Mornington Peninsula Tasting

Once the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, was simply a costal weekend bolthole for the good folk of Melbourne, but over the last thirty years, it has developed into Australia’s leading cool climate wine producing region. Pinot Noir & Chardonnay are key varieties but the diversity of terroir in such a small region is fascinating.

Since I joined the wine trade, many tastings have become behemoths, where the sheer number of wines overwhelms even the most hardy & dedicated of tasters. True, one can focus, be it on a certain grape variety/ region / vintage / price point, but all too often means one misses out on the unexpected vinous surprise!

So, it was sheer heaven to attend the Mornington Peninsula tasting in Australia House yesterday.  “Small but perfectly formed” as Kylie Minogue has been described many a time, the Mornington Peninsula Tasting (or the only MP I’m ever likely to invite for dinner), featured nine of their leading wine estates, allowing us, the interested of the wine trade to focus and contrast the variety in the region.

Kicking off with the brilliant and welcoming Rollo Crittenden (on the family’s website as “all round good bloke”), from his family’s Crittenden Estate, as the Wine Maker, he is the second generation taking this great property forward. One of the early wine estates to believe in MP, starting there in 1982, their style of making wine is small scale production and reflects their sustainable respect for the land, which gives their wines a purity of fruit in the glass.

The Zumma Chardonnay ’16 was beautiful, bright and good backbone of minerality, the Zumma Pinot Noir ’16 from their home vineyards, using 20% of whole bunch retention, was deeper in colour and flavour profile than the (albeit lovely!) Estate PN ‘16 , but the Zumma has an inviting savoury depth and a wine crying out for food! Guinea Fowl roasted with porcini mushrooms maybe?

Fascinating to taste their two wines made from the Savignan grape variety. Not a spello of Sauvignon, this white variety is found almost exclusively in the Jura and made to make Vin Jaune. Decidedly quirky as a variety, it was planted in Australia erroneously in the belief that it was the Spanish white variety Albarino. Crittenden only have half an acre planted but the wine gives an individual aroma of toasted hazelnuts, very reminiscent of sherry, even more so when it leads through to almost salinity on the finish. The Estate Version was lovely but the Cris de Coeur Sous Voile Savignan, aged with a “veil” of yeast was a revelation. A Salome of a wine that just unveils its layers little by little, but to be enjoyed with a plate of aged Comté cheese – bliss!

The next estate of Ocean 8 (no presence of the all- female cast of the new version of the famous film trilogy) but welcomed instead by their friendly & enthusiastic Winemaker Mike Aylward, they showed only three wines as those are available in the UK (though am plotting to lay my hands on a bottle of their Late Harvest Pinot Gris when I’m in Oz later this year). The Pinot Gris ’17 was very approachable with a good rounded mouth feel. The Verve Chardonnay ’15 was early picked, a touch of malo but still retaining notes of pink grapefruit, with a lovely balanced acidity. Tasting the 2012 vintage (unlisted & under the counter wines are always so much fun at tastings!), which shares similar characters to the '15 as were similar vintages, but obviously with more depth thanks to the three extra years of age. Their philosophy of having only used barrels rather than new, lets the fruit shine through, which is sadly not something to be said for all Chardonnays. 

Paringa Estate under the aegis of Lindsay McCall, has its vines planted on an old apple orchard (there must be a soil synergy between vines and apples trees as have found this in South Africa, Chile through to the UK). Disappointed not to be able to try their Riesling, but the Estate Pinot Noir ’15 was very appealing, slightly smoky, with enticing black cherries – a textbook tempting example of this precocious variety. The Paringa Pinot Noir '15 was suitably spicy, perhaps from the red volcanic soil that the vineyard is planted on, but certainly showing why it has won a considerable bunch of awards!

Stonier Wines were on my “must taste” list before arriving and with good reason. One of the first pioneers of the region starting in 1978, in this maritime climate, when the elegance of Pinot Noir & cool climate Chardonnay were – how to put this politely – mostly less understood in Oz then they are today! The Stonier Chardy ’17 was bright, with attractive ripe melon notes. The Reserve Chardy ’16 merited the startling tasting note of “weird note of buddleia on the nose” – only a few minutes later did I notice this was due to the slightly overpowering & ill thought out perfume of the lady behind me. The Trio of Pinot Noirs were simply delicious – The Stonier PN ’17 was remarkable quality for their “basic” (sorry!) PN, bright fresh ripe raspberries. Their Reserve PN ’16, fermented in open vats was a hint of mint on the nose, leading into a balsamic savoury character with a longer finish, a leap in quality (reflected quite rightly for that amount of work in the price!). But the outstanding Windmill Vineyards PN 2015 was pure delight. A small harvest for this selection in ’15 nonetheless has given a charming wine full of nuance and will only improve with time in bottle. An outstanding range of wines from Stonier.

