Australia’s Pinot Coast

This online tasting featured Pinot Noir wines from the Mornington Peninsula, a finger of vineyard land south of Melbourne that is surrounded by three bodies of cooling waters. There are no sub-regional appellations here, but across the patchwork of 200 small-scale vineyards, winemakers are well aware that soils and specific location can mark the character of the wines, and all make reference to being ‘up the hill’ or ‘down the hill’, with vineyards at the highest elevations in the south of the peninsula ripening one week later than those further north.

Each of the eight wineries represented showed one wine, spanning the 2017 – 2019 vintages, their locations marked on the map of the region:

1. Moorooduc
2. Paringa Estate
3. Ten Minutes by Tractor
4. Kooyong Wines
5. Ocean Eight
6. Scorpo Wines
7. Crittenden Estate
8. Stonier

Spring frost is not a problem because of the mitigating effect of the ocean, which also funnels breezes through the vineyards, though wind and rain can be problematic at the start of the growing season. Soils are mostly of volcanic origin, with plenty of clay, but there is a surprising diversity of soils types for a relatively small area. Only 70 miles from the hipster-central city of Melbourne, minimal intervention is the mantra of most estates, with more and more moving to natural yeasts instead of cultured yeasts, whole-bunch ferments, and cutting back on the influence of oak by using bigger and older barrels for fermentation and ageing, as well as concrete ‘eggs’ and other vessels.

The peninsula is a genuinely cool climate area, with warm sunny days and chilly nights, and it is a very singular area for the production of Pinot Noir with its unusual location on a spur jutting out to the cold southern ocean. Though the wines here showed a diversity of styles, they struck me as having a finesse and a savoury character, great purity to the fruit, and in many cases the weightless character that for me sums up the best examples of this variety: fruit, power and concentration, without heaviness or over-extraction.

The Wines

(2021) From a vintage that had a difficult conditions with uneven fruit-set, and a lot of 'hen and chicken' grapes in the bunches, though overall the season ended with good ripeness. Quite pale, with a softness to the colour on the rim, fruit comes from three vineyards, all destemmed and fermented with wild yeasts. It spends 17 months in French oak, 25% of which is new. Briar, roses and cherry, with plenty of fruit brightness and perfume. The palate has weight, creaminess and fruit sweetness, then firm tannins and an orangy intensity of acidity balances the finish. Plenty of juicy, vibrant character here in a four-year-old wine.
(2021) From 'up the hill' picked weeks after the lower level vineyards, around 40% new oak here, there's a more toffeed, creamy, even chocolaty character here that adds more depth, but there's a punch and fruit skin grippiness to this. The palate has lusciousness, but also great clarity, a wine with concentration and yet no weight, shimmering and bright acidity and taut tannins giving knife-edge balance to this.
(2021) The 2018 vintage saw a late start to flowering but ended as an extremely good and ripe year. Fermented in concrete tanks with 20% whole bunches, then into French oak barrels for 11 months, 17% new. A pale, transluscent wine from 'down the hill', picked 18 days before their 'up the hill' vineyards. Lots of Pinosity with truffle and some beetroot notes, but there's a creaminess too, an inherent sweetness and hint of fudge. The palate has a fleshiness and sweet ripe fruit lusciousness, the whole bunches adding a little briar and spice, and the finish quite soft and giving, still very good acidity and the tannins tightly packed and quietly controlling the finish.
(2021) From a single block, fermented in large concrete tanks with some whole bunches, spontaneous ferment with wild yeasts. The wine spent 14 months in French oak barrels, 28% new. From more sandy soils, this is very pale again, and so gently aromatic, rhubarb and soft, sweet earthy tones, but such a feeling of delicacy, prettiness and freshness too. The palate has a lovely delicate and light-weight palate, with fine texture, very savoury, briary fruit and that dry, earthy and herby finish. Lovely. A 10 year wine according to xxxxx
(2021) A rose was made this year, specifically to run some excess liquid off from this wine and concentrate the fruit that remained. De-stemmed fruit, the wine made in old, larger format French oak puncheons. Pale but bright, this is all about a rose-touched, quite Burgundian fruit profile, which burst with juicy ripeness on the palate. Long and cool, this is so delicate, so running stream fresh in the finish, some briar and spices just in the tail-end.
(2021) Darker in colour, but not dense, this was fermented with wild yeasts and had 10% whole bunches, fermented in concrete fermenters, then into barrels, all French and 20% new, for 12 months. A more crisply defined nose compared to the Ocean Eight, crunchiness to the fruit, cranberry and redcurrant firmness. The palate has lots of fruit too, savoury and spiced, XX puts its freshness down to the concrete ferementers, it finishes with real briskness and meaty, savoury qualities to be very food-friendly with its lip-smacking acidity.
(2021) Like 2017, poor flowering and low yields, but 'smooth sailing' throught the summer with plenty of warmth and some heat spikes towards harvest where sugars rose and "there was a frenzy" to harvest, though a fine vintage. 20% whole bunches here, fermented in oak with wild yeasts, then racked to new and one year French oak of different sizes for 11 months, plus 10 months more of ageing in bottle. Crimson, but not dense, the perfume here is gorgeous, lift of cherries and old roses, the palate brimming with sweet but still crunchy fruit: cold cherries and a touch of pomegranate, a lovely finish of fine, ripe tannins and acids that supports beautifully.
(2021) A lovely vintage for this estate, and this wine sourced from vineyards across the region. Around 5% whole bunches, this was fermented in open-top ferementers and aged in a blend of small and larger barrels, 10% new, though 15% stayed in steel "to promote a vibrant fruit profile." Medium-pale, some earthiness and farmyard characters here, the fruit is red berries and cherry. Plenty of fruit, this is dry and savoury, very bright acidity at this stage, quite punchy, the picture vibrant and tight with its racy tannins and overall savoury style.

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