Mornington Peninsula Wineries – Top Ten
Mornington Peninsula is part of what has become known as the dress circle of wine regions around Melbourne in Victoria (along with Macedon, Geelong and the Yarra Valley). Like most of these surrounding regions, a number of varieties excel but none more so than the Burgundians – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some of Australia’s best examples of both are found here.
The universal problem with any Top Ten list is that if you are asked for the same list the following day, there is every chance that it will change. A Top Ten list of Mornington Peninsula wineries is tough enough to compile in the first place, but every time I find ten with which I am happy, I think of a few more deserving of a place. So before we get into the top ten, here are some cracking wineries, all worth visiting and definitely worth drinking – Port Phillip Estate, Dexter, Polperro, Quealy, Scorpo, Elgee Park, Montalto, Willow Creek, Dromana, T’Gallant, Crittenden Estate, Ocean Eight and Principia. And that doesn’t include ‘outsiders’ who source fruit from the region, such as William Downie. If you ask me tomorrow, half of these are just as likely to be on my list. And I’ll have thought of a few more.
Pinot Noir seems especially at home on the Peninsula, though there are very different styles. They range from fragrantly elegant to rich, full-flavoured, complex efforts. The cooler sub-regions tend to the softer tannins with gentle red fruits, cherries, strawberries and raspberries. The warmer sub-regions are giving Pinot that is more tannic with darker fruits, not least plums. Chardonnay can be wonderfully complex with great intensity and a lingering persistence. Alluring, supple texture and with citrus and stonefruit notes. They also have the knack of ageing extremely well, which must be partly attributed to the high level of natural acidity found in the ripe grapes. Malolactic fermentation is the rule. It appears that the Peninsula is one of the better regions for Pinot Gris and even some stunning Shiraz.
The sub-regions are, at this stage, unofficial and commonly referred to as ‘down the hill’, which is more northerly, and ‘up the hill’, the more southerly. The ‘north’ includes places such as Main Ridge, Red Hill and Moorooduc and sits at the higher altitudes.
Altitude ranges between 25 and 250 metres above sea level. The seasonal rainfall sits between 12 and 15 inches. So much surrounding water ensures a maritime climate. This maritime influence may mitigate any serious climate change that may occur in the forthcoming years to a degree, but the ultimate impact remains to be seen.
The wines listed here are not all current vintages (some are) but all are recent and most should still be found if you search hard or check cellar door. In no particular order…
Stonier Wines was founded by Brian Stonier, back in 1978, which surely grants it elder status, but it remains a vibrant, relevant and important winery for the region. And one continually making excellent wines, especially their various Pinot Noirs. With almost 70 hectares either under ownership (these days, ownership is with Lion) or under their management, they are one of the more serious players in the district.
Stonier is famous for their annual International Pinot Noir Tasting (SIPNOT) which pits their own offering against the best from around the globe, all tasted blind, of course. It is rare that their wine is not one of the cheapest in the tasting and even more rare that theirs is not considered one of the very best.
KBS Chardonnay 2013 ($45). A style with 50% malolactic fermentation, this is very much a youthful wine. An appealing mix of mineral and citrus notes, especially grapefruit. Has some underlying power and richness and it maintains intensity throughout, with a long finish. A full-flavoured yet balanced Chardonnay. Like it a lot. 93.
Main Ridge Estate
A small but universally admired and much loved estate, Main Ridge Estate was one of the very first wineries in the district. Established by civil engineer and world’s nicest guy, Nat White, and his wife, Rosalie, back in 1975, it is a mere 2.8 hectares. All fruit used come from the estate, so it is immediately obvious that quantities will be limited. This wine is one of the very last made by Nat as the property has finally been sold. There will be a lot of winelovers with an eye on the place to see if standards are maintained but so far the new owners, the Sexton family, are saying all the right things. Mind you, if anyone has ever had a bad word about anything to do with this wonderful tiny winery, I’m yet to hear it. There’d be few critics not have it firmly ensconced in their Top Ten for all Australia.
Choice of wine? It really could be pretty much anything made here. They never miss a beat.
