"Mornington Peninsula is one of, if not the, best areas for making Pinot Noir in Australia." - Kate McIntyre, Moorooduc Estate
There I was, halfway around the world, driving on the “wrong” side of the road and turning on those darn windshield wipers every time I needed the turn signal. It was another sunny, blue-sky summer day in Melbourne, Australia and I was slowly and carefully making my way out of the city headed towards a wine region I had heard about only two weeks earlier. In no time, I was surrounded by rolling green hills, winding country lanes and the scent of the salty sea air. I could feel myself beginning to relax, except whenever the car veered off to the left!
Mornington Peninsula (pronounced there as pah-nin'-choo-lah) is a boot-shaped strip of land in the Australian state of Victoria, just an hour's drive south of Melbourne. Long known as a holiday destination for Melbourners who descend upon the sleepy villages each summer to enjoy the sunny, cool maritime climate, it has beautiful beaches, small family-owned wineries, impressive restaurants and many farmers’ markets full of locally grown produce.
My first stop of the day was Moorooduc Estate winery where I was greeted warmly and with a big smile by Kate McIntyre who, along with her parents, runs the winery. You would never guess that Kate, with her laid-back, down-to-earth manner, holds the impressive title of MW (Master of Wine) of which there are only 370 worldwide. She enjoys spreading her wine knowledge to the local restaurant and wine community during weekly classes at Moorooduc's ‘cellar door,’ an Australian term for a wine tasting room.
The winery was established by Kate's parents, Richard and Jill in 1982 when there were only a few other families who had begun planting vineyards there. "We were living in Melbourne and Dad was working as a general surgeon," Kate told me. "His plan had always been to buy some property, plant some vines and have a vineyard established so he could retire early and have a second career. He ended up practicing medicine for a lot longer than he thought he would because it was much more lucrative than wine." It wasn't until 1999 that they built a house on the property and were able to move down from Melbourne.
Mornington Peninsula is an ideal place to grow grape varieties that thrive in cool climates like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But, early in the industry, the pioneering winemakers were given incorrect weather data (Australian viticultural expertise was all about warm weather back then) and so they planted mostly Bordeaux varieties. Over time, they realized that the vines were not thriving and most of the Cabernet and Merlot vines were ripped out and replanted primarily with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Other varietals like Pinot Gris and Syrah have also become successful in the Mornington Peninsula.
As Kate and I walked into her parent’s home, three adorable and rambunctious poodles, Pedro, Poly and Frodo, bounded over to greet us as we made our way towards the front porch. Outside, overlooking the plantings of Chardonnay, some 35 years old and others just a year and a half old, Kate told me, "I remember when I was 10 or 11 there was nothing here. We first planted trees and then the vines went in. Mom is an enormous gardener and it has evolved into this amazingly beautiful property."
Kate's father, Richard, as amiable and welcoming as his daughter, joined us in the dining room to taste the red wines. The Estate Pinot Noir is a blend of fruit from all three of the single vineyards: McIntyre, Garden and Robinson. Kate believes that the Estate wine is "the most important wine that we make because it most represents what our wines are about." But she also feels that "the single vineyard wines give us a real understanding of the flavors they each bring to the estate wine. It really shows that we do have variations by site, terroir, if you want to call it that."
Kate, though, would love to find another word for 'terroir'. "It would be really nice to find an English word that replaced it as a concept because there’s the sense that you’re referring back to Burgundy and I think we’re at a point where we don’t need to compare ourselves to Burgundy anymore."
Richard agreed with her. "People outside of Burgundy who think they’re going to make Burgundy are just kidding themselves," he said. "What we try to do is make the best wines from our vines and our vineyards and it doesn’t take very long to come to the conclusion that the most important variable is the site where it’s been grown." In the winery, the McIntyres' priority is to handle the grapes gently, with the least amount of intervention as possible and to really allow that Mornington Peninsula fruit to shine.
