Drinking Victoria: Jess Ghaie

Published on 23 April 2021

Photo: Jess Ghaie, co-owner of Blackhearts & Sparrows (credit: Eileen Kenny)

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade.

As the reluctant matriarch of the Blackhearts & Sparrows empire, Jess Ghaie has played a pivotal role in shaping the way Victorians buy wine. Starting from the humble beginnings of the first shop she and her brother, Paul Ghaie, opened in Windsor, the Blackhearts community of stores has grown to 11 locations in Melbourne and two interstate, with an outpost soon to open along the coast (more on that later). Jess is a jack-of-all-trades in the business, but spends a large chunk of her day helping to select what ends up on the Blackhearts shelves.                                           

The last three delicious things I drank were a Hargreaves ESB at the pub; it was so good to be able to visit the Napier again after a winter without it. Also a delicious new release from Nick Jeffrey: his biodynamic Primitive Heathcote grenache, which is electric and crunchy and best served slightly chilled. Lastly, a bottle of Adrian Rodda chardonnay – they’re consistently so good.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is a hard one for me to answer  between Blackhearts & Sparrows and being a parent of two, I don't get out much these days. Late last year I had a delicious lunch at Igni in Geelong, the wines were matched exceptionally well and had a great regional focus. We had the Crucible cider from Pennyroyal in the Otways which was amazing with the dessert.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant I am usually with a group of friends and am handed the list before I can object. So knowing what they like and what we're eating, I try to order a variety or style that they may not have tried before. I'm always keen to expose people to the diverse array of wine that we are lucky to access here. If it's just me though, I'll go for a zippy, acid-driven white or a light- to medium-bodied red.

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is gin, gin and more gin. There are so many producers out there that you can experiment with different gins, and now even more local tonics and mixers, to make that perfect new classic. I'm also really looking forward to our collaboration with Gospel Whisky for the cooler months ahead.

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Italian varieties grown in Australia. Fiano in particular is really exciting at the moment.

My favourite places to buy booze are the three places where I spend most hours of my day: the Blackhearts warehouse, the Blackhearts office and Blackhearts Smith Street. There’s simply no time to go elsewhere. I still find wines that have snuck in unnoticed or otherwise I’m keen to see how others change with time and development. When we run out of supplies on a trip down the coast, we duck into Corkscrew Cellars in Torquay. I can always find something there from the Geelong and Bellarine region that I haven't tasted before.

I’d love to see us planting/brewing/distilling more alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks using botanicals and spices in Victoria  they know no boundaries! When guys like Non or Seedlip came along it was a revelation to have a non-alcoholic beverage that had the complexity and intrigue of something with alcohol. We are always searching to identify flavours in wines but through distilling with certain botanicals and spices, specific flavours can be the focal point. We have been working with Non on an exciting new collaboration which should be ready in a few months.

My guilty pleasure in the fridge is a Mountain Gin & Tonic can for a quick and easy sip on the way to the park. There are a few around at the moment and they’re far removed from the old (and very sweet) Gordons Gin & Tonic I drank at Meredith.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been drinking by style, drinking locally and the recognition of sustainability in the way drinks are produced. 

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is Adam Cotterell, my partner, who also happens to be one of our wine buyers. He has dedicated his work and so much of his spare time to learning about wine. He has a passion and an in-depth understanding that engages so many people on different levels. When we're not deep in parenting or weekend trivia, we're always tasting and talking (sometimes debating) wine and I am continuously learning from him.

Anything you'd like to plug? We're really excited to soon have a venue of our very own in Collingwood that is not a retail space, more a new home for a multitude of Blackhearts experiences and we're also really looking forward to taking Blackhearts to regional Victoria with our Geelong store set to open sometime in May.

Browse the latest booze selections online or at your closest Blackhearts & Sparrows, and keep up with the latest news at @blackheartswine.

You might also like