The Somm Series Edition 4: Clint Fox



Welcome back to The Somm Series, a celebration of food pairings with Idée Fixe from iconic restaurants, as selected by leading sommeliers around Australia. In the fourth edition, Clint Fox, Beverage Director for the Scott Pickett Group in Melbourne shares a pairing suggestion from Collingwood’s Parisian-inspired Smith Street Bistrot.

Clint Fox has been working closely with renowned Australian Chef and restauranteur, Scott Pickett, since 2018, initially running the beverage program at Matilda 159. Fast forward to today where he is now in charge of the wine lists across four venues, Smith Street Bistrot, Matilda, Estelle and Chancery Lane. With this comes the wonderful opportunity to highlight different wines based on the style of food and a deep understanding about what the clientele are looking for within each venue.

Smith Street Bistrot is Scott Pickett’s take on a French bistrot, with influence from Melbourne’s eclectic inner-north. It is a lunch and dinner institution, with all the classic dishes, many which pair beautifully with Idée Fixe Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé, which feature at the restaurant.

Read on below for our full interview with Clint Fox.

What is it like writing wine lists for different venues with diverse food offerings, in different locations?

It is great not being constrained by just one style of food. You have a lot more options to work with when selecting wines. There are wines I might really like but don’t fit in a French-focused restaurant. In that case, I can highlight them on a list like Estelle’s. In Northcote, the diners there are a little more open to trying interesting and diverse styles of wine. Matilda focuses more on Australian producers, and I can highlight the best of Australian wines there, especially with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It really comes down to understanding the clientele in that venue and providing what they want.

On this note, can you tell us about your process when it comes to writing a wine list?

It’s interesting to write a list before you open a venue.  The list is constructed with the style of the venue in mind and also the menu. The location of the venue also plays a role in deciding what style of wines you will focus on too. After most of the list has been put together, we will have a menu tasting and look at particular wines that standout with those dishes.  These will be the framework of the by the glass offerings, alongside other wines of producers we want to highlight.

There are certain parameters that each venue has for a wine to be considered for the list. Chancery Lane has a focus on French varieties along with an Australian take on that variety. You can try an old-world example of Viognier and compare it with how it looks when grown in Australia.

Balance within the list is very important. It’s not always about just having the top producers, I like nothing more than finding smaller producers that are making fantastic wine. They just might not have the exposure yet or the quantity to reach a broader market. The list itself needs to be a combination of wines that people know and feel comfortable ordering themselves alongside wine we can introduce and showcase.

Challenges can arise when you have a wine variety that has a broad spectrum of flavours or even style variation. Take Chardonnay for example. Not everyone is going to like every wine in that category, as the style of Chardonnay varies so much. Some will be rich and oak driven, some will be lean and fresher or perhaps have extended lees contact. Some people don’t like lean acid driven Chardonnay, or they don’t like too much oak in their wine. This is why it is important to speak to the sommelier or wait staff. We ensure that all wines are of a certain quality, but they can guide you to a wine that will suit your palate.

How would you describe the food offering at Smith Street Bistrot?

The food is fairly classic French Bistrot but with the Scott Pickett touch. Esteemed Food Writer Rita Erlich commented once, that one of the great things about Scott’s food are the sauces. There is always so much flavour and refinement to them. This elevates French Bistrot classics to the next level.

What is your food and wine pairing philosophy?

I try not to be constrained by the traditional options. I think a lot of people have done away with old rules of white wine for fish and red wine for meat. For instance, duck and Pinot Noir are a great match, but you have probably had that a number of times.  You can be a little bolder with something like Nebbiolo, or even the right Sangiovese with duck. I like the acidity to be there to help cut through the fattiness of the duck. Cherries are also a nice garnish, and the sour cherry flavours in Sangiovese tie the two together really well. It’s not just the protein you need to concentrate on, the sauces or salad can be a big influence. Texture is really important as it can take a great flavour match to far superior place. 

You’ve chosen the Humpty Doo Barramundi, fennel barigoule with bouillabaisse. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose this pairing and what you enjoy most about it?

I like the idea of using a sparkling wine for a main course pairing, it’s not just for the start of a meal. The fine mouse essentially cleanses the palate between mouthfuls. The bubbles add another layer of complexity to the pairing and the texture and freshness helps cut through the richness of the dish. The crunchy green apple and delicate citrus notes of the Chardonnay provide a refreshing contrast to the seafood’s delicate texture and the broth’s savoury depth, creating a harmonious pairing. When tasted with the confit fennel, it brings out a slight herbaceous note in the wine and adds even more complexity and interplay of flavours. We also serve the Idée Fixe Premier Brut in a wider based glass. This helps accentuate the chardonnay flavours and aromatic tones.

Are there other dishes from the menu that would also pair well with Idée Fixe?

Definitely! I would love to have it with the Chicken liver parfait, the Oeufs Mayonnaise & Aruga caviar would be fantastic. It would also work well with the Soufflé Suisasesse, a twice baked souffle with Gruyere sauce.

How do you think the Australian sparkling category has evolved or changed in recent times?

Australians are taking sparkling wine a lot more seriously now. The quality of Australian sparkling has been on the rise consistently over the last decade. We are producing such great quality sparkling, and the consumers are more educated on what is available. Years ago, people would just ask for “a glass of bubbles”. Now, they are looking for different options depending on the food that it is with.

What do you enjoy most about working with wine?

I really like discovering new wines, interesting styles and producers that have a fresh approach in the vineyard. Being able to introduce customers and staff to something that is new and maybe a little out of their comfort zone if fun. Especially if they become as excited as I am.

For those of us who enjoy wine but might not have a deep knowledge, what would be your tips for learning and expanding knowledge?

One thing I was taught early on was to never waste an opportunity to taste wine. Good or great, you can always learn something from it. You really do need to train your palate and it builds up your knowledge base for comparison when you try wines in the future.

I have also found that getting to know regions and what styles of wine they produce well is very helpful. If you don’t like big Shiraz, chances are the Barossa Valley might not be for you. They generally produce a richer style of Shiraz due to the warmer climate. Maybe try Yarra Valley or Heathcote instead. The other tip is asking lots of questions. Talk to the sommelier at a restaurant, they like passing on what they know, and you might be introduced to your new favourite variety. There are sometimes some great wines on a list with grape varieties that people might not have heard of before. Ask the sommelier to explain the grape and style of the wine, it might be a great fit for you. If nothing else, you may have picked up something interesting about a wine or a region.

Smith Street Bistrot is located at 300 Smith St in Collingwood. For bookings and more, visit For more about Scott Pickett’s venues, visit