The 50th Anniversary Issue

Our 50th birthday issue is on sale now. We're celebrating five decades of great food and travel with our biggest issue yet.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller before 27th November, 2016 and receive a Villeroy & Boch platter!

Gourmet on your iPad

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad.

Mornington Peninsula pinot noir

Mornington Peninsula pinot noir is fulfilling its early promise with breathtaking finesse, writes Max Allen.

A shiver of surprise rippled through the audience. There were audible intakes of breath. Someone whispered, "Wow. Really?"

The cause of the kerfuffle at the 2015 Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration was wine two in a regional blind tasting. When the wine was revealed as the 2012 Paringa Estate "The Paringa", the tasters just couldn't believe it: this was so elegant, so pretty, so restrained, so fine - so unlike the dark, powerful, burly pinots Paringa has produced in the past.

Now, this might not seem like a particularly momentous revelation to you, dear reader. But to a room full of pinot-loving wine geeks, the elegance and finesse of this wine seemed a perfect encapsulation of how Mornington Peninsula pinot noir in general has improved and matured enormously in the last few years.

Pioneers such as Nat and Rosalie White at Main Ridge Estate first planted pinot on the peninsula in the mid-1970s, and the outstanding quality of the wines attracted many other wannabe vignerons. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, though, some of us began to feel that peninsula pinot had lost its way. Too many wines were made from over-cropped young vines, produced under contract for absentee vineyard owners.

All that has changed. The local vignerons association has made a concerted effort to improve quality over the past decade, partly through events such as the Celebration (there's nothing like presenting your wines to other winemakers from around the world to focus the mind on improvement), and grape growers and winemakers are paying more attention to yields, to the peculiarities of site and to handling in the cellar. As a result, the standard of peninsula pinot is now very high. And getting better all the time.

One of the most important developments has been the ongoing work to identify how the peninsula's subregional terroirs influence wine style and quality. There's a huge difference, for example, between how grapes grow in the sandy soils of the low country around Moorooduc and how they grow in the deep red volcanic soils up on Red Hill. You could taste these differences in the best pinots presented at the event.

The impressive 2012 Crittenden Zumma, for example, was made predominantly from pinot planted in the '80s in sandy loam over clay soils 50 metres above sea level near Dromana: dark fruit flavours and a dense, round solidity. The amazing 2012 Polperro Mill Hill Pinot Noir, by contrast, from a vineyard planted in clay over granite 270 metres up on Arthurs Seat, was open and bright, with pretty red fruit and a line of nervy tannic grip. And the 2012 Staindl Pinot Noir, from the volcanic, iron buckshot-rich soils of vines 220 metres up on Red Hill was different again: tangy perfume, voluptuous in texture, rich in plummy fruit.

There are, of course, many variables to consider when comparing wines from different vineyards made by different people. How much of what you're tasting is terroir, and how much the hand of the winemaker?

In an effort to answer this question, the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association presented the early results of a fascinating long-term trial. In 2014, Richard McIntyre at Moorooduc Estate made trial batches of pinot noir in an identical way from five sites across the region. The sites chosen were as similar as possible - all north-facing, all MV6 clone pinot, all picked at the same ripeness - varying only in altitude and soil.

McIntyre was the perfect choice for winemaker.

As well as producing a number of pinots from different sites under his family's own label (the spicy, almost syrah-like 2012 Moorooduc "Garden Vineyard" is one of the most delicious peninsula pinots I've tasted from that stellar vintage), he also makes the excellent range of single-vineyard wines for Ten Minutes by Tractor.

The wines told a distinct story of terroir: the two lower, sandier-soil sites produced wines with bolder, more dense, rounder qualities; the higher, volcanic-soil sites were more perfumed, tangier, more savoury, open; and the fifth - from volcanic soil on lower ground - straddled the two styles: perfumed but dense.

Another highlight of the event was listening to Nat White tell the story of how he and Rosalie established Main Ridge Estate 40 years ago. It was a poignant moment - the Whites also announced that they're retiring and have decided to sell the vineyard.

It's the end of an era. But the quality of wine at this year's Celebration is a clear sign that the future of Mornington Peninsula pinot noir is in good hands.

+ Max Allen was a guest of the Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration.


Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
A hotel dedicated to gin is opening in London
Top Drops: October
Sydney’s Baxter Inn makes The World’s 50 Best Bars list
Vaporetto's Italian Stallion
Canberra's new wave of great bars
Top drops: September
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
things to do this autumn

Whether it's foraging for wild mushrooms in a picturesque Victorian forest or watching a film by moonlight in Darwin, we've got you covered with 20 exciting autumn experiences from around Australia.

Read More
Gourmet TV

Check out our YouTube channel for our latest cover recipes, chef cooking demos, interviews and more.

Watch Now

You might also like...

Jennifer Hawkins Sesion tequila

Tequila is the new black. At least it is for Jennifer Hawkin...

Australian sour beers

Craft brewing in Australia is hitting a sour note, and that’...

Original Sin's Grande Bellezza

A fresh, bright Italian-accented sundowner.

Short restaurant wine lists

Small is the order of the day in restaurants, with tight win...

Mitch Monaghan, Nespresso

We caught up with Nespresso Australia and New Zealand coffee...

Amor y Amargo’s Black Rock Chiller

A fortifying summer cocktail that’s as portable as it is pot...

Signature Drink: The Baxter Inn’s Charlestown

Grab the mink and the fedora – this Baxter cocktail means bu...

Game up your G&Ts with a Distiller’s Strength Gin

Is this the year of gin going where no botanicals have gone ...

Signature drinks

Thirty of our favourite drinks from Australia's best bars an...

Hot 100 2015 - Drinks

The world is getting hotter and we’re not talking about glob...

Mover, shaker

The best thing you can take to a party, according to cocktai...

How to improve your wine-tasting ability

Drinking wine is more than a matter of taste, writes Max All...

Best Australian red wines for drinking now

Australians are getting a taste for thirst-quenching reds ma...

Best Australian gins

The local gin craze is in full swing. Max Allen taste-tests ...

The art of the cocktail list

In our inaugural Cocktail List of the Year awards, GT cockta...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.