I can easily see why you’d want to make wines on the Mornington Peninsula.
Close enough to Melbourne but still far enough away. Great beaches. A healthy local wine community. Distinctive terroir. In fact, the only downside is the Peninsula is becoming an expensive place to buy vineyards (especially with Melbourne suburbia encroaching). Otherwise, it’s perfect.
And Sam Coverdale has one of the best spots in the region.
I’ve written before about Sam’s Polperro & Even Keel Wines, but it wasn’t until I visited a few weeks back that I realised just how much he’d landed on his feet. Heck, the impressive cellar door and vineyard at Red Hill on the Peninsula (not far from Eldridge Estate) even has a yoga studio.
But this isn’t just a tourism operation. Originally a cellar hand at Tyrrell’s and then winemaker at Hardy’s seminal Kamberra winery in Canberra (which blooded a whole generation of ‘berran producers), Sam is a clever businessman, leasing vineyards and renting space in an old apple shed (they make the best wineries) in a bid to cut down on costs.
What’s more, the Polperro wines are genuinely interesting too. Lo-fi Mornington Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, all built on acidity, the ferments wild and slow, the barrels older, the emphasis on complexity. Perhaps the only thing that works against these wines is variability, as they can vary quite a bit from year to year. They’re living, breathing, real wines in that manner.
Sam opened up all the 2016 Polperro single vineyard releases when I was down there, largely because he was writing tasting notes and wanted inspiration. Again, these are intriguing wines are intriguing for the region.
I find (caution, wild generalisation) many ’16 Mornington Peninsula wines tend towards heaviness, with volume but less delineation (particularly the whites). Yet much of these ’16 Polperro releases (and particularly the spectacular Mill Hill Chardonay) are models of restraint and perfect balance, even while others (ie Talland Hill PInot) are just brutes.
As ever with top Mornington makers, the bugbear here is quantity. As I write half these wines are selling out, so if they sound like your bag, then it’s all about diving in now.
Polperro Talland Hill Chardonnay 2016
Talland Hill is the vineyard around the cellar door at Red Hill. Bottled slightly earlier than the Mill Hill Chardonnay and deliberately build in a fresher style. Surprisingly, it’s a subtle wine, a stony, mealy style that seems subdued, the fruit toned down a notch. The acid is firm too, holding back any fruit. Still, there’s class here, but it’s going to take time to coax out. A moth, still stuck inside a caterpillar. Class to come though. Best drinking: Come back next year. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13.6%, $60. Would I buy it? Not yet.
Polperro Mill Hill Chardonnay 2016
The Mill Hill Vineyard is right up at the very top of the Peninsula not far from the chairlift station at 270m on a very exposed site. Wild ferment and spends a full 18 months on lees in barrel. Numbers: pH 3.3 TA 6.9 (tidy). It’s a superstar Chardonnay too, a cascade of lemon cream and yellow peaches, the wine threatening to be bolder, more buttery and peachy, yet then it cuts back in. The finish is tighter, brisker, uncompromised. It’s a layered, full-flavoured wine, yet at no stage is it heavy. It just works; a superb Chardonnay with x-factor complexity and perfect weight. Yes yes. Best drinking: Now but it will still be good in five. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.7%, $70. Would I buy it? It’s a stunner. Yes.
Polperro Landaviddy Lane Pinot Noir 2016
Landaviddy Lane is on Tucks Road at Shoreham, halfway up the hill at 160m. A warmer site than Mill Hill, the vineyard all MV6 clone planted in 1992. Fittingly, this is a masculine style, but not a beefcake. Sappy raspberry, rosewater and mushrooms on the nose, the style more fragrant than you’d expect. The palate starts the same way – trying to be all medium bodied and raspberry fruited. But then it gets all raw and tannic on the finish, the dry end overtaking the rather gentle fruit with a bang, the tannins that of a warm year – firm, drying and a bit raw. The end result sits in between big wine and less big wine, both fragrant and juicy but firm edged. It’s long, it’s serious and it’s all there – this just needs the time to kick it through the big posts. Hold. Best drinking: Next year on. 17.8/20, 92/100. 13.6%, $70. Would I buy it? A glass now, more later.
Polperro Talland Hill Pinot Noir 2016
A very different beast. Smoky and drying, it’s a black, clovey and peppery style with a brooding blackness that could be Martinborough-esque. It’s such a dark wine, the alcohol gives this a brooding edge too – makes it a weightier proposition, the fruit in the macerated cherry end of the spectrum, the flavours meaty and already quite secondary. This is a firm, deep, muscular Pinot that seems rather different to the wines around it. That power will seduce, and it doesn’t taste hot, but I wonder whether it would have been even better with less ripe fruit. Best drinking: Good to go but it will last a while yet. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.6%, $60. Would I buy it? I’d take the other two Pinots first.
Polperro Mill Hill Pinot Noir 2016
Another stunner. A beautifully open and expressive wine that is even quite luscious, all raspberry pulp and plump flavours, the tannins fine and integrated. This is what Mornington Pinot is about – a lovely, open, opulent wine, that proudly shows off its red fruit, all big boned and round through the middle and yet contained through the finish. Another winner. Best drinking: Whenever. Good to go now and will last for a good five years yet. 18.7/20, 95/100. 14%, $70. Would I buy it? Sure would.