Nickís Wine Merchants, Melbourne

By Andrew Derbidge


Being a keen whisky drinker, Iím always popping my head through the door of bottle shops to see whatís on the shelves.Unfortunately, with the increasing takeovers and absorption of independent bottle shops by the two main supermarket chains, the whisky lines are becoming increasingly standardised and monotonous, with few surprises appearing.As a Sydney resident, I know where the better local stores are, but Iím becoming increasingly jaded as I walk into store after store and see the same familiar labels.


It was therefore with some joy and relief that I walked into Nickís Wine Merchants in Armadale, Melbourne on a recent trip, having been tipped off by a colleague.


The impressive line up of whiskies on the shelves caught my eye before I was even two steps through the door.The usual suspects were present, but they were flanked and outnumbered by a stunning array of independent and rarely-seen-in-Australia offerings.The range was not confined to Scotch either, with an impressive number of Bourbons on hand, as well as some of the recent Australian offerings from Angaston and Bakery Hill.


I was greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable Yuri, who wasted no time in offering me some samples to try.Yes, you read that correctly Ė samples!Bottle shops in Australia always have in-store tastings with their wines, or will happily pop the cork of their feature wine for you to try.Frustratingly, this helpful and powerful marketing practice has yet to take off for whisky, and Nickís is the first store Iím aware of to do this.Impressive!


Yuri plonked four or five open bottles before me and invited me to take my time to assess them all.I immediately kicked myself for driving to the store, but opted to try a malty and honeyed Tomatin 12yo (a bottling Iíve not seen on shelves previously in Australia).I was impressed by its nose - quite soft and fragrant, with some lovely cereal notes rounding up the package.The palate didnít quite deliver with the same punch, but it was certainly an enjoyable Malt for the price. ($70).


I couldnít go past the beautifully crafted bottles of Blantonís Bourbon.Again, these arenít available at your average store (even your better-than-average store), and I had been curious to try these for some time.I poured a handsome dram of the Gold Edition, and was pleasantly surprised.With the possible exception of Elijah Craig 12yo, Bourbons arenít really my cup of tea, but this one had complexity in spades and a host of tasty spices and aromas beyond the sweet vanilla that drowns most other Bourbons.At $115, I felt this was excellent value for a really sensational Bourbon.


Returning to the shelves, I was pleased to see a large number of Malts from independent bottlers Duncan Taylor and Dun Bheagan, some of the formerís under their Whisky Galore label, and some of the latterís under their Chieftainís Choice label.As one would hope and expect from independent bottlers, many of the whiskies presented were from unsung, lesser known, and/or rarely seen distilleries.However, some of the distilleries commonly found in Australia were represented (e.g. Bowmore, Macallan, Bunnahabhain), thereby allowing fans to enjoy alternative expressions of their favourite Malts.


For the serious collector, Nickís has some vintage Macallans in store, including the 1964, 1967, and 1971.Retailing between $1,800 and $4,000, I was alas not in a position to walk out with one under my arm, but it at least highlights that Nickís is serious about their whisky range.


It must also be said that the pricing was generally agreeable, with most of the whiskies offering good value for money or at least in line with or below RRP.Some in-store specials also offered some attractive savings here and there.Pleasingly, and importantly, Yuri was very knowledgeable about Scotch in general and the merchandise on display, making a nice change from the usual bottle shop experience.


Melbourne residents should be pleased with this little Malt Mecca tucked away not far from the CBD, and I would heartily recommend that interstate visitors to Melbourne swing by during their visit.Although with Yuriís generosity with the sample bottles, you may wish to take the tram!