Mornington Peninsula: Eight great Pinot Noirs

Crittenden Estate, Mornington Peninsula; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Mornington Peninsula’s glitterati have regularly graced these shores the last few years, presenting masterclasses focused on the maritime Victorian region’s flagship varieties – Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This year, eight top producers each shared a sample and their thoughts about Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir during an insightful Wine Australia virtual masterclass, recorded here.

I felt this tasting reflected the ongoing pursuit of excellence by this small, perfectly formed region, which has around 200 small, mostly family run vineyards.  Accounting for almost half the annual crush, Pinot Noir is its most planted variety.   This was perhaps the tightest flight of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir I’ve seen, showing great fruit definition with lovely detail and nuance – alluring sweetness & savouriness, to paraphrase Ten Minutes by Tractor’s Martin Spedding.

As one might expect from boutique Pinotphile producers, these were no cookie cutter Pinots.  The flight also reflected place and person – the individuality of site(s) and styles.  Being a peninsula, freshness (as well as sophistication) is another common thread of ‘Australia’s Pinot Coast.’

You’ll find my notes on the wines below.  Click here for links to my previous reports of masterclasses for plenty of background detail about the producers, wines and region.  The regional wine body’s website here is also a mine of information.

Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir 2017 (Mornington Peninsula)

This is the current release of Moorooduc’s estate wine here and in Australia (they benefit from bottle age).  The grapes are sourced from three vineyards within five kilometres of each other in the north of Mornington Peninsula (‘downhill,’ at around 90m).  For Moorooduc’s Kate McIntyre MW, the Garden vineyard gives the dense, rich mid-palate and weight, Robinson vineyard brings red cherry and lifted rose petal notes, whilst the (original) McIntyre vineyard lends herbal, spicy notes.  My notes are very consistent with last year’s tasting for Decanter for a profile of Moorooduc Estate.  It reveals sweet raspberry, with a delicate rub of herbs to the nose. In the mouth, sweet strawberry chimes in, together with plum, beetroot undertones, hints of green strawberry and lifted violets and roses.  The tannins are ripe but textured and spicy (delicious five spice).  Remarking, “I love the tannin structure,” Moorooduc’s Kate McIntyre MW observed they like to work the skins quite hard, with pigeage twice a day, aiming for a gastronomic style.  Speaking to the vintage, she said 2017 was a very low yielding year.  Difficult weather in the north of the peninsula during flowering and fruit set produced lots of hen and chicken –  big and small berries, hence a very uneven ripening.  Deciding when to pick was crucial in 2017, she said.  The resulting high skin to juice ratio produced savoury, structured wines with, McIntyre said, “lots of dark voluptuousness as well as lots of perfume.”  Fully de-stemmed and aged for 17 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.  13% RRP £25 Caviste, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Quaff Fine Wine Merchant

Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2017 (Mornington Peninsula)

For Lindsay McCall, being later and cooler (picked from late March into early April, as opposed to mid-March), the 2017 vintage harked back to “the cooler vintages of past [20 years ago] which we loved.”  He explained, it means the grapes can hang/ripen for longer.  Because yields and berry size was small, the resulting wines were quite dark coloured and brooding, with quite a tannin structure. The tannin structure and concentration is very much part of the Paringa style.  As McCall put it, “I always endeavoured to get power and weight into my Pinots because, in the past, Australian Pinot Noir was seen as lolly water.”   This 2017 estate wine (Paringa Estate is located uphill, in the south) is a bright crimson hue, with firm, al dente red cherry and layered, crushed stone/papery tannins – skin tannins – which leach into the fruit going through, accentuating the tensile structure.  Yes, it really isn’t lolly water!  Very young, with a sneak peek of sweet blueberry on the finish hinting at the richness of fruit yet to come.  Still opening up, as Matthew Jukes (who chaired the masterclass) observed,“it is a tightly packed style.” It was aged in a combination of 30% and 40% new French oak.  13.5% RRP £48.00, Fortnum & Mayson, Strictly Wine, The Wine Library.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Coolart Road Pinot Noir 2018 (Mornington Peninsula)