Chardonnay 2014 ($65)
100% wild yeast fermentation, malolactic and barrel fermentation in new and one-year-old Sirogue. This is an exciting Chardonnay. Offers nuts, ripe peach pit notes, grilled cashews. There is depth and intensity with a wonderfully supple texture. Bright acidity sits under waves of flavours. Excellent persistence, indeed, serious length. This is youthful but offers an exciting future. Should drink well for a decade. 95.
Part of a Pinot empire, which it forms with Port Phillip Estate, and under the gifted hand of Sandro Mosele, Kooyong is about to enter its third decade. In that time, it has established a well-deserved reputation as Pinot royalty. The stars of the range are the three single vineyard offerings – Haven, Meres and Ferrous – but there are numerous wines to love. They have some 40 hectares, the majority devoted to Pinot Noir with a significant section to Chardonnay.
‘Ferrous’ Pinot Noir 2012 ($75). A dense, complex Pinot with an array of characters – gunflint, warm earth, animal hides and dark berries. A gentle and receding oak influence. Finely balanced and delightfully aromatic. Juicy acidity, silky tannins and impressive length. A complex, yet elegant Pinot with time ahead of it. Much to like here. 95.
Yabby Lake Vineyard
Serious winemaking and wines reside here. Established in the late 90s by Robert Kirby, this 50-plus hectare estate is a shrine to Pinot Noir, though of course, they do other varieties, and rather well, of course. Right from the early days, one of our best young winemakers (well, he was young then), Tom Carson, has been in control. As group winemaker, he also looks after their Heathcote Estate. Perhaps the ultimate accolade for this winery came recently, when, for the first time ever, a Pinot Noir won Australia’s most coveted wine trophy, the Jimmy Watson. The wine was the Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012.
Why this wine? Because 2011 was a rather ordinary vintage across so much of Australia and if you can make a wine like this in a poor year, it gives a glimpse into the massive potential of this producer.
Mornington Peninsula ‘Single Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2011 ($60)
The extra time has given this wine a slightly red/brown edge. This has an array of spice notes, animal hides, gamey touches. Some delightful complexity. A long, gentle and pleasing finish. This is one of the least ‘New World’ style Pinots you’ll find in the Mornington Peninsula. 93
The focus of this winery in the Red Hill sub-region is very much on Pinot Noir, though David Lloyd also produces one of the country’s more interesting Gamays. Sadly, David’s very popular wife, Wendy, passed away a few years ago. She was an integral part of the Estate but after some time, David is back and focusing on his fascinating wines. Eldridge is always tinkering and experimenting, often in cahoots with the team at Paradigm Hill. The wines tend to the subtle end of the spectrum, elegance rather than brute force. The vines are some of the oldest in the region.
Pinot Noir 2014 ($60)
Bright and fresh. This is quite a vibrant style with delicious cherry flavours and also notes of cherry pits. The first impression is of a pretty wine, but it is soon apparent that there is much more to it than that. Gentle fresh acidity. Good persistence. Delicious now and for the next few years. 93.
Lindsay McCall has operated Paringa for more than three decades and in that time, gained an international reputation for superb wines. Aside from 4.2 hectares at the estate, they have leased a further 13 hectares to cover requirements. There are several levels of quality, though the wines at all strata both excel and represent excellent value. One curiosity is that they make, in this adopted home to the Burgundian varieties, one of the country’s best Shiraz.
This is a must-visit on any trip to the region. They understand the tasting process perfectly, making it a really pleasurable experience. Add to that, an absolute superb restaurant.
A regional icon.
The Paringa’ Pinot Noir 2009 ($90).
Paringa Estate may be even more famous for their Shiraz (partly because it is a stunner and partly because they have mastered a grape that has seen others struggle in this region) but they have a number of Pinots, all worth a look. This is the pinnacle of them. From a thirty-year-old vineyard (old for here), there is power and richness in abundance. Black fruits, spices, coffee bean and dark berry notes here. All kept well in check. Great length. Something special and with an exciting future ahead. Already exhibiting complexity and with more to come. Notwithstanding the power and concentration here, it retains surprising elegance. 96.
Ruth and George Mihaly moved from successful careers in food and medical research respectively (their paradigm shift) to establish their small winery at Merricks. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Shiraz are all grown, but it is the Pinot Noir where the real excitement lies.
