World-class drops meet simple, standout fare at Canberra's of-the-moment wine shop and bar.

Pat Nourse, Qantas, May 2021

A new breed of attraction has popped up in the inner-city suburb of Campbell (best know as home to the Australian War Memorial) and chief among them is a lively hybrid bottle shop-bar-eatery. In Italy they call this type of business an enoteca; here, it goes by the name Paranormal Wines. And whatever the spectral connotations of that name, Paranormal's enticements are decidedly corporeal and in no way frightening.

Owner Max Walker says he's all about removing the scare factor from wine, steering the conversation away from anything intimidating and towards the pleasures of a bottle shared. To that end he's drawn on his experience working at the convivial likes of MoVida Aqui in Melbourne and local favourite Bar Rochford to create the sort of venue that's as suited to an impromptu after-work tête-à-tête as it is to a settled-in session with a table of friends. The room is spare, a box overlooking a park, its lines relieved by pot plants and a dash of florals. The real colour, though, comes from the bottles lining the walls. There's plenty to like by the glass but everything on the shelves is available to drink-in, with the addition of a corkage charge on top of the retail price.

Wines from Canberra producers - Ravensworth and Mada among them - fill the fridges along with bottles from France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Local hero Mallaluka plus Victoria's Momento Mori and South Australia's Borachio are among the wineries working directly with Paranormal on bottlings for the store. There's also a strong showing from the more interesting producers of non-alcoholic drinks.

To eat? Expect drinking food of a higher order. It's about finding very good ingredients and doing not much with them: Ortiz anchovies, bread from Sonoma, plump burrata from Vanella and super cheeses by Holy Goat. LP's Quality Meats in Sydney is another place Walker has worked the floor and its charcuterie is a highlight - plates of smoked mortadella and salami cotto, for instance, garnished with pickled peppers.

Walker says he likes to think of Paranormal as a wine shop "with bells and whistles". He adds, "The prices are reasonable and the setting is relaxed. Essentially the brief for us is to share with you things you won't find elsewhere and offer you some small plates of food to complement the experience."

Paranormal Wines is Simply Perfect

Lucy Ridge, Riotact, March 2023

Paranormal Wines is no ordinary bottle-o. Flying under the radar as a suburban wine shop, it’s a quietly brilliant venue dishing up some top-notch snacks in quirky surroundings.

Arriving shortly after 6:30 pm, the place is already comfortably full, and my friend and I perch at the communal table to check out what’s on offer. The menu is fairly small, but so is the kitchen and it’s clear that Chef Aidan Kidson – who also runs Shakewell Hot Sauce – has crafted a list that allows him to plate up big flavours quickly and efficiently.

The first part of the menu is essentially a selection of ‘things on toast’, which is, frankly, one of my favourite food groups. My friend and I had planned to have two of these items each as a starter, but I spied a plate heading out of the kitchen as I stepped up to order at the counter and saw they were bigger than I expected. I made the call to split three toasty treats between us, as well as ordering the romesco salsa and a bowl of pasta with ‘nduja (Calabrian soft salami) to share.

By the time we’ve ordered, a table has opened up for us so we sit near the window and choose our wines. My friend is a rosé drinker and takes a chance with a fun name: Rainbow Juice. I have a bit more trouble deciding. Max Walker, the owner of Paranormal Wines, talked me through some options by asking me what kind of wines I like to drink and what vibe I’m going for. It’s a casual, unfussy and personal approach to recommendations that sums up Paranormal Wines’ ethos of approachable drinking. I end up with a skins-y white wine, similar to a riesling, which is perfect with our snacks.

The first plate of food comes out quickly and we dig into the ‘stuff on toast’. First, sardines with radishes and a green goddess dressing, then a fresh, herby, smoked trout paté and spicy salami with ricotta and warm honey. The heat and salt of LP meat’s salami picanté are so perfectly contrasted by the creamy ricotta and floral sweetness of the honey. It’s stunningly simple but executed perfectly.

That’s a theme that runs throughout Paranormal Wines: simplicity done well. The shelves are stocked with beautiful bottles from small winemakers chosen for flavour and fun rather than adhering to stuffy old-world categories. At its heart, great wine is made by allowing the natural flavours of grapes to shine through excellent technique and process. Similarly, the menu allows great ingredients to take centre stage through technique and presentation that, while excellent, is understated.

