Desperately seeking return to Mornington Peninsula

In part two of our Lunch Magazine Great Wine Regions of Australia Series, we explore another of Victoria’s famous wine regions - the Mornington Peninsula.

 While COVID has fully stalled the Mornington Peninsula, there is little doubt it is one of the great wine regions of Australia. Lunch Magazine explores some of the Peninsula‘a very best.

There’s a reason the locals try not to talk too much about the Mornington Peninsula ... quite simply, they would love to keep it to themselves. And little wonder, with undulating and scenic vineyards that seep towards Port Phillip to the west, Western Port to the east and Bass Straight to the south, the region truly is the jewel in Victoria’s crown as far as coastlines go.

Surrounded also by Mornington Peninsula National Park, the area has what few others in Australia share, amazing cool climate wines, rugged and wonderful bushlines and beautiful, scenic coastlines.

With all that on its doorstep, you’d be excused for thinking that the wineries may not try as hard as some of the country’s other great regions. The truth, of course, is anything but.

Known for its outstanding cool climate pinots and chardonnays, the Mornington Peninsula fights hard, and rightfully wins its place amongst the very best of Australia’s finest wine regions.

Here, Lunch Magazine selects of five of its very best.

1. Paringa Estate

Paringa Estate Winery & Restaurant - 44 Paringa Rd Red Hill South

Winemaker at Paringa Estate

There are plenty of quality wineries across the Mornington Peninsula, but few, if any, combine both food and wine as well as Paringa Estate.

The food is of the highest quality with Head Chef Julian Hills producing the best of the best. His French influenced culinary delights combine modern quality with triumphant classic influences. Sit on a seat on one of the tables by the window and sip on a Paringa Estate Pinot Noir (the Reserve may not be cheap, but is a classic and as good as any Pinot not only on the peninsula but indeed in the country), eating quality food and you may we’ll be in Bordeaux or Tuscany, or any other of the great wine regions of the world.

On a good day you might be lucky enough to run into the man himself, founder and winemaker Lindsay McCall, in the refurbished cellar door. McCall is one of Victoria’s true wine visionaries - introducing Shiraz to a region that for a long time said it couldn’t be successfully grown there. Taste the Paringa Estate Shiraz or even better The Paringa, their premium-label Shiraz - and you’ll understand the experiment later turned into a resounding success.

Even better, if you happen to be lucky enough to attend one of their famous truffle nights, which celebrate the truffle season in mid-winter, you’ll understand why this place is just so special.

2. Montalto

33 Red Hill - Shoreham Road, Red Hill South

Mornington PeninsulaAm I on the French Riviera sipping gorgeous pinots in an upmarket restaurant, or a relaxed outdoor cafe environment surrounded by a lush and stunning vegetable garden, nestled amongst modern sculptures?

Shall I try one of their beautiful crafted vegetarian specials, or the perfectly cooked local fish of the day? Or perhaps, just sit outside, on a blanket or even better with white linen tucked around me, enjoying a glam picnic done with a slice of elegance?

Whatever your taste and style, Montalto has it for you.  The restaurant is elegant and classy but at the other end of the scale, the picnics at Montalto are stuff of legend and a handy by-product of a business that always aims to delight.

But be warned. You’ll have probably guessed it by the time you pass through the Range Rovers and BMWs filling the car park, this place ain’t cheap!

But Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove is worth the price tag for more than just the food and wine. Extraordinary views, quality sculptures (careful kids don’t climb!) and a gorgeous olive grove make this a must see for any visitor to the Peninsula.

And if you want to do it a bit cheaper than the Melbourne money-set with the deep champagne budgets, then just simply order one of the wood-fired pizzas and buy a bottle of their high-quality, low-cost pinots. (At about $30 a bottle)

3. T’Gallant

1385 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge

The wine and food snobs might snub their noses at this selection a tad, but so be it. If you’re after somewhere that serves great hearty food, with affordable tasty wines in a beautiful setting, then T’Gallant is the place for you.

It’s fun, it’s family orientated and it’s perfectly suited to groups of family and friends sitting around chatting, eating, drinking and laughing together. T’Gallant is often called rustic and it’s not hard to understand why - it truly defines the title rustic winery. But there’s rustic without quality and rustic with quality and this little winery nestled away in the hills of Main Ridge, is very much the latter.