Highlighting the difference a year makes, Ten Minutes by Tractor’s Martin Spedding pointed out the hang time was significantly less in 2018 than 2017 owing to delayed budburst (winter was wet and cold).  There were 179 days from budburst to harvest (versus the long-term average of 203 days and 205 days in 2017).  Spedding emphasised the importance of canopy control – green thinning – to ensure balanced yields.  The harvest conditions were, he said, “idyllic.”   Coolart Road is in some respects an outlier for Ten Minutes by Tractor, whose original trio of vineyards are located uphill, in the south.   First planted in 2000 (hence also younger), it is located downhill (at c.70m) in the Moorooduc/Tuerong region in the north of the peninsula.  This wine comes from D block at Coolart Road, which is planted 100% to the MV6 clone which, in my experience, produces well-structured, spicy wines.  Initially, it is quite shy, with a slow mo delivery of well-defined black cherry, cherry close to the stone and blackberry and a fine weave of textural (20% whole bunch) tannins, which lend a spicy, leafy note to the flavour spectrum.  Oak forecloses on the finish, so this Pinot will certainly benefit from time and air (which small sample bottles do not really permit).  Spedding made some interesting observations about fruit and tannin differences between his northern and southern sites, the latter ripening 18 days later.  For him, downhill Pinots typically show darker fruit/more fruit weight, with brickier tannins, whilst tannins uphill tend to be more mineral.  Aged for 11 months in 228l French oak barrels, 17% new.  RRP £59.95 Bancroft Wines, Oxford Wine Co., Majestic

Kooyong Wines Single Block Meres Pinot Noir 2018 (Mornington Peninsula)

For Glen Hayley, the narrow ripening window relative to the volume of fruit in 2018 (“one of the best fruit sets in many years”) was the biggest challenge, but he is very happy with the results.  I really enjoyed this wine – another outlier in the range.  Hayley explained that Meres is planted on sandier soils and to Burgundy clones 115 and 114, which produce bigger berries.  In consequence, Meres produces a paler, juicier red-fruited wine compared with those from Kooyong’s vineyards with more clay/planted to MV6 or Pommard, which make for for darker fruited, spicy, brooding wines.   Meres 2018 is a pale burgundy hue, with subtle chocolate orange aromatics and savoury bosky undertones.  In the mouth, I found it relatively austere initially but, opening up, the fine but present spine of tannin is ever so gently – economically, you might say – fleshed out with sweet scented red cherry – seemingly the juice, rather than the flesh.  Subtle leafy, herbal, woodsmoke riffs and salty, cut finger mineral notes emerge.  Lovely freshness, with delicacy and intensity.  Great individuality.  Meres is picked earlier – a week or so earlier than usual in 2018, when the harvest started in late February.  Hayley observed that Meres benefits from 6-10 years to develop; apparently the 2006 is drinking beautifully now.  Aged for 14 months in French oak barriques (28% new).  Bottled without fining or filtration.  13%  RRP £42.50 Vivino, Great Wine, 67 Pall Mall.

Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2018  (Mornington Peninsula)

In this bountiful harvest, 20-25% of the fruit was green harvested and, for the first time, Mike Aylward practised saignee, bleeding off some of the must to concentrated the red and make a rosé too. From one of the warmest sites on sandy soils, Aylward aims to maximise the acidity (“I don’t want to manipulate in the winery”), so he picks on early side and uses very little new oak to preserve fruit and perfume as well as freshness.  As always, this Pinot has a guileless quality about it.  In the nicest sense, it is tastes of the grapes, the whole grapes  and nothing but the grapes.  Indeed, there is no whole bunch here.  Whilst fruit focused, the fruit is not squeaky clean.  With ripe and green strawberry, ripe and sour plum and vivid red cherry it is juicy and vibrant, with seamless tannins – skin tannins – part and parcel of that fruit vibrancy, lift and texture.  This mouth-watering, joyous Pinot was aged in old French oak puncheons.  13.5% RRP £29.00 The Solent Cellar, Shelved Wine, Corking Wines

Scorpo Wines Pinot Noir 2018 (Mornington Peninsula)