The intriguing moniker of the estate Ten Minutes by Tractor was given for the very prosaic (& Aussie!) reason that when it was formed of three family vineyards, which were only 600 seconds away from each other by Tractor! The 10x Chardy ’16 was in football pundit speak – a wine of two halves! The nose was rather unusual but the palate was an explosion of that I can only describe as lemons along with crystallised pineapple (apologies for that being an OTT description but I was using crystallised pineapple in cooking the day before the tasting!). The Estate Chardonnay ’16 was quite broad whilst the Judd Chardonnay from the same vintage was more elegant with white peaches with nice acidity.  Their Pinot Noirs ranged from the very quaffable 10x ’16, through the Estate with a nice hint of spice and finishing on the Coolart Road ’16 which differs dramatically to its two other siblings, being more dark and vegetal. 

Yabby Lake (established 1998), owned by the Kirby family, make some serious Pinot Noirs & Chardonnay. Block 1 Chardonnay from ’12 vintage has a pure linear profile, despite its 5 years of age, it was still vibrant, youthful and a while happily to develop more. Their Red Claw PN is often my “go to” wine on a Tuesday evening after a hard day as it’s easily available in M&S (and good value at about £12 for a wine with this much personality!). Their super experienced winemaker Tom Carson did not seem to mind as I skipped the Red Claw, along to their Block 2 Pinot Noir ’15 which was a true delight to taste, and showed the complexity this wine has achieved since they started the Block programme in 2008 – wonderful layers of spice and fruit, with complexity and potential. It had me dreaming of a plate of lamb chops grilled on a BBQ of vine cuttings!

The very first Mornington Peninsular Wine I ever tasted (quite a while ago now!) was from the Moorooduc Estate and they did not disappoint on revisiting! Hosted by their charming Wine Maker, Kate McIntyre (not only WM aka Wine Maker but also MW – Master of Wine - only 380 of them in the world). Each wine on show displayed great purity & finesse reflecting their incredible attention to detail in the vineyards. The Pinot Gris ’15 was supple, delicately aromatic and rather refreshing. The McIntyre Chardonnay ’15 from their oldest vines was quite impressive in its lean elegance, but it was when the flight of Pinot Noir began that Unicorns started dancing around the room (metaphorically speaking – I was spitting out of course!). The Estate Pinot Noir ’15 led to my rather simplistic but ultimately unfussy Aussie tasting note of “YES!”.  Lovely ripe red cherries and a touch of liquorice.  The McIntyre PN ’15 ticked every box, supple but present tannin, rich balsamic notes and just needed a roast goose topped with Chinese Five Spice! But it was the Robinson PN ’15 (which had been my first MP experience all those years ago!) which stole the whole tasting. When a wine sings as well as this in the glass and all the elements are so well married, I find it hard (or even pointless?) to say it has notes of this or that. Just let it be said that if you are a Pinot Lover, you need to get some of this in your cellar now, by whatever means necessary!

Before tasting their Syrah (an excellent cool climate example of this variety similar to those coming out of San Antonio in Chile from Casa Marin), I was distracted by their ongoing Pinot Noir project. Five wines to taste from different vineyards – same clone, same vintage (2016), same vinification, the only difference is vineyard location. Fascinating to taste side by side – ranging from smooth & velvety, through to raspberry jam (without the stickiness of negative connotations), some Lapsang Suchong notes – each vineyard had something different to say. But if you were in a blind tasting, you’d want to encounter the McIntyre PN ’16 – instantly recognisable by an explosion of Eucalyptus. Apparently the vineyards are harvested in three tranches, and the section closest to the tree line, always given that dominant mint aroma, which was followed up with deep blueberry notes – heaven! A truly awesome range of wines from a world class producer. By the way - If you struggle to remember this Aboriginal name of the estate, you could always try Kate’s rather tongue in cheek helpful tip – just imagine a Cow, a Kangaroo and a Duck in a line!

I’m off to New Zealand in a few weeks, taking clients on tour around 16 wineries on North & South Island, and my return flight touches down in Melbourne. After this tasting, I am seriously plotting as to how can change my flight to fit in a few days in Mornington Peninsula! Not least because Aussie friends keep raving about the food there as well!

