Striking a fine balance: Mornington Peninsula’s cool maritime climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs
In recent years, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Mornington Peninsula have really excited not just me, but also consumers to whom I’ve shown the wines. A small region, located an hour’s south of Melbourne, its 61 wineries focus on quality over quantity and, with a ready market on its doorstep, we see only a handful of its wines in the UK.
More’s the pity because, as I discovered when I visited in September, this is serious fine wine country. Credentials which have been reinforced by Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V, released the day before my visit, in which Mornington Peninsula is represented for the first time.
Given that the classification is based on track record in the secondary market and two of the three wines which make the cut are Pinot Noirs, a notoriously sensitive variety, that’s quite a coup for this relatively young region. The first “commercial” winery, Main Ridge Estate, was only founded in 1975. Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir joins Langtons’ second tier Excellent Category, as does Paringa Estate’s The Paringa Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, while The Paringa Single Vineyard Shiraz makes the cut for the Distinguished category.
So what’s the key to Mornington Peninsula’s success with Pinot Noir, which accounts for nearly 50% of plantings? First and foremost, climate. Surrounded by Port Phillip Bay, Western Port Bay and Bass Strait, sea breezes and a southerly latitude (38) account for a Pinot-friendly cool yet moderated maritime climate. Even more friendly these last 10 years or so when climate change has seen warmer, kinder conditions.
Second, the people. As Michael Hill-Smith MW pointed out during the Landmark Tutorial, “none of Australia’s great Pinots come from large companies,” rather they’re made by “true believers…people who live and breathe Pinot.” And in true Aussie style, Mornington Peninsula’s Pinot obsessives are ferocious learners, keen to share their knowledge and experience and learn from others, hence the region’s biennial International Pinot Noir Celebration, the fifth of which will be held next year.
The event is organised by the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association (MPVA) and, while it might be said that use of the word vignerons is pretentious, I think it sits very comfortably with Hill-Smith’s point – this is a region dominated by growers who also make wine rather than sell their grapes to the big boys. There is an intense connection with land and site which finds eloquent expression in the consistently high quality and exciting stylistic diversity of the region’s Pinot Noirs.
As David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate puts it, “the styles of wine vary from light, elegant Chambolle to richer, darker fruited Gevrey.” Part of the explanation is that cool winds hit one side of the Mornington Peninsula and not the other. Some vineyards are higher than others. Soils vary too, ranging from red volcanic to sedimentary duplex yellow, brown duplex and sandier clay loam.
At any rate, with this happy combination of factors and increased vine age, through meticulous attention to detail in the vineyard (site/clonal selection, canopy management) and in the winery, the region’s best producers are demonstrating how to realise the full potential of Pinot Noir. And here I borrow some words from Nat White of Main Ridge Estate (who was referring to his vineyard) – “intense human intervention in the vineyard has enabled minimal intervention in the winery and natural yeasts and bacteria have been utilised to enhance the site characteristics.” I didn’t visit Main Ridge Estate, but the statement was just as applicable to others whom I visited and, for that matter, to Chardonnay as well as Pinot Noir which Moorooduc’s Richard McIntyre said gets good natural acidity and ripe flavours across the peninsula, in contrast to the citrus, sometimes herbal, quality of early picked Yarra Valley Chardonnays. My feeling was the Chardonnays obtain good flavour ripeness and with good natural acidity and restrained use of oak, find their own shape. Classy Pinot Gris and Shiraz are also made.
As usual, I’ve only written up the highlights of my visit below so, although I visited Stonier and tasted Pinot Noirs at Red Hill Estate and more widely at Paringa, other wines are not included because, though solid and well made, they just lacked the lift and finesse of others.
My first stop, Moorooduc Estate, played host to a tasting of wines from neighbouring Moorooduc producers, Jones Road, Yabby Lake, also the wines of Ten by Tractor and Eldridge Estate.
Moorooduc Estate (6.5 hectares) was established in 1981 by Dr Richard McIntyre, who told me he’s on the cusp of giving up the day job as a surgeon some 30 years later! I wondered aloud about the patients but he reassured me that he “takes a month off” at harvest. Recently, he’s been joined by his daughter, Kate McIntyre, who just qualified as a Master of Wine, the region’s first. The pair bring their formidable intellectual curiosity to bear on the art and science of winemaking.