One thing worth knowing about George’s labels is that he provides more information than possibly any other winery in the world. If you can think of a question about his wines, he has already answered it, probably down to several decimal points. Neither George nor Ruth have completely left their former careers behind – Ruth is undoubtedly one of the best cooks in the region and George can’t help researching every tiny aspect of his vineyard and winery. It all leads to better and better wines.
‘L’ami sage’ Pinot Noir 2012 ($65). The work done by George and his team have been rewarded as their recent wines show a finer texture, more elegance and better balance than ever before. This wine has some coffee grind and briary touches, spices and cherry notes. Good structure and silky tannins with some early complexity. The more time in the glass, the more it opened up to reveal glory after glory. 94.
Ten Minutes by Tractor
If there was one word I’d associate with this curiously named estate, it would be ‘professionalism’. Everything is done immaculately. And the wines have never been better. Established back in the 90s, there are three vineyards totalling around 35 hectares. And, needless to say, they are around ten minutes by tractor from each other. The attention to detail that Martin Spedding and his team have exhibited for so long, in every aspect of viticulture and winemaking, is being rewarded with a long string of some of the most exciting wines, not just in the region but across the country. Toss in a superb restaurant with a wine list that many Three Starred establishments would bow down before and this is, put simply, one of our best.
One small pea under the mattress – they have crossed to the dark side and do produce a Sauvignon Blanc. For me, a waste of prized vineyard that could be devoted to something so much more rewarding.
‘Wallis’ Chardonnay 2012 ($65). I find the Chardonnay from this vineyard to be slightly more elegant and refined than that from the McCutcheon Vineyard, but always happy to drink either. This offers oodles of lemon pie notes, freshly baked. Florals, notably jasmine. A wine that lingers beautifully. Excellent length, balance and intensity. Good future. seriously impressive Chardonnay. Love it. The fans of white Burgundy may scoff but given that the famous region has had so many problems over the last decade or two, why would anyone risk a small fortune on a bottle that is often little more than a pig-in-a-poke when you can have a wine like this. Great value. 96.
Dr Richard McIntyre established this very popular estate back in 1983, but it is in the last decade that it has really stepped up to its current status as one of the very finest wineries in the region. Whether that is because of the move to wild yeast fermentation, the greater involvement of daughter, Kate (an MW), a revision of grape sourcing, increased vine age and/or winemaking expertise, or a combination of these factors hardly matters. Top of their tree (top Duc, if you like) is ‘The Moorooduc McIntyre’. Follow this estate. The wines are already superb but they are only heading for greater heights in the coming years. And they are seriously good value.
‘The Moorooduc’ McIntyre Pinot Noir 2013 ($65)
Stunning wine. Has depth and complexity. Darker fruits to be found here. Spices, plums, black fruits, leather. A delightful mix of fragrant elegance and coiled power. Great length. Very fine tannins. Youthful. Terrific now, just fabulous drinking, but this will be a seriously fine wine with more time. Impeccable balance. This wine has some of that elusive peacock’s tail, the explosion of flavours on its finish. Love it.96.
One might think that working as a Judge on the Victorian Supreme Court might occupy all of His Honour, Mr Justice Kevin Bell’s time but he and his wife, Tricia Byrnes, a senior solicitor herself, also managed to develop a high quality Pinot Noir winery and vineyards, with the wines improving almost every vintage. Although only a tiny property, there are a several releases. The ‘Garamond’ is especially highly regarded, but ‘Lodestone’ and ‘Hommage’ are also popular. There is an ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir, as well. These are wines much in demand – a situation that is only likely to increase.
Corks, or more specifically Diam stoppers, are used, as opposed to the almost universal adoption of screwcaps, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Garamond’ Pinot Noir 2013 ($85)
Fresh, with spices. Lovely raspberry and red fruit notes. Beautifully balanced, it maintains its intensity for a very long time. Promises an excellent future. Supple and delicious. It would be very hard to stop at a single glass of this wine. Very silky tannins, with underlying fresh acidity. A joy now and a wine that will be even better in time. 95.