Pinot on the Peninsula with Giulietta and the missus

Last October I attended a burgundy masterclass at the inaugural Pinot Palooza in Melbourne’s Ormond Hall. The Palooza was a celebration of all things pinot noir, showcasing around 140 expressions of pinot from about 50 Aussie and kiwi wineries, and was the brainchild of Ben Edwards and Dan Sims of Wine Guide fame.

It must have been a raging success because my flight to Shanghai next day was one of the fastest I can’t remember.

Cutting a long story shorter, I received a call from Dan Sims a few weeks later advising me I’d won an award giving VIP access to three wine events on the Mornington Peninsula, including accommodation courtesy of the fine folks at Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association and the use of a sparkling new Alfa Romeo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Australia.

Last weekend was the Pinot Showcase, the first of the three events, and an itinerary visiting wineries on Saturday arranged by the lovely Cheryl Lee of MPVA preceded the Pinot Showcase at Cape Schanck resort on Sunday. So, on Friday, I dropped into Fiat Chrysler and exchanged the Liberty for a shiny new Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Sitting in the cockpit of the gorgeously styled four door hatch I was immediately transported back to the days of sporting coupes I’d owned; the 2-door Eunos and (many moons ago) the British Racing Green GTR Torana. But, this stylish little ragazza is kilometres ahead in street appeal. She is a stunner; a real head-turner I noted as I returned home through Port Melbourne and the St Kilda Esplanade.

The Giulietta has  a 1.4lt turbocharged powerplant and three different driving settings. In the default setting, N (for normal?) it is zippy and frugal, but not overly exhilarating. Flick a console-mounted switch to D (Dynamic) and you get a true Alfa expression of passion and enthusiasm, a kick-in-the-chest acceleration and a road-hugging grip around bends. The Saturday morning zig-zag climb up Arthurs Seat, dodging cyclists both ways, was the most fun you can have with your pants on.

Alfa Romeo has largely flown under the radar for a number of years,  recording very low sales rates due to limited range and lacklustre marketing, according to motoring media. With the recent distribution change to Fiat Chrysler Australia I suspect the sales volumes will accelerate very soon if the current campaigns for Chrysler 300, Jeep and the hot Fiat Abarth are any indication. I also understand that Alfa Romeo pricing has been adjusted to reposition the Giulietta against volume seller medium size vehicles. That should set the cat among the pigeons!

The drive down to the Mornington Peninsula traditionally took around ninety minutes due to traffic bottlenecks around the Frankston area, but with the recent opening of a freeway section known as the Peninsula Link, the Alfa zipped down in less than an hour with cruise control locked precisely on 100 km/h.

First stop on our pinot noir odyssey was at the newly-minted Red Hill Epicurean Centre. Although open barely a week this showcase of Mornington Peninsula produce and wines was teeming with visitors and proved a challenge to find a vacant spot for the Giulietta in the adjacent carpark. Even at 10am Saturday it was impossible to find a table in the front bakery-cafe, so we wandered the centre inspecting the cheese shop, wine tasting room and Italian-leaning dining room already dubbed “the shed” by appreciative locals. This is a must-visit destination, but preferably on a non-weekend day if crowds and queues are to be avoided.

personally blended Brut Rose

Personally blended Foxeys Hangout Brut Rose

The next adventure was a personalised sparkling wine disgorgement session at Foxeys Hangout with ebullient winemaker Michael Lee. I first encountered Michael around 20 years ago when he and his brother ran The Argo, a once-terrific gastropub in inner-city Melbourne. Now they are owner/winemakers of Foxeys Hangout, Michael producing sparkling wines, brother Tony responsible for stills.

Using traditional Methode Champenoise techniques, Michael took us through the disgorgement process; the final stage of sparkling wine production when the bottle is unsealed, yeast disgorged and a final sugar dosage added before topping up with base wine and resealing. This stage allows the customisation of the wine to personal taste, and we opted for 4 grams of sugar per litre  and a 50ml injection of pinot noir to produce a bottle of elegant, and crisply dry Brut Rosé. We just need to wait a few weeks for it to settle before enjoying.

Following the disgorgement we conducted a brief tasting of Foxeys’ still wines and settled on the terrace for a lunch from the kitchen accompanied by the first of very many exceptional pinot noirs for the weekend. Mindful of the key to the Giulietta in my pocket, I stuck to a single glass over lunch, and sipped and spat at all tastings.

After buying a selection of Foxeys’ product, the next winery visited was Ocean Eight wines, down dusty Tucks Road in the Shoreham area. Ocean Eight wines have emerged as great pinot producers over the past few years, with winemaker Michael Aylward winning the national  “Young Gun Of Wine” award in 2011. Here we tasted a 2009 Aylward Reserve Pinot Noir, a 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir and a 2010 Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay before taking away a 2008 to add to the cellar.