For example, McIntyre admits that, in the past, he perhaps searched for more length and intensity than was appropriate in young vines. Then, he picked too ripe and used too much new oak; today he picks earlier (also because the seasons have advanced) and uses less new oak. Fruit is chilled before pressing and McIntyre uses a “Heath Robinson tower of power” to transfer the must by gravity rather than a (more aggressive) pump. An extra dimension comes from the use of wild yeast across the board, obviating the need to label his top Chardonnay Wild Yeast. Unlike some, wines undergo a malolactic fermentation, but McIntyre doesn’t induce it. He explains it’s all about “limited intervention to show terroir.”
Moorooduc Estate Robinson Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 – a rich, textured nose and palate with creamy fruit salad and hints of nougat. Though powerful, it’s long in mouth thanks to its elegant acidity. Very good. (Older and head grafted Burgundy clones here).
Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 – a more shapely, curvaceous wine, Meursault-like, with a buttery, nutty quality to its white peach. Lovely palate weight and richness with well integrated acidity once again providing balance and harmonious length. Very good. (A mix of Davis and Penfolds clones)
Moorooduc Estate The Moorooduc Chardonnay 2008 – McIntyre vinifies individual vineyard parcels and this wine is a blend of the cream of the crop (typically older vine material) from the McIntyre and Robinson vineyards, this vintage yet to be released. It shows a limpid, complex nose and palate with a seductive silky, buttery texture. As it opens up in the glass, the emphasis is very much off the fruit and on secondary aromas and flavours (hazelnut and dried honey). A gentle hum of acidity accounts for a long, vital finish edged with dried honey. Very good.
Moorooduc Estate Robinson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – mostly the MV6 clone with Burgundy’s Dijon clone 777, this has great pulling power, drawing you in with a spicy, slightly brooding nose. In the mouth, it shows an impressive girth of spicy cassis, plum and sweet red cherry, checked by a ripe but palpable chassis of tannin. Very attractive now, but plenty yet to give. Very good.
Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – mostly Davis clones with some MV6. A deeper colour with a brighter, fresher nose and well-defined, red fruited palate with strawberry, red cherry and an ever so subtle hint of mint. Seemingly quite simple at the get go, but the finish is another story as the tannins exert themselves, making for an extended finish, which builds in the mouth. Again, eminently broachable now, but there’s a lithe long distance runner about this one. Very good.
Moorooduc Estate The Moorooduc Pinot Noir 2008 – mmm, lovely lift, life, intensity and complexity to this floral, sous bois and liquorice spice edged beauty. A long thread of fine tannins provides the structural underpinning and suggests this will provide many even happier years ahead. Gorgeous.
Moorooduc Estate The Moorooduc Pinot Noir 2004 – a ripe rich quality to the nose, query some overripeness here? It’s plush, powerful, dark and spicy (lovely five spice/incense) on the palate with muscular tannins to match. Good structure if a bit loud for my taste.
Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Shiraz 2008 – a deep colour, peppery with good freshness, succulent dark briary fruit, blackcurrant and chalky tannins. Good but not at the same level as the Pinots.
Ten Minutes By Tractor
TMBT derives its name from 3 vineyards, each owned by the founding families and 10 minutes apart from each other. In 2004, businessman Martin Spedding bought TMBT, entering into long-term leases with the families to secure the fruit and, since 2008, fruit is also sourced from the younger Spedding Vineyard. The wines are made by Richard McIntyre at Moorooduc Estate.
David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate wasn’t at the tasting because he was overseas, but he’d emailed me beforehand to give me a heads up on the region. By way of illustration of its diversity, he happened to contrast the wines of Moorooduc Estate’s McIntyre vineyard (100m) with those of Ten Minutes by Tractor’s Wallis vineyard (120m). Though they have the same winemaker, the stamp of terroir is readily apparent. Aside from a slightly higher elevation, the Wallis vineyard is exposed to cool Bass Strait winds that only hit one side of the Peninsula, not the other (where Moorooduc is based). In consequence, the difference in harvest dates between the two sites is 19 days when averaged over 12 years.
Ten Minutes By Tractor Chardonnay Wallis Vineyard 2008 – planted to Davis clones, it’s less rich on the nose than the Moorooduc, with a freshness and savoury, even earthy quality to the nose. In the mouth its shows very intense, lingering white peach fruit with dried honey and a savoury/mineral tang to the finish.