The Scorpo family planted their first 2.5ha vineyard to the MV6 clone in 1997  and, in 2013, planted a 10ha vineyard to 80% MV6 and 20% Abel clone (which clone originates from Ata Rangi).     For Paul Scorpo, MV6 brings perfume and earthiness, whilst the Abel clone brings earthy, meaty tones, spice and aroma.  Fermenting in 5000l Eiffel Tower concrete fermenters produces a cool, long ferment (and, adds Scorpo, “concrete means we don’t get sweetness.”)  This and ageing the wine in Francois Freres barrels (20% new) for 12 months and bottling un-filtered and un-fined results in a savoury, spicy, meaty Pinot, which seeks neither to charm or flatter with fruit or oak.  Whilst the toast-licked plum fruit is fleshy, it is not sweet.  Fine but grainy, dusty even, tactile tannins to the finish reinforce the savoury, dry profile.  Dancing to its own tune, focusing on the savoury side is the goal, says Scorpo.   Mission accomplished.  14% RRP £32.45 Haynes Hanson & Clarke

Crittenden Estate The Zumma Pinot Noir 2019 (Mornington Peninsula)

In 2019, yields were down across the board because of poor flowering, said Rollo Crittenden. After that, the growing season was ideal, save for a few heat spikes, resulting in a frenzied end to harvest to manage sugars.  Evidently achieved because, said Crittenden, it was a fantastic vintage and, I might add, I’d agree with Jukes that this is perhaps the best Zumma yet – really quite elegant, favouring intensity over density/extraction – much in the same vein as the 2017, which I awarded 95 points in Decanter.  The winemaker firmly believes that investing in vine health – looking after microbial growth with composting – has flowed through into the wines from the vineyard his parents originally planted in 1982.  Located in the north, downhill on the Port Phillip Bay (western) side of the peninsula where, said Rollo Crittenden, it is warmer, the attention to vine health has helped secure tannin ripeness with moderate alcohol levels.   This has allowed Crittenden to be very hands off in the winery, using very little new oak and gentler maceration.  The Zumma 2019 is a bright, translucent hue, with perfumed, well-defined red and black cherry fruit to the fresh, energetic palate – not a jot of fat here, but not lean either.  Rather, long and silky, with fine tannins, crushed stone minerality  and a lick of cherrystone to the weightless, perfumed finish.  Terrific balance and refinement – insinuating tannins and acidity – makes for great broach-ability and, I suspect, good mid-term ageing.  It was cold-soaked for five days (20% whole bunch) prior to fermenting in French oak fermenters.  The Zumma Pinot Noir 2019 then spent 11 months in light toast French barriques and puncheons.  Quite a difference from the 2010 and 2014 vintages (reviewed here), which aged for 16 months in oak.  I prefer the lighter touch.  13% RRP £27.00 Dartmouth Wine Co., David Alexander Wine, Bristol Fine Wine.

Stonier Estate Pinot Noir 2019 (Mornington Peninsula)

Jukes tagged this sub-£20 Pinot as “a cheerleader for the region.”  It was probably my introduction to Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 20 years ago, when I worked at Oddbins.  Whilst it does not have the fruit intensity or precision of its more expensive peers in the flight, it is by no means simple.  Rather, it ticks all the sophisticated Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir boxes with its touch sweet and sour ripe and green strawberry and juicier plum fruit, gently creamy oak, pretty lifted five spice and native sous bois undertones of bracken and bosk, with salty inflections.  Best of all, it finishes on a fresh note with a lick of tannin.  Generous of expression, without being generous of girth, this friendly but refined Pinot is an artful pan-peninsula blend of 50 different batches which is aged in larger format oak with a bit of tank ferment too.  Averaging 25hl/ha, it came in at Grand Cru yields because of the the very dry year – one of driest in last 15 years, said Mike Symons.   Agreeing with Crittenden, the long-term winemaker describes 2019 as a lovely year; because of the rush at the end of vintage, he used less whole bunch than usual (5%).    13.5% RRP £19.99, Majestic, Oxford Wine Co., Harrods.









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