With a few minutes to spare before our 2pm appointment at Montalto, we ducked in next door to Tucks Ridge to taste their latest pinot noir, shiraz and chardonnay offerings. surfacing soon after with a 2010 Buckle chardonnay and 2011 shiraz to put down for a few years.

At Montalto, we were treated to an impromptu VIP tasting of their range guided by Justin, the cellar door manager. Not only were the wines tasted, but Justin took the time to explain and point out the particular areas of the vineyards producing each variety, as well as the characteristics of terroir and their effects on the winemaker’s craft. Montalto is a personal favourite, not only are the wines of very high quality, but the restaurant is a fabulous local attraction (if you can snare a table) and the sculpture and kitchen gardens add a layer of interest well beyond the traditional cellar door experience.

The next day was the culmination of the bi-annual Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration. The Pinot Showcase was a leisurely day tasting a range of  pinots from more than 35 Mornington Peninsula wineries showcasing their wines alongside selected pinot producers from other regions in an informal setting at the RACV Cape Schanck resort.

The Showcase kicked off with a pinot noir masterclass presided over by Kate McIntyre MW* with her father Richard of Moorooduc Estate and international bon viveur and all-round Burgundy maven Jasper Morris MW* providing support.

*Master of Wine. The pinnacle of achievment for wine educators and communicators. There are only around 300 MWs globally, and to have two at the one master table was a real treat.

Originally intended to be a Burgundy masterclass, the organisers had an eleventh-hour change of mind and decided to compare and contrast a flight of six pinot noirs from around the world. They were …

  1. Hillcrest Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley Victoria)
  2. Moorooduc Estate, ‘The Moorooduc’ Pinot Noir 2010 (Mornington Peninsula Victoria)
  3. Domaine Newman 2010 Beaune (Burgundy France)
  4. Larmadier Bernier Vertus 2009 (Champagne France)
  5. Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 (Marlborough NZ)
  6. Littorai ‘The Haven’ 2010 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley CA USA)

All wines reflected not only their terroir but also the influence of the winemaker, everyone agreed that all bottles needed more time in the cellar to fully realise their potential. The most expensive, Larmadier Bernier Vertus 2009, was also the least liked. It showed the impact of ‘Champagne thinking’ resulting in an ‘apple cider’ finish.

My personal favourite, and I really hate to admit it,  was the Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 from Marlborough FFS! The home of cats’ piss sav blanc. As Jasper Morris so eloquently put it, the wine is “a sexy beast”.

Following the masterclass, and a light picnic lunch, we collected our Reidel tasting glasses and entered the Showcase to confront 37 wineries highlighting a grand total of 83 expressions of pinot noir (plus a smattering of pinot gris and grigio as well as a gamay smuggled in by one enterprising winemaker).

Do the sums: 83 tastes in about 3 hours. Something had to give.

For a couple of hours Mitch and I worked our way systematically around the room. Chatting with the producers; taking notes, tasting and spitting the wine. Or so I thought. It seems on a (large) number of occasions Mitch forgot to spit.

At one point Mitch tugged my arm and whispered something before striding off through the crowd in the direction of Jasper Morris MW. I only picked up a few words of her slightly slurred speech: Jasper, book, sign, birthday, which I construed to mean something like “I’m going to ask Jasper to sign a copy of his book for your birthday present”. Pretty good eh?

Eventually she returned and it was only then that I took note of her glassy eyes, slurred speech and increasingly broadening grin. Not wishing to challenge the Responsible Serving of Alcohol regime I instantly decided that we’d had enough, and besides the winemakers had endured three days of pinot and most were eagerly packing up for their trips home.

We retrieved the signed book, which had magically transformed into three different books, and I took Mitch’s arm and guided her on the five minute walk back to our room. Within seconds she was asleep on the bed, allowing me to kick back and watch the One Day Cricket on the tv.

It was only yesterday that I opened the signed book and the personal message from Jasper Morris MW.

To Garry
With best Burgundy wishes to the Pulitzer Pinot Man!

Everyone who knows Mitch knows she can get a little linguistically dyslexic at times. I think she meant to say Pinot Palooza, but who knows?

I really must instruct her that sometimes it really is OK to spit.

The MPVA VIP pass includes another weekend on the peninsula at the Piers and Pinot festival on the Flinders foreshore next month and again at the Winter Wine weekend in June. I’m really looking forward to nipping down again in a beautiful little Alfa Romeo and tasting the produce of the Pen.

Hope to see you there. I’ll be the one in the Alfa with the big grin.

LifeNotes FootNote

The book by Jasper Morris MW, “Inside Burgundy – The vineyards, the wine & the people” is proving to be a terrific read. The author is exceptionally knowledgeable and writes in an authoritative and engaging style. For anybody with an interest in the Burgundy region, I recommend this as a true Burgundy bible.  It’s published by Berry Brothers & Rudd press, and Melburnians can pick up a copy at Books for Cooks in Gertrude St Fitzroy.

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