Ten Minutes By Tractor Chardonnay Wallis Vineyard 2006 – A little buttery on the nose but nonetheless, a clear-eyed quality about it. Ripe nectarine and white peach flesh out a backbone of citrussy acidity, making for a long, lingering finish.
Ten Minutes By Tractor Chardonnay McCutheon Vineyard 2008 – from a higher site, this is also made from Davis clones. It doesn’t do a full malo and, though leesy and savoury, shows more acid drive on the palate.
Ten Minutes by Tractor Judd Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – 100% 115 clone (which McIntyre believes to be the best established of the Burgundy clones), this hails from the coolest, highest vineyard, located at 260m. Pale garnet, it has a lovely lifted violet perfume on nose and palate with a sweet core of cassis, fleshy plum and beetroot supported by ripe tannins. Very good.
Ten Minutes by Tractor McCuthcheon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – MV6 clone, this strikes a different note, showing a herbal/menthol, sandalwood quality on the nose and a meatier, earthier palate with textured tannins threading through its plum fruit. Needs time but shows plenty of promise.
Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – my pick of the bunch, this has terrific poise and complexity, with lifted five spice and savoury beetroot on the nose. The palate is vibrant yet focused with well-defined red and black fruits shot through with five spice and beautifully supported by a fine spine of tannin. Very long, with a cool tang of clay on the finish.
Established by the Kirby family in 1998, Yabby Lake’s 40ha vineyard includes 21ha of Pinot Noir and 10ha of Chardonnay. Tom Carson, who delivered last week’s presentation on Pinot Noir at the Landmark Tutorial, is Chief Winemaker. Carson, who has regularly worked in Burgundy, forged a reputation for Pinot Noir at Yering Station after working with the variety at Tim Knappstein and Coldstream Hills.
Viticulturist, Keith Harris, who has been at Yabby Lake from the outset presented the wines. Wines labelled Yabby Lake are made from single vineyard estate fruit while the Red Claw range (named after a Queensland yabby, a freshwater crayfish) includes bought in fruit. For Chardonnay, Carson’s approach is to pick on acid levels (around 7g/l), not sugar, prevent the malolactic fermentation (which brings softer, creamy notes) and age the wines in large format oak barrels. In consequence, the wines are far more linear than in the past.
Yabby Lake Vineyard Red Claw Chardonnay 2008 – a natural fermented wine, pale and gently creamy/leesy with custard apple on nose and palate. Well done.
Yabby Lake Vineyard 2008 – Mendoza and the old Penfolds with some new Burgundy Bernard clones. According to Harris, the Mendoza (Western Australia’s gin gin clone) is naturally low yielding, while the Penfolds clone is very citric. A tight, fresh nose with a hint of struck match/flint. In the mouth it shows surprisingly succulent fruit – lychees and melon – with a savoury, leesy tang and texture. Long in the mouth, it makes it own shape…Very good.
Yabby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – the vineyard is planted to MV6, Pommard and Bernard clones and attains a shy yield at under 5t/ha. Pale and quite skeletal in form, with quite firm, mineral tannins, fresh acidity and bright but as yet tightly furled red fruits with an edge of spice. It may be pale as yet but it’s definitely interesting – excellent potential, give it a year or two to open up a little and watch it keep going.
Jones Road Estate
Jones Road Estate was established by the Frewer family in 1997 at Somerville on The Mornington Peninsula overlooking Westernport Bay. Wines are made by Travis Bush at Sticks Winery in the Yarra Valley.
Jones Road Pinot Gris 2009 – my first Pinot Gris of the visit and a good start, with a hint of pink to its hue and lots of interest and texture on the palate. It shows bright naschi pear, nice freshness with richness and texture, sweeter hints of banana and angelica, then a minerality to the finish. Rob Frewer tells me its aged in old oak, naturally fermented, which ferment stopped where it found its own natural balance at 3g/l residual sugar. (Loam over sand with clay underneath).
Jones Road Estate The Nepean Chardonnay 2009 – a lean, fresh style of Chadonnay with fruit salad; no need to acidify here. Well done.
