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Is this Australia, or Burgundy?

PUBLISHED: 16:33 20 January 2012

The Mornington vines

The Mornington vines

Archant

An Australian tasting day is reminiscent of the French wine producer for our taster

This week, as the round of tastings introducing 2010 burgundy to UK consumers draws to a close, here’s an appropriate question: Is the state of Victoria – or, more specifically, the Mornington Peninsula, which forms the south eastern, sea-surrounded arm of Melbourne’s sheltering Port Phillip Bay – Australia’s Burgundy?

It’s rare to have the opportunity in London to taste almost 30 wines, overwhelmingly from the burgundian grapes chardonnay and pinot noir, from this small area. So a big thank-you to A+ Australia Wine for lining up the bottles in the pillared splendour of Australia House.

It was a very classical setting – all corinthian capitals, marble and mahogany – for very modern wines. But time and again, as I worked along the tasting table, it seemed appropriate, as the French classic region came to mind.

The Mornington Peninsula, more the recreation destination for Melbourne’s residents than a classic wine region (the tide of vineyard planting began to rise only in the 1970s), is a bit like Burgundy – frosts and mould-encouraging rain can be a problem, the weather is cool for Australia, and there are many soil types and microclimates. But the moderating maritime influence is different.

The wines are leaner and age more gracefully than a lot of new world attempts at burgundian styles. For Australia, the alcohol levels are low, rarely above 13.5pc, and oak is restrained and delicate. Prices are at burgundian levels, but the wines on the whole are worth what is asked. Sometimes, they’re very good value.

Kooyong Estate is one excellent example – Clonale chardonnay and Massale pinot (both 2010 vintage, £17 and £18 respectively from the Wine Society) are lovely: minerality and fruit on the nose, layers of complex and elegant flavours and, in the pinot, smooth tannins. Decant, and challenge fans of good mid-range burgundy to spot the difference.

I remember tasting great wines from Stonier a long while back, and it was good to try recent vintages from what are some of the peninsula’s oldest vines. To my palate, the young reserve wines are less successful than their lower-priced siblings, certainly in the 2009 bottles shown, though with a bit more age the reserves should shine.

Some of the Stonier wines are rather more boisterous than Kooyong, for example, but still delicately made (£13-£14.50, £18-19 for the reserves, at Winedirect, Slurp and, pinot only, Waitrose). Primrose Hill-based Bibendum is the importer and also sells direct, including some older-vintage reserves.

Others I particularly liked (all 2009) come from Yabby Lake. The Single Vineyard pinot (£29, Swig) was probably the most burgundian of all the pinots at the tasting, stylish and a fine food wine, while Red Claw pinot (£17.50, Swig) is individual with a spicy edge. Red Claw chardonnay (£17.50, Swig) is crisp, mineral and long – I’d be hard pressed, blind, to distinguish it from good macon-villages.

There were other wines with prices soaring towards posh burgundy levels. Some were attractive; others were apeing top meursault, for example, without the finesse. At that level, I reckon many Mornington Peninsula estates have a way to go still. The more reasonably priced wines, however, are well worth seeking out. I’d love to try them against competitor burgundies – there’s an idea for A+ Australia Wine to take on.

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