If like me, Pinot Noir seduces and excites you, do check out the Pinot Celebration Australia in February 2019 – a real festival of Pinot Noirs not only from Oz but around the world paired with some great foods.


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Dry January – No Thanks!

Like so many people, for the last 18 years, I’ve subscribed to the concept of no wine or any other alcoholic drinks during the first month of the year. This somewhat misguided and often boring theory springs from that Calvinistic ethos of the dreaded “New Year’s Resolution”. But this year, I’ve decided on a new approach – let me introduce you to DLDBDI. This not so snappy acronym stands for:

Drink Less

Drink Better

Drink Interesting

Whilst none of us deny that having a few alcohol free days a week is good for our health – a month of abstinence has no real virtue if come 1st February, the top comes off (and stays off!)  the Silent Pool Gin and there is a sudden drought of Fever Tree tonic in your local Waitrose!

As every February, I will be visiting the vineyards of Chile & Argentina for a couple of weeks, a spell of healthiness beforehand is no bad idea – but this year, I’m changing January to make it more balanced!

“Dry” January of course comes with certain caveats. It’s a month with lots of trade wine tastings – and as that is technically work, it does not truly count.  Certainly it will be mostly spitting with hundreds of wines on display at each tasting – but there are always the absolute stars of the tasting which is would be sacrilegious to spit out!  Also, there are the two “Joker Cards” to play during the month . Experience has shown that these can save one’s sanity during this tough month – I had to attend a Christening once during a Dry month – following a rather odd  Happy-Clappy Church Service,  a glass of Fino would have been most welcome – and a chilled glass of Lime & Soda did not cut the mustard!  Don’t get me wrong - the people at the church were lovely and welcoming but song sheets that appeared as in a pantomime and getting members of the congregation to hold up pictures of sheep was a little bemusing!  Plus of course, there is 25th January for Burns Night – tantalising close to the end of the month – until you remember there are 31 days in January! And how is one supposed to toast the Haggis without a glass of Laphroaig to hand!

So, I’m paying more attention to what I drink in January and making a concerted effort to make it more interesting.  Drink Better is a relative concept – we all have different price levels of what we consider acceptable to pay for an everyday mid week bottle of wine, so you might just prefer to drink less wine this month but spend the same amount on fewer bottles and upgrade your choice. Given the base percentage of what makes up the retail price of a bottle of wine  - the duty, tax, bottle, cork or screw cap, distribution etc all are roughly the same on a bottle of wine that costs £4.99 as one that costs £9.99,  before you even take into account the cost of the actual wine. So it makes sense to spend that bit extra and you get more actual wine for your money!

But Drink Interesting is even more key to the idea behind DLDBDI . In the UK, we are so fortunate with wines from around the world so easily available. So why not put aside your default grape variety or wine country – and look out for wines from countries that you do not normally consider. Why not try Morocco, Slovenia or Moldova? But also in the classic countries, look out for different grape varieties, try Lagrein from Sud Tyrol, Encruzado from Portugal or Nero D’Avola from Puglia.

Or perhaps try out a new style of wine. January is the perfect month with its depressing grey drizzly days to (re)- discover the delights of Sherry and Madeira. Not wines on everyone’s radar, which is such a shame as they are great value for the time devoted to producing them.  There is a sherry for every occasion from bone dry Fino through to delicious sticky PX (perfect simple dessert when poured over Vanilla ice cream!) and who could fail to enjoy a warming glass of Madeira after a hard day in front of a computer  – perhaps a Bual with all its notes of marmalade and hazelnuts with a handful of almonds to hand (well they are a so called superfood!).

Or simply, change your wine buying habits! So often wine simply becomes just another thing on the shopping list at the supermarket (not always a bad thing – M&S currently have some very interesting wines) – but there is a plethora of Independent Wine Merchants in the UK who stock wines from lesser known regions, smaller producers and have the staff to make your choice an informed one – and often will have something open to taste as well! So search out your local Indie Wine Merchant and be daring in your choices – Drink Interesting! I’ll be posting some ideas for you on twitter throughout the month - And when you find something that really tickles your taste buds, do share it with me on twitter under the hashtag #DLDBDI

Dry January – No Thanks! Drink Less – Drink Better – Drink Interesting!