Jones Road Estate Pinot Noir 2008 – Frewer makes three Pinot Noirs, Junior Jones (part tank aged to put the emphasis on Mornington Peninsula’s bright fruit), this wine, a blend of 3 vineyards which is aged in 1-3 year old oak and the single vineyard The Nepean which sees quite a high percentage of new oak. Garnet, with a savoury and sweet nose, the estate wine shows five spice, dark and red fruits with plum, savoury beetroot and textured tannins. Good.
Jones Road The Nepean Pinot Noir 2009 – from a vineyard located only 600m from the water, this has a bright hue and a bright, perfumed nose. In this challenging vintage (a 4-5 day heat spike led to berry scorch and reduced yields) it is well if finely structured with spicy dark/black fruits, perhaps a touch of overripeness in the flavour spectrum – though it retains freshness.
Wendy and David Lloyd purchased Eldridge Estate in 1995. Vines had been planted in 1984 and the Lloyds grafted the latest clones (6 of Pinot Noir and 5 of Chardonnay) to benefit from the existing older root structure of the vines. Their 7 acres vineyard is situated high on the hinterland and exposed to cooling winds from the Bass Strait that keep their heat summation significantly cooler than on the other side of the hinterland.
Eldridge Estate Chardonnay 2006 – a rich, ripe, expressive nose with vanilla oak and dried honey, which notes come through on the palate. Fleshy white peach on the midpalate is deftly balanced by a long thread of citrus acidity.
Eldridge Estate Clonal Blend Pinot Noir 2008 – a lifted, sensual style, very fleshy, with silky, juicy red fruits that gently saturate the palate and build on a long finish, subtly edged with five spice and supported by a fine but present spine of tannin. Very good.
Port Phillip Estate & Kooyong
Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong are sister wineries owned by Giorgio and Dianne Gjergja, the wines made by highly regarded winemaker Sandro Mosele. I was already familiar with Kooyong’s exciting single vineyard and estate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, which are available in the UK (see here for recent tasting notes and for TMBT), but had only once tasted Port Phillip’s wines. Having failed to catch up with Mosele whenever he’s been in the UK, it was good to meet him at last and at Port Phillip Estate. Ironically, he was just back from the UK via Piedmont, of whose wines he is a fan.
Though the wines are made at Kooyong, they’re bottled at Port Phillip Estate which, unusually for this pocket-sized region, has its own bottling line. But as you can see from the photo, the newly designed cellar door and restaurant is built on an impressive scale. Though booked into the restaurant, we opted for the more casual wine bar where Mosele hosted the tasting before we enjoyed a bite to eat.
Before the tasting started, I asked Mosele about the differences between the two estates. He explained that Port Phillip is the cooler site, but its red soils result in a plumper, rounder, more fragrant style than Kooyong, whose vines, planted on low vigour sandy clay soils, are typically harvested a week to 10 days earlier. Kooyong, with its more structured wines, is considered the flagship vineyard, though inevitably, it depends on vintage as to which estate produces the best wines in any given year. The majority of vintages, however, lean towards Kooyong.
Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay 2008 – a lovely nose, mineral with a clay tang as well as flowers and lemon zest. In the mouth, it’s tightly coiled with a backbone of citric acidity, as yet barely fleshed out with applely fruit and lemon zest. A long if tight finish shows hints of dried honey. Mosele doesn’t want his Chardonnays to undergo malolactic fermentation because he sees it as a deacidification tool – he doesn’t want to end up adding tartaric acid, preferring to work with natural acidity. He reckons Farrago needs at least 5 yrs to show at its best and, with effect from this vintage, it’s bottled under screwcap rather than Diam. Mosele expects it to last longer under screwcap and tells me that, now the vines are older (around 15 years old), he believes they have enough palate weight upfront to work with screwcap (not a point I’ve previously picked up on in the closure debate).
Kooyong Chardonnay Estate 2007 – a deeper colour, less aromatic, but much more yielding on the palate with white peach, golden delicious and nougat. Supple acidity brings good definition and persistence; nice wine.
Kooyong Buerrot Pinot Gris 2009 – given the estates’ focus on Burgundy vareties, this Pinot Gris is named Beurrot, which is the synonym for the variety in Burgundy. Though it shows smoky/musky honey and juicy lychee fruit, in common with the estate’s other wines, this has lovely balance and precision. Mosele sees his wines as food companions and with freshness and texture, it has all the right ingredients for the table.
