Drinking Victoria: Michael Kovatseff-Burton

Published on 18 November 2021

Photo: Michael Kovatseff-Burton of Halim Group

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

Michael Kovatseff-Burton is the man you want selecting your next glass of wine. With over 18 years of experience, he’s no stranger to the hospitality game. Kovatseff-Burton entered the Melbourne wine scene in 2011 as the assistant sommelier and eventual wine buyer at Union Dining, before leaving to work in London as the wine buyer for The London Wine Rooms and assistant sommelier at The Clove Club’s Luca restaurant. Upon his return, he took on various roles at Coda, Neighbourhood Wine and Blackhearts and Sparrows. He now runs the drinks program as Beverage Manager for the restaurants headed by Khanh Nguyen, best known for Sunda and the newly minted Aru.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is Tipo 00. I have a special relationship with this restaurant: they always squeeze me in and the food is consistently on point. If I’m dining solo, the selection by the glass at Tipo 00 is a wild ride but I often end up with the wine list from Osteria Ilaria, their sister restaurant next door. The list is extensive and they always manage to make it a unique and impressive experience even if I am just having a bowl of pasta at the bar.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant...

Honestly, after ordering a very dirty Martini or one of Darren Leaney’s Umami Martinis, I generally become silent. It’s something my dining companions have scalded me about for years and is something that I’m trying to work on. I like to read, plan ahead and then revisit the list. By the time I look up, the food will have been ordered without my input and I’ll need to change my whole game plan. Also, good luck in getting it off me.

The last three delicious things I drank were…

A strong, hot cup of milky EBT: something I start everyday with but I never grow tired of.

The Fanny Sabre Bourgogne aligoté. I actually bought this to pair with dinner at a friend's place, however, as with lots of best intentions, dinner was late and the white was gone in a heartbeat.

Lastly, and this choice is a bit of a cheat answer as it’s not one drink, but tasting through a full range of wines from George Prieler over a Zoom call was a real treat. Having people like Sebastian from Real Wines organise these types of tastings is really exciting. 

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is... 

I’m not as well-versed in spirits and prefer to be guided by the bartender. I’ll often order a Martini and ask them to select a local gin or ask to be recommended some local eau de vie at the end of the meal.

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle shop in this state than … 

ABC, (anything but chardonnay). Don’t get me wrong, I love chardonnay, and it would probably be the drink I most imbibe, but it’s not value for money. I love to look for richer whites that hit that chardy itch but maybe don’t hit the hip pocket quite as much: think marsanne roussanne or aligoté. 

My favourite place to buy booze is… 

Look, I always try to shop as local as possible so Blackhearts & Sparrows is a favourite for me. I may be slightly biased as I used to work for them (and they’re my local), but the Sydney Road crew are legends. Otherwise, I like to go and find small wine shops so that I can see what other people are buying and stocking and maybe pick up something I wouldn’t usually partake in.

I’d love to see us planting/brewing/distilling more sustainable and appropriate vines for our climate. This is something that I think is not just a Victorian issue but something across Australia. Planting grapes that suit our soil, and that can suit our changing climate as agriculture starts to grapple with some of the challenges brought on by climate change.

My guilty pleasure in the fridge/drinks cabinet/at the bar is… 

100 percent Melbourne Bitter. I’m not a craft beer fan and there’s something impressive about how this drink can be reproduced on mass scale and yet be so amazingly consistent in every can, bottle, longneck or tap. 

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been… 

One of the silver linings of this pandemic that I’ve noticed (in the time between lockdowns) in restaurants is how much people value time with their dining companions and the products they’re consuming. People have really come to a point where they’re happy to be guided by staff to have new experiences, and are happy to spend a little bit more on the ‘special’ bottle to make those dining experiences as cherished as possible. 

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is...

For me it must be plural – therefore people here, sorry. It’s smaller distributors that work tirelessly to bring us products that they really enjoy and that they’re passionate about. They’re often people that have worked tirelessly in the industry for years and understand the pressures of meeting customer demands while also wanting to evolve and mature people’s palates. Some distributors that I really admire are Libby Bentley, Giorgio De Maria, Ludovic Deloche and all the people that work with them.

Check out Michael’s recommendations at Sunda and Aru in the city.

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