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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