Port Phillip Estate Salasso Syrah Rosé 2010 – pale onion skin in hue, this is a sophisticated, judiciously oxidatively handled savoury, yet gently fruity, textured style with lovely balancing freshness. Mosele suggested it as a companion for my lunch of fresh, buttery linguine with clams, mussels and prawns and it made for a great combination.
Port Phillip Estate Morillon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – the flagship Pinot Noir, in this precocious year, it’s quite fleshy with dark fruits and well supported by powerful but ripe tannins. From 2009, Mosele has fermented it in open-topped 6500 litre foudres which he believes results in a better texture and integration of tannin.
Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir 2008 – a bright hue with a well delineated red-fruited palate with a savoury clay tang and hints of forest floor/dried herbs. Firm, tensile even, tannins and good underlying freshness suggest a long life ahead.
Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir 2009 – bottled around one month previously this foudre fermented Pinot is deeper in colour and shows bright fruit with very perfumed incense spice on the nose. A stylish, floral and incense perfumed palate is defined by crunchy red fruits and refined tannins. It’ll be released in a year; I look forward to tasting it down the track – an exciting wine.
Port Phillip Estate Rimage 2006 – a deep coloured Syrah which, on nose and palate, shows more fruit than oak spice. It sees 100% French oak, with 15-20% new, all larger format 500-600l barrels. As Mosele explains, “when I see that precision and nerve in the wine, it makes sense to make a Syrah style.”
Red Hill Estate
Established in 1989, Red Hill Estate is in the south of Mornington Peninsula, overlooking Western Port Bay; I stayed in Max’s holiday cottage next door which is owned by the chef of the winery’s popular restaurant, Max’s. Given Melbourne’s proximity, the Peninsula is a popular weekend destination which is good for cellar door sales and, as viticulturist Tyson Lewis points out, actually helps the wine region to stay small and beautiful because land prices are high.
Red Hill Estate has 24 acres, mostly planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. The soils are deep, rich, red volcanic loams. Reserve wines come from more elevated sites, sparkling wines from the most exposed sites. A number of vineyards are leased including warmer, more sheltered northerly sites which enable Red Hill to produce a Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Red Hill Estate Blanc de Blancs 2006 – a traditional method 100% Chardonnay fizz aged on the lees for 2 years. Shows nougat, dried honey and autolytic notes on the nose, though it’s pretty tight and austere on the palate, with a bone dry finish. Bring on the oysters!
Red Hill Estate Cellar Release Chardonnay 2008 – fruit comes from the top of the hill, which is a little cooler and planted to Mendoza and Penfolds clones. Quite rich, spicy and oaky but with good freshness and depth of white peach and apricot fruit to balance. Good.
Red Hill Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2008 – cedary oak frames a canvass of rich fruit, with fig and melon. Rich but decent balance too. Good.
Red Hill Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2004 – with a few more years under its belt this shows more tertiary praline notes to its toasty palate with ripe peach and tropical fruits. Well integrated balancing acidity makes for a lingering subtly toasty, cedary finish and this will hold for a couple of years yet.
Red Hill Estate Briars Cabernet 2008 – many producers whom I met said they’d initially planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Most have pulled it out/grafted it over because conditions are too marginal for this late ripening variety. The Briars vineyard is lower and warmer than Red Hill’s own vineyards by a factor of up to 3 degrees centigrade and this put me in mind of a southerly Margaret River Cabernet with its sinewy chocolatey tannins and flavour profile. It has a balsamic, briary nose with blackcurrant. In the mouth it’s juicy with blackberry and currant fruit and an attractive herbaceous edge. A surprising 15%!
The Landmark Tutorial 2010’s opening dinner kicked off with a glass of 2005 Ocean Eight “3gms” Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay, specially hand disgorged for the occasion (it is yet to be released). Taut and razor sharp, with an intense core of lemony, honey tinged fruit, this bone dry fizz made for a suitably appetising, lipsmacking start to the roll call of distinguished and exciting wines that was to follow. In retrospect, it also provided a good indication of what was to follow when I visited Ocean Eight a week later. Young gun winemaker Mike Aylward’s stated aim is to produce “wines that go with food, so wines which have a good acid structure.”
