Saturday, 28 December 2013

An afternoon in the Mornington Peninsula

The Mornington Peninsula is one of the two closest vineyard areas to Melbourne. We had visited the other one, the Yarra Valley a few years ago on our first visit to Australia's second largest city (soon to be the largest according to people there).

The Mornington Peninsula is different in that it serves as Melbourne's Long Island with many wealthy people having sumtuous country houses there. That ensures property prices and makes it difficult to make wine profitably. It is said that quite a few producers do it for love rather than money but that doesn't stop generous investment and increasingly, good wines are coming from there. There is a cool local microclimate which favours Burgundian style wines, but we found some brave souls making wine form grapes other than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Darby Higgs had recommended Quealy and indeed that was one of the most interesting operations we came across on our short visit.

Quealy is credited for having been the first to introduce Pinot Gris to the area. This might not sound like anything particularly imaginative but in the early '90s, Pinot Gris was not a mainstream variety. Now they have a Friulano (made in Amphora), a range of Moscatos, a Nebbiolo, blends including Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir and a white cuvee including Friulano, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Kathleen Quealy, dubbed The Queen of Pinot Grigio by James Halliday received us in a most friendly and seeing as how she was nursing an unwell teenager, sent us on to the General Store at Merrick's, the cute local village where she duly re-appeared. She and her husband Kevin McCarthy are very much not hobby farmers as can be deduced from their commitment to pushing the boundaries. We bought a bottle of 'Rageous' their delectable red blend (with a majority of Sangiovese) for friends in Melbourne on the grounds this was perhaps something they might not already have come across.We were not wrong.

Merricks general Wine Store is a tasting room and what the Australians call Bottle Shop for the local producers including Quealy.

It is also a cafe and restaurant serving wonderful food such as can be found surprisingly frequently in Australia.

Our Corned Beef with a home-made Piccalilli was absolutely delcious. Our photo doesn't do it justice. Let's face it, our photos never do any of their subjects justice but that's just how it is.

The joint was run by some typical Aussie types; a couple of nice girls and a friendly and enthusiatic guy doling out the wine for tasting.

All young and blessed with great senses of humour which masked absolute efficiency and professionalism. That's one of the many reasons that makes Australia such a great place to visit.

Everyone had told us we should visit 10 Minutes by Tractor because their restaurant was one of the best. It looked indeed rather good but not very rustic and we were happy with our choice of the Corned Beef chez Merricks. The rather serious tasting process was a moment of slightly troubling realisation for us. We were confronted for the first time by Burgundian style wines which really could have come from Burgundy. We had often wished that New World wines were more European - especially the Pinot Noirs, but here the Pinot Noir was so austere and moderate that we would have never imagined it came from outside Burgundy.

This is of course an achievement of sorts but now that we had received what we had wished for, the thought that it was not worth the while just wouldn't go away. In other words, what is the point of the perfect imitation? Is it only to show it can be done or perhaps to avoid local taxes and duty? It is doubtless an achievement but we weren't tempted to buy a bottle.

We didn't visit any other Cellar Doors because it had been drizzling all afternoon. The climate was rather unpredictable during our stay - it sometimes seemed more like Scotland than Australia.

We passed by some familiar and famous properties such as Hickinbotham, Crittenden, Dromana and Stonier with sightings of other names such as the evocative Yabby Lake and so forth. The Peninsula is very beautiful once one has left the urban sprawl of Melbo behind. We didn't see any of the seaside towns such as Shoreham or Portsea. That will be for another time.

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