Summer is almost over in Australia, in theory, but in practice, there are still plenty of warm days and sunshine ahead! And with a few public holidays coming up, what better way to spend them then by drinking the last of the summer wine…
Australia is blessed with many world class wine regions, featuring not only boutique and sophisticated cellar doors, but also award-winning restaurants with jaw-dropping views over endless undulating vines. The food culture in wine regions is also superb, with many local farmers producing enticing cheeses, olives, chocolates and other artisan products, such as craft beers and boutique spirits, to tempt our taste buds.
My goal is to visit very wine region in Australia, and I am glad to say I am making good progress! The latest area of discovery has been the Mornington Peninsula, a picturesque area just an hour’s drive south east of Melbourne, encircling Port Phillip Bay on one side and Bass Strait on the other, and featuring some of the most stunning scenery as well as quaint villages and over 50 cellar doors. I have done two tours of this region in the past few months, hosted by the lovely Patricia Scales of Wine and Food Lovers’ Tours. Patricia and her husband, John, have been operating the business for four years now and have a wonderful personal and professional approach, as well as a commitment to showcasing only the best gourmet food and wine in the region. They offer both public and private tours of the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and Goulburn Valley, and can be flexible on numbers, although small, intimate groups are their speciality, and by far the best way to enjoy the wine and food experience! You are collected from central Melbourne in one of their sleek and comfortable VW Multivan or VW Caravelle and transported in style for your day-long adventure!
In the first tour, Wine and Chocolate Indulgence, we headed to T’Gallant for our first sips of the day. Renowned for cool climate Pinot Gris, Chablis-style Chardonnay and sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay, it was the perfect way to waken up the taste buds after a rather late night for some, celebrating the AFL grand final the night before!
Second stop was the quirky Ten Minutes by Tractor – three vineyards in the Main Ridge area of the peninsula, which are literally 10 minutes apart by tractor! The cellar door features single vineyard wines and estate wines, which are produced in small quantities two years after vintage and offer a distinctive vineyard and regional taste, as well as Mornington Peninsula wines, which spend less time in oak and offer a more accessible freshness and clarity. Varieties include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Although we didn’t eat there, the intimate, glass-framed restaurant sporting a stunning vineyard view, looked very enticing indeed!
By this time, our stomachs were rumbling, so next stop was Merrick’s General Store for some more wine tasting before lunch in the bustling, rustic restaurant. Established in 1924 as a community hub, the heritage corrugated iron and timber store now features a cellar door, providore store, art gallery and bistro. The cellar door is home to Baillieu Wines and Elgee Park, whilst also featuring other selected Mornington Peninsula offerings. The providore store features moorish delights such as Pure Peninsula Honey; herbaceous and peppery Portsea Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil; and Fig and Pine Nut Paste, and offers delectable picnic hampers for you to enjoy in the nearby vineyards. If you prefer to eat at a table, the bistro is an excellent alternative. The French and Spanish-inspired rustic menu includes share plates, mains and desserts, with delicious options such as brioche sliders with slow roasted pork shoulder; local mussel escabèche; and grass fed O’Connor scotch fillet with café de paris & fries, followed by white chocolate and pistachio parfait with roasted seasonal fruit if you still have room for more!
Back on the wine trail, Tuck’s Ridge, in the picturesque Red Hill area, was our next port of call. One of the oldest wineries in the region and featuring boutique cool climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, this family-run estate focuses on small quantities with outstanding quality, intensity and longevity.
Well satiated with wine and food, it was time for some coffee and chocolates to finish the day, and what a perfect idea that was! Mornington Peninsula Chocolates, in the quaint town of Flinders, is a veritable Pandora’s Box of chocolate choices, including Blood Orange dark ganache on a crunchy layer of caramel, feuilletine and tonka; Chai Tea infused with cream and blended with milk and dark chocolate; and Lime Jelly layered on dark chocolate ganache and dipped in dark chocolate – yum!
Patricia had excelled herself so I was back again a few months later to try another tour, this time focused on the Red Hill area of the Mornington Peninsula. As it was a private tour, and we wanted to incorporate some exercise with our wine and food excesses, Patricia suggested a brisk walk at Cape Schanck to start the day. It was a blistering hot Victorian day and the breezy clifftop walk was a welcome way to quell the heat!
Well prepared for our wine tasting we headed to Paringa Estate , in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula. One of the most awarded wineries in Australia, this gorgeous slice of paradise is renowned for its Pinot Noir and Shiraz, whilst also producing Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The glass fronted restaurant is also a popular, jaw-dropping lunch or dinner spot.
Already hungry from our morning’s exertions, we headed to Red Hill Epicurean, the latest foodie destination in the area.
Dating from the 1920s and originally a cool store for local produce, the “shed” has been transformed into a bustling, Italian-inspired kitchen restaurant and providore store, featuring wood fired pizzas and local food and wines.
We feasted on share plates of Gippsland Scotch fillet with braised mushrooms, rosemary butter,
red wine sauce, and fine leaves; Barramundi Fillets with Seafood Peperonata and Chilli, roast herb potatoes and Broccolini with Spiced Almonds, all washed down with some delectable local wines.
More wine tasting followed at Red Hill Estate, with panoramic views of Western Port Bay. Specialising in the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris varieties for which the area is renowned, Red Hill Estate has won many prestigious awards and continues to produce outstanding wines. It is also home to the iconic Max’s restaurant.
Although we had indulged in gourmet food and scrumptious wines all day, our tour was not complete without some cheese and wine tasting at Main Ridge Dairy. The only large commercial dairy on the peninsula, specialising in farmhouse goats’ cheeses, we relished sitting under the pergola overlooking the goat herd as a relaxing way to end an action-packed day.
I will definitely be back to the Mornington Peninsula as I realise that I only sampled a tiny portion of the amazing food and wine the region has to offer!
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