The Cellar Door sells some fine wines (their Tribute Pinot Gris is the highlight and eminently quaffable)  and La Baracca Trattoria is a simple bistro, while The Spuntino Bar kind of defines what drinking outdoors at a winery should be. That being where wine is served, delicious wood-fired pizzas rock out of the ovens at speed and people sit overlooking the valley.

What better way to spend an afternoon than by sipping on wines while sampling one of their legendary antipasto platters. Casual attire, maybe sandals or thongs and sit outside with the breeze in your face - T’gallant is a Mornington Peninsula must!

4. Pt Leo Estate

3648 Frankston-Flinders Road Merricks 3916

Pt. Leo Estate

It may still be new, it may have cost a fortune to complete, but surely for the highest of high-end wineries, nothing competes with Pt Leo Estate.

Set on more than 50 acres of vineyards, scattered with sculptures and highlighted by a premium restaurant, Pt Leo takes its place grandly amongst Australia’s finest. It is somewhat of an insult that every time someone visits Pt Leo or indeed reviews it, that they inevitably gravitate to the price. Sure it’s expensive but you can see where the money was spent in the attention to detail, the quality and the splendour of the place?

Either way, it’s impossible to ignore the Gandel Family (think shopping centres or Chadstone in Melbourne in particular)) spent more than $50m on the site (there you go we couldn’t resist either).

The Geoffrey Edwards curated sculpture park has more than 50 sculptures scattered throughout its grounds (that’s a whole lot more than Montalto) and they are without doubt an attraction.

Oh, and did I mention the food. Well, it’s expensive (no surprise), it’s high-quality (no surprise) and it’s immaculately crafted.  Chef Phil Wood, formerly of Rockpool and Eleven Bridge Sydney fame, has created a degustation menu featuring local foods from Mooroduc to Tyabb, Flinders, Main Ridge and back - and does it resoundingly well for the 40 or so very lucky patrons who adorn the Laura Restaurant daily and nightly.

In current COVID-19 times, as of late June Laura was closed but the Pt Leo Estate Restaurant – which is a slightly less refined ala carte offering is opened to guests with a max number of eight per table.

The wines? You guessed it. They’re not cheap and many actually believe slightly overpriced compared to what you may be able to source in the same region. I tend to think they’re just, well...quality. Try the Rose, the Pinot or even the Shiraz, they might not be the best in the region, but they’re pretty damn fine.

5. Jackalope/Rare Hare

166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North Vic 3926

Doot Doot Doot dining room at Jackalope

For many Jackalope, awarded Hotel of the Year; New Hotel of the Year and Regional Hotel of the Year in Gourmet Traveller Hotel Awards in 2017, is the epitome of new, sophisticated and chic.

Located in Merricks North, Jackalope has become known as refined luxury and is now one of the true features of the region. For those of us who remember past days of the Willow Creek vineyard and Salix Restaurant, we may feel slightly nostalgic that those days are now long gone - a period when the creativity and expensive refits of a luxury hotel with fine dining, casual dining, a vineyard, cellar door, day spa, cocktail bar and art installations on such a grand scale, were less important than the quality of the food and wine.

Of course that’s not to say the quality has dropped, it’s just different. Less substance, more refined.

Thankfully the 11-hectare (28-acre) Willow Creek Vineyard with its cool-climate specialities of pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc under winemaker, Geraldine McFaul, still consistently produces quality wines.

And to be fair, many actually prefer the award-winning hotel next to the winery. Doot Doot Doot is their high-end restaurant and Rare Hare their less formal. Both are chef’s hat winning and both are good. As good as Salix?  Um… sorry I’ve slipped back into nostalgia mode and shall not compare!

The hotel itself, brain child of a Chinese student who came for a weekend lunch and liked it to so much he decided to buy it and build a multi-million dollar luxury hotel on the site, (as you do), is luxe. But it would want to be at (cheapest) $650 a room per night.

It divides opinions, and the top end of the town love it, but one thing is for sure, it’s worth a look.

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