Wines Of Chile

If someone mentions Chile – what image does this evoke for you? Rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, icy glaciers in deepest Patagonia, Lakes & Volcanoes, the Atacama Desert or the enigmatic statues of Easter Island? Whichever, it’s a safe bet that the picture that leaps to mind was not a swelteringly hot room in achingly trendy and hipster Shoreditch in London! But this week saw the brilliant Wines of Chile tasting with over 400 wines available to try in that very spot!

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the vineyards of Chile every year for almost the past twenty years, and more than any other wine region of the world, it has been fascinating to follow its startlingly quick changes. Not only from North with vineyards in the Atacama Desert to the cool climate South of Malleco, but also the re- evaluation of already planted areas from the coastal regions to the Andes foothills.  Each time that I visit, there seems to be a new region that has been added to the Chilean Wine Map and that makes the Chilean wine scene very exciting.

The hottest day of September for 50 years is not the ideal atmosphere for wine tasting – the refreshing Pisco Sours (a typical Chilean aperitive) were beckoning – but whilst great for the soul and relaxation, they not ideal for the palate – so onwards to the 52 winery stands.

There was no way that each stand could be visited before I melted, so I skipped (with regret)  several of the wine estates that I know  well such as Carmen, Santa Rita, Luis Felipe Edwards.  Below is just a selection of the wines I tasted.

Errazuriz, one of the oldest of Chile’s wine estates founded in 1870, were showing an excellent range showing how their wines have developed with the sub division of Aconcagua and Aconcagua Costal. These are always textbook wines – and a great producer for those who want to start to learn more about Chilean wines – especially as they are widely available in the UK.  As always the Costal Sauvignon Blanc showed well,   but no surprise that the Don Max Founders Reserve with its Cab, Malbec, Carmenere, Petit Verdot remains one of their signature wines. But more interesting, was to taste the wines of Vina Arboleda, the personal estate of Eduardo Chadwick (owner of Errazuriz). Started in 1999, the estate concentrates not only on their wines but also on maintaining the bio diversity of the Aconcagua Valley, protecting flora & fauna.  Their coastal Chardonnay was a good balance of acidity as well as good oak management giving just enough vanilla to marry the minerality.  Their Syrah also showed well with good freshness and lovely dark fruits.

The Limari Valley is to the north of Santiago, and Vina Tabali is located in the delightfully named Enchanted  Valley, and their labels taken from the images of the original indigenous Molle & Diaguita people. Under the eye of Head Winemaker Felipe Muller, they produce a great range of very mineral, elegant style of wine including their delightful Talinay Pinot Noir, with good savoury character balanced with red fruits, which benefits from the limestone soils and morning mists coming in from the Pacific.

Montes Wines is a personal favourite of mine – having seen the company develop from the early days of Discover Wine based in Curico, to one of the most dynamic and innovative wine producers in the world. Their Montes Alpha range is quite outstanding value for each of the six different varietals – although the great wine making is always there at every level, with the small pinch of a 2nd variety – 10% Merlot in the Alpha Cab, 5% Cab in the Alpha Malbec – which is added to round out the main variety found on the label – which makes for very appealing wines.  The spicy Alpha Malbec is a great blend of fruit from their vineyards in Marchigüe and Apalta, both sub areas of the Colchagua Valley. Another project is Outer Limits, where the wines are made from extreme vineyards – either very close to the sea, planted at 45 degrees slope (mountain goats required for picking!) or from old vines such as their old vine Cinsault planted in the Southern Itata region on unirrigated land. Their Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc from the Zapalla vineyards just 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean, a is a revelation on the nose, recalling the first explosive Kiwi SB’s of 20 years ago, before so much mediocre Kiwi SB flooded the market (Don’t shout in dismay, there  are  of course  some stellar NZ Sauv Blancs out there but just many forgettable ones as well). But my last wine of the tasting was a treat to myself – no spitting allowed for one of  their Icon wines - Montes Purple Angel  - mainly Carmenere with a pinch of Petit Verdot – at 2013 it is tasting stunningly now with black fruit, spice and lushness but will happily develop for years still to come.  Pure heaven in a glass.

