Press

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."


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.