visiting, and usually catch a winemaker, distiller or drinks practitioner of some sort doing something with other like-minded folks there. The wine list also happens to be pretty darn good and ever-changing, with a lens on smaller Vic producers, of course.
When someone hands me a drinks list, I try and hand it to someone else for an element of surprise.
The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is anything by Beechworth Bitters, but The Gospel Solera Rye is pretty skol-able.
There’s no better value on wine list or in a bottle shop in Victoria than Crawford River riesling. Peerless.
My favourite place to buy booze in Victoria is… I have a soft spot for City Wine Shop because I can combine snack, glass of something, browse, coffee, outdoor, indoor, and usually a friendly face who knows stuff about cutting-edge stuff.
I’d love to see people planting more native ingredients with collaboration from local Aboriginal communities and investing meaningfully and financially in those communities.
My guilty pleasure in the fridge is a really bland but really cold lager.
The best or most important change to the way people drink in Victoria in recent years has been a shift to seeking out the new and different, from diverse people and places.
For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is… damn, he’ll hate me saying this, but Max Allen, ever boundary-pushing, ever-questioning, ever on the pulse, ever real.