Vina Ventisquero is a name that has been on my radar but never had opportunity to visit – so this was a great opportunity to taste their wines. One of the key features was the knowledge and passion of the stand’s host, Janina Doyle – whose energy in explaining their wines seemed endless. Just what was needed as my palate was fading by the time I reached their stand. Two wines revived me quite quickly – one decidedly unique (with no hint at hyperbole at use of that word) white wine is Tara –a Chardonnay from the Atacama Desert. Grown on rootstock chosen to combat the high level of salinity of the vineyards, this is a very particular wine and not to everyone’s taste starting with its cloudiness along with a saltiness on the palate that I can see would marry well with Chilean Sea Bass Ceviche – quite individual. In the red corner was Pangea, Syrah from the Colchagua Valley but with a twist in that their winemaker, Felipe Tosso has been joined by John Duval to work together on this project. Sound familiar? He should as John Duval was winemaker at Penfolds for almost 30 years – and has bought all his Syrah experience from working on that Iconic wine, Grange to Chile. Pangea was wonderful with notes of garrigue and lavender followed up with wonderful spice.

Marchigüe is a sub region of the Colchagua region off to the West and is a great source of premium fruit – so I was interested to taste at the Vinedos Marchigüe stand. Owned by the Errazuriz Ovalle family, they have substantial vineyard holdings (some in Curico as well).  They have traditionally sold a lot of wine for the own label market, so their name is not that well known (yet). So it was good to taste their Reserve wine – retailing between £10 - £15, their Sauvignon Blanc was zingy and refreshing, the Carmenere was well balanced – an un-showy and restrained example of this key Chilean grape variety. But like so many other stands at the tasting, it was their Syrah that really shone – lovely minty almost eucalyptus notes, with good acidity and spicy finish. Good value for that price point.

Valdivieso have vineyards in all almost all the key locations  and this is reflected in the range of wines that they produce under the aegis of their head winemaker Brett Jackson, originally from New Zealand, he is almost native now having worked in Chile since 1994. Whilst they are very well known for their sparkling wines - well they have been making them since 1879! – their single vineyard range are textbook varietals. Interesting to taste the Eclat Vigno from Maule – old vines Carignan & Mouvedre and made in a style that brings to mind old world rather than new.   They also produce one of the most enigmatic wines of Chile – Caballo Loco. Although there is now a Caballo Loco range which selects the best of their grapes from each region – their Syrah from Limari was particularly impressive – but the original Caballo Loco (“Crazy Horse” named after the original winemaker) is rare for red wine in that it has no vintage, grape variety or region declared on the label. This is because very unusually the wine is produced in a system similar to the solera used for sherry – they cross blend about 50% of each harvest,  so that there is a continuation  from edition to edition. Currently on the Number 16 version, its complexity and generosity in the mouth shows how well Chile does world class wines.

Vina Chocalán are based in the Maipo valley, a family owned cellar whose wines were  quite seductive. Their Pinot Noirs from San Antonio showed freshness and good fruit but with concentration as well. The Cabernet Franc was delightful and surprisingly rich and floral with no unripe greenness that sometimes crops up with this variety but the Carmenere Gran Reserva was  sublime. With 85% of Carmenere is blended 8% Cab Sauv, 5% Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, all of which resulted in a very classy wine, with great texture, spice and plums but with an underlying smoothness almost chocolatey –ness  (not sure that  is even a word …..)

Garces Silva Family Vineyards are based in Leyda  and were showing both their simpler range of wines under the Boya label as well as Amayna.  The Boya Pinot Noir was simple with good fruit – uncomplicated and perfect for the weather – one could see why it deservedly won the Decanter award for best Chilean Pinot Noir under £15 earlier this year! But their superior label, Amayna were more interesting – the barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc would be a wine to divide the crowd with the amount of oak showing on the nose but had a much more appealing palate – needs food.  Their Amayna Pinot Noir 2013 was elegantly attractive with a good minerality, slight hint of mint alongside cherries and good length.

Sadly I missed tasting Vina Tamaya whose wines from the Limari valley are stunning (as well as the location which is so beautiful)  -   also Odfjell from Maipo – but thankfully only a few months until my next foray to Chile in the New Year – so I look forward to tasting them in situ.

As well as the trade tasting, the event also is open to consumers and general  wine lovers in the evening – when the party really starts – with Chilean dancers, Pisco Bar and Chilean food on hand as well as those 400 wines to explore – it’s a great way to experience a little bit of Chile here in London! Keep an eye out for next year’s dates on

A great overview of how much Chilean wines has to offer from easy quaffing Sauvignon Blanc perfect for a Tuesday evening, through some impressive and very good value Syrah and of course their Icon wines which would benefit with time in the bottle – so  buy some of these wines such as Purple Angel,  Folly or Caballo Loco, stash a few bottles away in your cellar and be prepared to reap the rewards of treating these top wines with the same respect as more traditional Old World wines. Chile has something at every retail price so get exploring!

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