A previous column about the delights of New Zealand pinot noir prompted spirited responses from Australian winemakers about the high calibre of their pinots.
Australia produces a wide range of pinots. Most of the best are grown in a u-shaped arc that runs through Victoria, the south-western state, and the island of Tasmania.
The Mornington Peninsula in Victoria makes up the right-hand side of that u-shape. The top of Tasmania represents the base of the “u” and the Geelong region is the left-hand side.
Pinot grows best in these cool climates. The northern areas of Australia are too hot for the grape variety. Remember that Australia is the reverse of China, with the northern areas much hotter than the south.
The Mornington Peninsula is a finger of land about 65 km from the state capital, Melbourne, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and Port Phillip Bay to the west. Cool ocean breezes in summer ensure the grapes ripen over an extended period.
Half of the grapes grown on the peninsula are pinot noir, with chardonnay making up another quarter. Pinot gris is increasingly being planted and represents another eighth of production.
The peninsula has about 200 vineyards, and about 50 of those are open for tastings. Perhaps a third of the vineyards are small and fall in the “boutique” category.
Prices for Mornington pinot noir tend to be high. Flagship wines from Port Phillip Estate cost close to $US 100 a bottle. The winery is a must see if you visit the area; it must have one of the best views of any winery I have visited.
Paringa Estate continues to produce superb wine. Its introductory level pinot noir, at $US 23 a bottle, is as good as the reserve wines from many of the other producers. Aromas of plums and ripe raspberries jump from the glass. Paringa was voted Australia’s winery of the year in 2007.
Some of Australia’s best racehorses are bred on the Mornington Peninsula. Box Stallion Estate produces fine wine as well as horses, and is one of the few vineyards in the region to export to China. It offers Spanish and Italian varieties as well as the classic French grapes.
Future columns will talk about the other regions that make up Australia’s u-shaped arc of pinot perfection.
* “Victoria’s not so secret delights” in China Daily, 26 June 2010, page 12.