Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I just don't (Pi)know

Mornington Peninsula... Well it turns out that half of Victoria heads there for the summer break yet strangely the wineries are left untroubled by the influx unless of course they happen to have a restaurant... and they all have restaurants...

In many places, it was nearly a surprise that someone was there only to taste. Which shows one of the peculiarities of the region, that being the common practice of the region for there to be a cost associated with the tasting (not payable if a purchase is made). These contributions are generally a modest $2-$5 per person which is a cheaper option than my usual inclination to make a sympathy purchase. I am indifferent to the charge, if anything, it relieves me of any moral obligation to buy a wine that I don't particularly like, which I am sure is not the result that the Vintner is aiming for much like the freakonomics story of the day care that imposed a penalty of $3 for each failure to pickup a child on time. As an aside, I would be interested in what impacts, if any, the paid tastings have on sales.

One can't really talk about Mornington Peninsula without broaching the topic of Pinot Noir. I am aware that it is a wine obsessed over and pursed with religious fervour, but I have to admit that I do not understand the obsession. I have enjoyed good pinot, but I can't help but finish up with the argument that it is not a $40/$60/$80 red wine. I realise that Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are not the same beast or even that Pinot is not even a beast. I wonder if this is different for people who come to wine through softer and more subtle flavours and I wonder if whether the opposite is true for them. I also wonder with the rise of cool climate shiraz and it's softer smoother grape juice, whether this will change the attitudes of people like myself who have been introduced to wine through the big Reds. I am not saying I don't like pinot, just that I don't understand it and thus I run it in a price contest with the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignons. The best solution really is to just spend more time with Pinot, which can hardly be a bad thing.

Pino-losophy aside, it turns out that we didn't take advantage of the obligation-free(ish) tastings as there really was some great drops on offer. Our first port of call was, in fact another great passion, Red Hill Brewery which purveys fine ales from their Brewery/Verandah nestled amongst their onsite hopyard. Red Hill start with a Golden Ale and a Wheat beer but it was their other stock the Scotch Ale that was closer to my taste. They have a range of seasonals, the highlight for us was the Christmas Ale at a solid 8.3% it will bring on the cheer. I am incredibly keen to take part in their hop-picking and associated Hop Harvest Ale.

Our first winery was the next morning, The Cups Estate showed some diversity of the region featuring Blanc de Noir, Rosé, Moscato and Pinot Gris. The standouts were the Sparkling Shiraz, Merlot and Fortified Pinot that is made at Pfeiffer's in Rutherglen. For lunch, the stop was the Pig and Whistle, an english-style pub that features not only Old Speckled Hen but the Mornington Peninsula Brewery Beers of which the Right-Knacker Brown Ale was absolutely stellar.

After lunch, we struck out to Ten Minutes by Tractor, which I have to tout as the one cellar door in the region that absolutely can not be missed. As a one stop show of the region, Ten minutes shows the wonder of terroir with the single vineyard (Wallis, McCutcheon and Judd) ranges in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir showing great diversity each with unique and worthy characteristics. The reserve range Ten Minutes by Tractor produced from the best barrels of the flagships and also a Tempranillo. The entry level label 10X displaying great value drops that are a great introduction to the region and the label. By far and away, the best wine tasted in the region was the 2006 Wallis Whole Bunch Pressed Pinot Noir which has opened my palate to what Pinot can be, and I was left wanting more.

Foxeys Hangout was the next stop in the short tasting day (11-5), featuring a funky cellar door that really does have to be appreciated. The still wines from Foxey's featured great showings from the Rosé, Pinot Noir and Shiraz but the unique aspect to this particular haunt was the Sparkling. Foxey's can run an educationally focussed tasting in preparation for the disgorging, dosing and corkage of your own tailored blend. Our last stop for the day was Paringa Estate, but it was such a rush that I really don't think we could do it justice. Instead it will go on the list of places to head back to when we next try the region.

The drive home presented an opportunity for a quick stop or two in the Yarra Valley. With no preparation at all, we gave the first stop of the region over to Helen's Hill Estate. It was a fantastic decision, where we were entertained by Allan Nalder and shown through some fantastic drops. The standouts in the Ingram Rd range were a great dry Pinot Rosé and the Syrah. The top of the tree in the Helen's Hill range was the Bordeaux-style blend The Cabernets which showed as a genuine big Red, that still needs some time for it's full potential to be realised.

Our last stop before we headed back up the Hume was at the Innocent Bystander complex including little brother to Little Creatures, the White Rabbit Brewery. Truly, if you can't find something that you like here -- Give up.