Though Ocean Eight was only established in Shoreham in 2003, owners the Aylward family cut their teeth at Kooyong (see above), which they sold in 2004. So although it’s early days, the philosophy is very clear. Aylward’s love of Burgundy, especially Chablis and Puligny Montrachet, combined with his desire to dispel stereotypes about Australian wines, has seen him chase elegance over fruit expression. Referring to Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay, which is modelled on Chablis, Aylward says he’s looking “to get more flavour out of the lees than the [early picked] fruit itself.”
Compared with other Peninsula wines that I tasted, the wines are fashioned in a leaner style. It makes sense that they’re only distributed to restaurants who can hand sell the wines and communicate this cutting edge style. It will not appeal to everyone, but for those who like their wines tight and focused and are prepared to wait for them to flesh out a bit with age, they’re most definitely worth seeking out.
Pinot Gris is grown at Shoreham on richer soils than the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which come from leaner, sandier soils. Before tasting finished wines, we first tasted barrel samples from the 2010 vintage in the underground cellar (pictured). As always, it’s fascinating to taste component parts of a wine by clone, site etc.
Ocean Eight Pinot Gris 2010 (tank sample) – Pinot Gris is pressed straight into barrel and aged on heavy lees for several months. It’s textured, dry and characterful, showing lychee, flowers and spice. Looking good.
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010 (barrel sample, clone P58) – the Chardonnay comes from 6 acres at Dromana vineyards, planted to 4 clones. Aylward picks early for a citrus/mineral profile. The wine is pressed straight to (old) barrel in the underground cellar by gravity, so minimal handling. Very tight and linear with a lemon and grapefruit drive of acidity.
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010 (barrel sample, clone 96) – though it has a pinpoint sharp steely grapefruit core (Aylward says he picks as soon as he sees this character), it also has a savoury, leesy, creamy texture.
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010 (barrel sample, clone 277) – this (potential) component part shows more fruit, fruit salad and a creamy malolactic note (though in general, Aylward “knocks the malo on the head.”) He says both clone and (quick ripening) site have yet to convince him.
Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2010 (barrel sample, clone 115) – very bright in the glass with violets, wild raspberry and some black cherry. Aylward describes this clone as strong on aromatics, but light in terms of palate weight.
Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2010 (barrel sample, clone 114) – this shows more oak, with smky bacon and chalky tannins. This clone provides texture.
Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2010 (barrel sample, clone MV6) – a deep colour, firmer and tauter with less overt fruit, a savoury, meaty chassis cropped at a teeny tiny 1t/acre. Aylward refers to MV6 as “a hero clone” – it’s very popular and for him, “it’s a really good base…the other clones go on top to get the pretty notes.”
Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2009 – this finished wine was opened the previous night and decanted. It’s quite firm and bony, an elegant style if perhaps a little lean for some, but it shows some MV6 meatiness, subtle chocolate hints, finishing fresh and lifted. Needs time.
Ocean Eight Aylward Pinot Noir 2007 – the flagship wine cropped at 1t/acre, just 80 cases of this. It’s a pale ruby hue and, while very fine, is equally intense with elegant top notes (perfume), a sweet spot of fruit and earthier, mineral hints, including oyster shell. Impressive.
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2008 – like the Aylward, this is pale, intense and very fine, with a tightly etched palate with oyster shell, steely grapefruit as well as hints of dried honey and roast hazelnut. A leesy richness keeps the austerity in check. Very good. Interesting to see how it pans out with time.
Paringa Estate was established in 1985 by school teacher Lindsay McCall (pictured). He gradually planted the 4.2 hecatre estate, giving up the day job in 1995 to focus on it full time. McCall cheerfully admits that, in those early days,“nobody knew what they were doing” – his Cabernet Sauvignon has long since disappeared.
As other pioneers observed during my visit, the climate was trickier back then too. McCall lifted it off the page when he told me that, while he now only sprays sulphur (not herbicides, pesticides etc), until around 10 years ago, “if you didn’t spray, you wouldn’t pick a grape and weeds were a severe problem.”
Today, it’s another story. Paringa is one of Australia’s most awarded estates and its Reserve Pinot Noir and Shiraz have made the cut for Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V. McCall leases 3 other sites, working with fruit from some 20 hectares.
Paringa Estate Riesling 2009 – McCall has 3 acres of Riesling and his 20 year old vines produce a delicate floral, subtly pithy, chalky, dry style which you’d never guess weighs in at 14% abv. Very good.
