Tips for a tasting tour of the Mornington Peninsula
By Mark Smith
Small scale, quality-driven vineyards have been springing up all over the Mornington Peninsula during the past decade. It's now possible to find more producers here per square kilometre than in any in other wine-growing region of Australia. Wherever you travel, you'll find the sturdy fingers that grew the grapes or made the wine are never more than a few minutes and a handshake away.
Alas, low yields and high consumer demand often conspire to limit access to some of the region's best labels. Good wines sell out quickly. It's not surprising then that less than a third of all wineries on the peninsula are open every day.
Plan ahead - the week before
The journey by car from Melbourne will take you by the beachside suburbs of St Kilda and Sandringham, or you can head for the hills via the South Gippsland Freeway and Moorooduc Highway. For a journey with a difference, enjoy the short ferry ride across Port Phillip Bay from Queenscliff to Sorrento. Better still, join a small tour group or arrange a designated driver.
Focus on visiting small producers if you want a better than average welcome and better than average tasting experiences. Many wineries cannot accommodate large buses or their passengers. Ring ahead. Cellar door staff will appreciate advance notice of tour groups. Find out what's on offer for children and non-tasters. Is there a fee for tasting?
Map out a suitable touring route to avoid retracing your journey. Remember to limit your driving time and keep visits to a manageable number. Quality is better than quantity. Avoid peak times like holidays or lunch times if you'd like cellar door staff to be attentive to your needs and offer helpful personal advice.
Practise your spitting in the shower if it makes you feel self-conscious.
Plan ahead - the day before
One of the strengths of the Mornington Peninsula's wine industry is that its key players have a high degree of public accessibility. Make the most of it. Ring to find whether the owner or winemaker will be available for a brief chat or a tutored tasting. Are there any limited releases or specials currently on offer?
Taste with a purpose. You might like to taste just chardonnay and pinot noir wines; everyday drinking whites; reds for the cellar. Then you can compare differences in style, quality, or maker. Is there a regional theme that can be investigated? Find out what your wineries are famous for producing.
Grab an empty wine box from your local retailer if you plan to make frequent small purchases on your journey.
At the cellar door
Avoid smoking or wearing strong perfume or after-shave.
Get advice on what to taste. Help staff fine-tune their wine service by briefly outlining wines you've enjoyed or disliked in the past. Leave your prejudices at the door and try something unusual for a change. Be honest in commenting on wines. Winemakers thrive on positive feedback. Negative comments can influence product range and winemaking decisions next vintage.
Don't try to sample everything. Concentrate on getting a good appreciation of a few well-chosen products, especially vineyard specialities. Finding out how a wine was grown and made will help you understand its character and how it might be enjoyed most.
Tasting the full range? Begin with sparkling wines, then move on to dry white, dry red, sweet white, and finally fortified wines like pinot port. Smell as well as taste. Your taste buds more or less confirm characteristics already sensed by your nose. Avoid rushing through a selection of wines.
Remember it's a tasting room, not a public bar. Use the spittoon provided. It IS OK to spit. Drink lots of water.
- Mornington Peninsula (VIC)
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