Liquid Intel: Barolo Weather, Lofty Aires At McRae Bar, Marsala Martinis In Melbourne & More
— Updated on 14 June 2023

Liquid Intel: Barolo Weather, Lofty Aires At McRae Bar, Marsala Martinis In Melbourne & More

— Updated on 14 June 2023
Randy Lai
Randy Lai

At some point, one should really stop apologizing for delivering these end-of-month anecdotes in such a delayed fashion, yet try as I might, here we are again. Welcome folks, to the March edition of ‘Liquid Intel’: our recurring shortlist of cocktail recipes, vino notes and new bar openings – as overseen by me, Randy, your perpetually tardy host. But enough agonising.

As with February, March has been a busy time for the hospitality scene. After overstaying its welcome, summer is now finally receding into the background: so naturally, I’ve been gravitating more towards the classic cool weather tipples that have generally been a bit unsuitable for quaffing earlier in 2023.

My honest highlight? Probably getting to share a glass of classically well-built Barolo with our fearless co-founder James Want. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Out On The Town: McRae Bar, Capella Sydney

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Part of the trifecta of dining options being offered at the newly-opened Capella – arguably Sydney’s splashiest luxury hotel opening in over a decade – McRae is named in honour of the man behind the historic Department of Education building where the hotel is situated. There really aren’t any exhaustive reviews of the venue (allegedly inspired by “Victorian-era drinking dens”) just yet, but I was able to get something approximate to a ‘first look’ – as part of a site tour which local press have been doing in advance of Capella’s official opening.

Fortunately, the early indications are all pretty positive. Instead of attempting to match the spectacle of the Capella group offering in say, Bangkok or Singapore, McRae comes at things in a decidedly Antipodean way. An inviting, open-plan aesthetic permeates the space; and large transom windows bathe the long, brass bar counter in golden rays. There’s the customary salute to Australia’s bounty of native ingredients, but the thing to order here is the ‘Cobbler’. Gold Rush-era Oz’s answer to the Mint Julep, McRae has a signature menu of over half a dozen: all built around a fortified wine (e.g. bespoke apera from Seppeltsfield), seasonal fruits and a generous heaping of crushed ice.

With such an avowed focus on light-drinking refreshers and a much less frenetic pace than most other bars in Sydney’s urban core, one can well picture McRae’s becoming a go-to ‘first date’ spot. Even if you’re rearing for something a bit more aggressive: there are dozens of possibilities on your doorstep.

‘Some Like It Hot’: Castello di Verduno Barolo 2015

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(Image Credit: @styleternity // Instagram)

To close out the final weeks of March, I hightailed it into the Blue Mountains with the express purpose of seeing James – BH’s aforementioned co-founder, creative lead, and lover of all substances poured into fine-stemmed glassware.

Despite being hard at work on the rollout of Rein (a stylish new anti-dandruff shampoo which you can read more about here) the man somehow managed to find the time to marshall together a lunch of princely proportions: replete with sardine fritti ; a procession of homemade pizza (consecrated in the fires of a well-worn Gozney Dome); and an outrageous amount of plonk. 

Needless to say, we had a very good spread of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-led Champagnes – as well as a very decadent dark rum that might rekindle my love for spiked caffeine – yet, the crowd favourite (in an afternoon absolutely leaden with enjoyable moments) seemed to be a Barolo from 2015, made in the traditional Piedmontese style. 

A “good, but very warm” vintage – in the words of many an importer – this particular bottling came from Castello di Verduno – a helpfully unimaginative name that reveals the vineyard’s historic location in the northernmost part of Barolo.

In addition to its ‘Monvigliero’ and ‘Rabaja’ crus – the crown jewels in the di Verduno portfolio – the estate also produces a blended Barolo made with multiple parcels of fruit, highlighting many of the idiosyncracies of head winemaker Mario Andrion. Beginning with Nebbiolo that has been farmed organically and then fermented with indigenous yeasts, this cuvee offers a refined edge that one mightn’t expect – based on the traditional vinification practices. 

Trace amounts of decanting (i.e. 45 minutes) reveal green, arboreal notes. These extend well beyond the usual ‘tar and rose’ persona of old-school Baroli; with the softened tannins playing into an elegant centre palate. 

Aged initially for 24 months in large Slavonian botti and then in bottle for the same duration, this Barolo strikes the right balance between both the new and old schools of winemaking in Piemonte – all with delicious results for drinkers. Ready to go now, but will keep for two to three more years. 

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Try This At Home: Tony Conigliaro’s Marsala Martini, Bar Termini

In an unusual twist for ‘Liquid Intel’, this month’s recipe has not been sourced from a single individual, so much as an entire venue. And, in stark contrast to a number of bars I’ve previously recommended, you can actually visit this one pretty easily – in a manner of speaking – should you happen to find yourself in Melbourne towards the end of April. 

Against the backdrop of The Lounge at Society, mixologists Maros Potucek and Leonardo Filipponni will be making Bar Termini’s famous Marsala Martini – as part of a 5-drink menu that will be available on the 23rd and 24th of April, for the eponymous London aperitivo bar’s upcoming Aussie pop-up.

Originally a Tony Conigliaro concoction, the Marsala Martini elucidates (in almost alarmingly straightforward fashion) why the traditional 3-to-4-ingredient classic cocktail is such a great testbed for creativity. Moreish and semi-savoury, the only real non-negotiables here are high-quality gin and Marsala – a kind of aromatized wine. The Termini formula calls for “almond bitters”, yet for those playing at home, I find that any old amaretto (Disaronno is an easy one) works just as well. 

Definitely one to serve to those who insist they can’t drink stirred down, boozy cocktails. 

Method: Combine all ingredients in a tumbler and stir over ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish (if desired).

  • Four Pillars Rare dry gin, 60ml
  • Marsala Superiore DOC secco, 10ml
  • Dry vermouth, 10ml
  • Disaronno Amaretto, 5ml
  • Pickled almonds, to garnish*

*Editor’s Note: Although not essential to the flavour of your Martini, these pickled almonds are a signature part of the Termini serve. Drinks columnist Kate Hawkings has a recipe that’s fairly easy to follow, which you can find here.

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Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].


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