Paringa Estate Pinot Gris 2008 – quite mineral, textured and delicately spicy with a round but delicate mid-palate of stone fruits/apricot. Good. 14.5% abv
Paringa Estate Viognier 2007 – sound varietal character with lychee, spice hints and juicy pear on a textured palate with crisp acidity on the finish. Well made.
Paringa Peninsula Chardonnay 2008 – lemony, leesy, earthy even with a textured, nutty, savoury spine. It is aged in pre-dominantly older oak. Characterful if a little solid.
Paringa Estate Chardonnay 2007 – rich but muscular too with a developed beurre noisette edge to its fleshy core of stone fruits. Good acidity carries a longish finish. More traditional than others I tasted, but good.
Paringa The Paringa Chardonnay 2008 – this, the flagship Chardonnay, hails from 10 rows in front of the winery. Once again, the style is rich and powerful with custard apple and beurre noisette. A lingering, creamy* finish is extended and kept in check by supple acidity. Very good. (* McCall doesn’t sulphur his wines until racking and allows his wines to undergo (or not) the malolactic fermentation naturally.
Paringa Peninsula Pinot Noir 2009 – McCall likes his wines structured – “I like Burgundy” – and the baby Pinot Noir has more oomph than most. Aged in mostly older barrels, it’s about fruit and fruit tannins, not oak. Bright and deeply coloured, it possesses a good core of dark, cinnamon edged fruits supported by textured, suede tannins. Very good.
Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2008 – McCall forged his reputation on this wine, which he first made in 1990. Referring to how his Pinot Noir’s tannins have become more structured with vine age, he says the French call the vines babies until they’re 25 years’ old on which basis, his vines are just starting to hit their straps! Good going because, again, there’s no shortage of structure here, which McCall attributes to his lyre trellis (pictured) and cropping at 2t/acre maximum. Textured, pithy tannins cradle well defined red and black berry, cherry and plum fruit with ample spice (this wines sees around 40-50% new French oak). Firmly structured and intensely flavoured, it’s a rough diamond compared with some of the silkier wines I’ve tasted. For McCall, it’s partly about the soils too. Paringa Estate’s rich, red volcanic soils add structure while the vineyards on lighter sedimentary soils are lighter in style.
Paringa Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 – with vine age, McCall has been able to pick the eyes out of the vineyard and this wine is made for the long haul, so unsurprising that it’s made the cut for Langton’s which is based on performance on the secondary market. About 80% of the wine sees new French oak and, though there’s a smoky bacon/mocha edge to the nose and palate, it’s just that, an edge. The main game here is the fruit, which, dark and concentrated, is wed to dense layers of liquorice and wood spice, the whole supported by muscular tannins. Very good. A keeper.
Paringa Peninsula Shiraz 2007 – this includes around 5% Viognier which, for McCall, rounds out the tannins and makes for better drinkability on release. Nonetheless, the Paringa style is in evidence, so this is quite meaty, dark and robust with a good twist of the peppercorn grinder. The Viognier brings a fruitier, juicier dimension, with apricot and lychee fleshing out the finish. Good.
Paringa Estate Shiraz 2007 – in this great Shiraz vintage the estate wine is deep in colour with a nose which smacks of ripe, sweet blackberry, even blackberry jam, cherry, perhaps kirsch, but without the heat. In the mouth, bony tannins are fleshed out by cinnamon and dried herb edged ripe black cherry fruit. A deft touch of oak lends a savoury dimension (bay leaf/smoky bacon) to the finish. McCall no longer co-ferments this wine with Viognier because he’s happy to see some grunty tannins.
Paringa Reserve Shiraz 2007 – this is the most successful of McCall’s wines on the show circuit. Though, once again, it doesn’t feature Viognier, it has an enticing, lifted white pepper and dried herbs/sage character on the nose and its well-leavened palate, some gruntier, meaty black pepper too. Dominated by red fruits, it’s powerful yet refined, long, thoroughly engaging and intense in the mouth, fair swallowing up 100% new oak. Really very good indeed.
By the way, if my lunch of soft egg yolk ravioli with asparagus and summer truffle is anything to go by, Paringa Estate’s restaurant is well worth checking out.
Finally, should you swing by in October, make sure you’re there for Mornington Peninsula Pinot Week (going on right now), which features dinners and tastings in both the Peninsula and Melbourne. You can find out more about this and the wine region and its producers on the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association website here.