If there's one wine palate you can trust, it's Sophie Otton's. Having over 20 years in the wine industry, her resume boasts wine director at Sydney's Rockpool Bar and Grill and, as of 2016, sommelier at Billy Kwong. Plus, she has been a wine consultant, writer and judge, too.
And, even she'll admit she has a pretty good palate. "Wine knowledge can fade over time and it's easy to forget, but my weapon is my palate," says Otton. "I've come to learn I'm good at selecting delicious wines...that's my strength."
Now she's bringing that expertise to the inner west, with She Loves You — Newtown's ever-evolving wine bar focusing on minimal intervention and quality drops at affordable prices. The venture is a collaboration between Otton and her partner Stephen Smooker, along with Martin Corcoran (owner of Adelaide's Peel Street) and in-house cocktail guru Alex Smith (who hails from Copenhagen).
The team took over the old Doris and Beryl's Bridge Club & Teahouse digs back in August 2017 and have been gradually converting the 30-seat small bar into She Loves You since.
"It's been a slow transformation as it took a while for us to get know the venue and understand what we had," says Otton. "Eventually we started to replace the shadow box on the wall with our own items, mainly old vintage glass bottles that have the whole shipwrecked and washed up feel. It ties in really nicely with the wine and what we're trying to do here."
Otton's specialty is alternative varieties that showcase the winemakers' strengths. Think wines that are handpicked with no additives, preservatives or filtration. Oh, and there's no wine list, either.
"I've done so many wine lists in my lifetime, I really wanted to eliminate the need for one in my own bar," says Otton. "Instead, it's constantly evolving and I suppose the end goal will be to just open, taste and pour wines as we find them instead of having a set menu. To fit the right wines for the right people depending on how we feel and who's there at the time. It'll be free-style, really."
This 'not-a-wine-list' will focus on Australian producers with a "smattering" of European influence — all with a focus on high quality and at an accessible price point that doesn't "drag you down financially". At the moment, Otton is especially fond of the grenache and chenin blanc by McLaren Vale's Jauma, the rosé from Orange's Frankly, Bob Made This and the rieslings by both Clare Valley's Frederick Stevenson and Murrumbateman's Ravensworth.
This minimal intervention ethos extends to the bar, which still remains largely unchanged. "We're working on developing the bar's character and offerings rather than its logistics for now, though interior changes will come later on," says Otton. "It's quite a personal, intimate space, and with table service we have a lot of interaction with the guests. We are really looking for the bar to be an extension of your lounge room."
Apart from wines, She Loves You is serving up a seasonal cocktail list ($16-$20) that centres on native botanicals and house-made ingredients — a focus which stems from both Otton's time at Kylie Kwong and Smith's time in Copenhagen. Also having a hand in the cocktail setup is Otton's ex-Rockpool and Spice Temple friends, Karl Coombe and Jaala Murphy.
If you do go down the cocktail route, Otton's trusty favourites are the Margarita Pepperleaf (a blend of tequilas, triple sec, native pepperleaf and lemon juice) and the Pink Slip (dry gin, rosella flower, lemon aspen extract and lemon juice) at $18 a piece.
Food-wise, BYO from any local resto is still welcomed, with Otton looking to begin her own simple food offering soon — expect finger foods like toasties, charcuterie and cheese platters.
Images: Katia Monte and Jun Chen