Tasting through all of the Moorooduc wines, both the whites and the reds (and even a pink "Vin de Pinot Gris), I noticed the many layers of flavor and how well-balanced they were with a distinct lightness on the palate and a mouthwatering acidity. The style of Mooroduc wine is one of elegance and restraint and the wines were singing, but delicately, more Nora Jones than Lady Gaga. The fruit was apparent, but subtle and well-integrated, not at all jammy. "In Australia it’s easy to make fruity wine." said Kate. "It’s harder to make wine with savory complexity." It may not be easy, but the McIntyres are doing just that.
After nearly three hours at Moorooduc, it was time for me to explore more of the Peninsula (and hopefully improve my driving as well!). Kate took out a map to show me where her friend's wineries are located and where the best views can be found. She walked with me to the car and bid me farewell before heading off to the kitchen. Kate needed to put the finishing touches on the staff lunch of roast chicken with potato salad, paired with a bottle of the delicious Estate Pinot Noir — a combination I am sure was enjoyed by all!
ROAST CHICKEN TO PAIR WITH THE MOOROODUC ESTATE PINOT NOIR
1 3 & 1/2 - 4 pound chicken, preferably kosher, rinsed and patted dry.
1 - 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons salt (optional - no need to use salt if the chicken is kosher)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 thyme sprigs
4 rosemary sprigs
6 - 10 cloves garlic, smashed
6 - 8 slices of 1/2-inch thick french baguette or other sturdy bread
1) Position rack in bottom third of convection oven (if you have one) and preheat to 450 degrees.
2) Rub chicken all over with olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and pepper. Carefully loosen the breast skin of the chicken. Spread the butter evenly over the breast meat then smooth out the skin. Stuff cavity with lemon, thyme, rosemary and garlic. Truss the chicken or, at a minimum, tie the legs together with string.
3) Place chicken in pan, breast side up and roast for 30 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and, using a spoon, baste all over with pan juices.
4) Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees. Return chicken to oven and baste every 20 minutes. Place the slices of baguette underneath the chicken for the last 30 minutes of roasting. The chicken is done when a thigh is pricked and the juices run clear, about 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes.
5) Take chicken out of the pan and place it on a carving board. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Remove baguette slices from pan. The side which was touching the chicken will be a little soft. If you would like, place bread in toaster oven with that side up and toast for a few minutes. The other side of the toasts should already be very crispy and golden brown.
6. Drizzle chicken with leftover pan juices and serve with the croutons. Save any leftover chicken for chicken salad sandwiches and don't forget to save the chicken bones in the freezer to be used to make stock. (See my post on making homemade chicken stock).
This month (of May) I joined the Facebook group, Wine Pairing Weekend - #WinePW, whose discussion revolved around any wine-related topic that started with the letter M. We were instructed by our host Lori, from Dracaena Wines to pick a region, a winery, a producer or anything else. I chose Moorooduc Estate in the Mornington Peninsula, owned by the McIntyres. Not just one M, but three! The Mornington Peninsula is a beautiful Australian wine region, making excellent cool-climate wines. See where my fellow bloggers went with the letter 'M':
Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick will be discussing “M” is for Marselan
Jill Barth of L’OCCASION explains Monterey Wines For Summertime
Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla enjoyed M is for Mourvèdre with Maple-Glazed Duck Legs
Cindy of Grape Experiences enjoyed an evening Wine and Dine: La Mora Favorites with Margherita Flatbread
Lauren of The Swirling Dervish is chatting about Dry Muscat from Málaga and Pork Paella
David of Cooking Chat enjoyed Asiago Lemon Spaghetti with Malagousia Wine from Greece
Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm celebrated In the Merry Merry Month of May I Met Magistrate Merlot
Gwendolyn of Wine Predator decided M is for Malbec: 8 Wines, 4 Countries, 3 Continents paired with empanadas #WinePW
Nicole on Somm’s Table is Cooking to the Wine: Recanati Marawi with Black Cod and Papaya-Cucumber Salad
And, last but not least, our host Lori from Dracaena Wines will be #WinePW Meets #Winephabet Street; M is for Moscatel