Next, we have the romesco salsa with sourdough and charred red onion.Romesco salsa is a Spanish dip made from roasted capsicum and almonds. It encapsulates the mood of the warm summer evening and is exactly right for this style of casual but classy dining. Snacking away on the delicious dip while my friend gets caught up telling a story, I find myself having to move the plate, so I don’t eat more than my fair share while I listen.

I switched to Italian red wine to accompany the casarecce pasta with ‘nduja. As with most of the menu, these dishes change weekly and the pasta is generally only available on Friday nights. It’s also worth visiting on Saturdays to try their special lunch item, which is usually a tasty reimagining of an old-school dish and often sells out. Recent offerings have included Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches, prawn rolls and fish fillet burgers.

Last drinks are called at around 8 pm, which I’d ordinarily consider early for a bar, but the Paranormal team has clearly found their niche and aren’t interested in over stretching their staff and their energy by pushing late nights or opening every day. As a former hospitality worker, I respect the boundaries, and if it means they keep delivering such a high standard, I’ll gladly make time on a Friday night to drop in for a bowl of pasta or a little something on toast.

Super natural wines at Paranormal

Karen Hardy, Canberra Times Food & Wine

Max Walker started his hospitality career as a teenager in New Zealand, tasked with moving boxes around, occasionally cutting up limes for the bartenders, pulling a beer if he was really lucky. He was never really interested in the wine side of things. "I always thought that wine was a bit too scary, and a bit too hard, there was so much to learn, I'll just stick to my beers and cocktails," he says. He moved to Australia a few years later, working at Movida Aqui in Melbourne, and that's where his interest in wines began to develop.

"We had this thing where the bar staff and the chefs would get together on Saturday nights after we closed and we each had to bring a bottle of wine and give a spiel about it. "Nobody was a sommelier, no one knew more than anyone else, it was a nice open forum to start to dip your toes into a very large and serious subject. "And it was always a lot of fun." This is what he hopes his bottle shop Paranormal Wines will be like, a comfortable place to explore wines without judgement.

For Walker is now extremely knowledgeable in the area of wine. During his years in Melbourne, a few in Sydney where he was the general manager at LP's Quality Meats, a short stint at Bar Rochford when he first moved to Canberra, he became fascinated by natural wines, those with minimal intervention, organic wines. That's the focus at Paranormal Wines - "paranormal just means 'not normal', I wanted to get across the idea that the wines might be a little left field." There are wines from places such as Italy, Germany and New Zealand, about a third is from Australia. Local wines to feature include Ravensworth, Mada and Mallaluka. With Mallaluka's Sam Leyshon, Walker has developed the Paranormal rose.

"It's nice to have our own wine," he says. Walker says while there are plenty of wines you might not have seen before, it's all still very approachable "Introducing people to new varieties and new areas and new techniques is what's really exciting for me. "It comes back down to those Movida days ... I was there for someone's first anchovy, someone's first oyster, someone's first glass of a wine they'd never had before. "Being part of that gives me a real buzz, it's about sharing knowledge, there's too much gate-keeping in the wine industry, food and wine should be about sharing knowledge."

As well as the retail side, there's also the opportunity to enjoy a glass in house with a bite to eat. There's a small menu of sourdough and butter, burratas, marinated peppers and goats cheese, charcuterie selections from LPs Meats. There's a good size kitchen just waiting for something more. Walker likes the idea of the occasional pop-up, but for the moment the focus is on the wine. There's seating inside the space, some out on the footpath, the park across the road might be a nice option on a warm summer's evening.

Walker is loving Canberra. He moved here as his partner, arts administrator Georgia Hobbs, has family here. "There's such a great bunch of people working in the industry here," he says. "But the clientele are great as well. Canberra people are generally very cultured, very well travelled, they have been to larger cities and travelled internationally. "When something new happens they kind of jump on it because they're like that reminds me of Berlin or New York. When I first went into Bar Rochford it was a little bit Melbourne, a little bit New York, I just loved it and the customers were so polite and friendly."

Go for: the charcuterie platter and the takeaway lo-fi wines

Bryan Martin, Gourmet Traveller Wine

With open arms we welcome Max Walker - not the over-arm medium paced bowler who so wonderfully backed Lillee and Thomo at the crease in cricket's heyday. No, this Max Walker cut his teeth at MoVida, Mary's group and LP's Quality Meats before settling in Campbell, of all places. It's like having John Cooper Clarke as your librarian. Paranormal showcases a great range of modern wines, with an emphasis on minimal intervention and organic. Every bottle means something to Max, and is well priced too. Pick up something to take away or sit and enjoy with some good anchovies and lashings of charcuterie.