coup de foudre in the mornington peninsula

in the last six months, i was fortunate to travel to many wine regions: italy's campania was charmingly rustic in the country side and dramatic on the amalfi coast.  napa was napa.  franschhoek in south africa was spectacular and beautiful,  australia's yarra valley was hearth-breaking as it had just been hit by those terrible fires.  but the mornington peninsula was like one of those dreams i had when i was a kid.  in fact, i had a strange feeling of déjà-vu... i was blown away and it was love at first sight!

as we landed in sorrento from a short ferry ride across the bay from queenscliff in geelong, i was already struck by how beautiful the town was.  little did i know that i would be hit harder as we would be driving up "arthurs seat" and then all the way to flinders, south of the peninsula.

the scenery was absolutely stunning.  farmland devoted to pasture, cattle, and vineyards, the landscape reminded me  of tuscany but, dare I say, better.  more like what i dream of tuscany.  the colors, the undulating hills, the cows, the sheeps, the beef cattle lazingly grazing.  the view of the sea in the far distance and the amazing colors of the land: straw gold of the grass, dark green of the humongous pine trees, the fresh and tender green of the vines scattered here and there.

just a short 1 1/2 hour drive south west of melbourne, the region is absolutely beautiful. 

and it produces great wines too.  thanks to its super maritime climate influenced on 3 sides by antartic currents, the region is cooler than most in australia and this gives perfect ripening conditions: long & slow ripening for maximum fruit quality, perfect natural acidity, and ripe tender tannins.  like burgundy, they specialize in pinot noir and chardonnay in that region and you can find some extremely rewarding handcrafted wines with crystalline flavours & well defined structure.

we stayed overnight in a neat little boutique winery called the "morning sun vineyard" in main ridge.  the owner, mario toniolo, and his wine maker, owen goodwin now on his 9th vintage, are truly passionate about what they do and completely in love with their plot of land.  i am told their wines did very well at the mornington peninsula’s 2009 harvest to table festival and owen was very proud to tell me that jancis robinson selected his pinot noir 2007 among her 10 favourites of the area (you can see/hear what she has to say about the region here.

for dinner, we had a fantastic culinary experience at montalto vineyard and olive grove.  firstly because the winery is absolutely stunning, perched on top of the hills in red hill south, it overlook a stunningly beautiful valley.  throughout, a modern sculpture exhibition is scattered along a path that leads you all the way to the edge of the vineyard.  secondly, because the highly rated restaurant overlooking the vineyard, is modern and "chic et de bon goût".  inside, the kitchen is expertly directed by head chef barry davis one of the only professional chef hired by a winery restaurant on the peninsula.  as their website say it so well, "the kitchen serves food inspired by regional france, but anchored in the fresh seasonal produce of the estate and the mornington peninsula", the menu offers a selection that is impossible to select upon.  we had to make do with 3 starters, 3 main courses and 1 dessert, even if we were the 2 of us.  everything was super delicious but if i must recommend a main, go for the duck:  incredibly complex, tasty, and abolutely lip smacking.  of ourse the wine list is mainly from their vineyard but don't let that turn you off.  many are award winning from 2 of their vineyards' pennon hill and montalto.

the mornington peninsula is definitely underestimated by overseas visitors but that is ok because i hope that in this way it will preserve its authenticity, its beauty, and it's uniqueness.