Kevin McCarthy & Kathleen Quealy
Most wine drinkers will have a moment that makes an indelible imprint; when everything just clicks and the memory of the wine stays with them forever.
For Kevin McCarthy and wife Kathleen Quealy, it was a bottle of Alsatian pinot gris bought from the old Richmond Hill Cellars in the mid-’80s. The wine was not only memorable for the two young Mornington Peninsula winemakers – it was life changing. “As we first tasted a bottle of Alsace pinot gris we nearly fell off our chairs,” says McCarthy, whose pinot gris and pinot grigio have long set the standard for the variety in Australia.
Before the bottle had been emptied, McCarthy and Quealy were set on producing their own, but there were a few hurdles to jump before they made their first pinot gris in 1992. “It was a step into the unknown, planting that pinot gris. Our resources back then amounted to a credit card – we were the classic two young kids with an idea,” McCarthy says. “When we decided to put it in, there were no nurseries that had it (for immediate purchase), so we had to go to Wagga Wagga to a vineyard that had it planted to take cuttings.”
The pair then had to convince the Mornington Peninsula establishment. They wanted to plant the “wrong” type of pinot – the peninsula was pinot noir territory back then.
Success built quickly at McCarthy’s and Quealy’s T’Gallant winery (it’s now owned by Treasury Wine Estates and McCarthy still makes the wines), and after their third harvest the wines were quickly developing a following.
Today, more than 50 wineries on the Mornington Peninsula produce a pinot gris or pinot grigio and 140 hectares are shaded by pinot gris vines.
The clay soils help to give the wines a richness, and a long ripening period – due to the region’s maritime climate of warm days and cool nights – means they generally have good flavour development and good acidity. Peninsula pinot gris ages well. With time, the wine loses its fruit characteristics, develops savoury and spice characters and becomes more textural.
Gris or grigio?
The same slightly pink, waxy-skinned grape produces pinot gris and pinot grigio. Traditionally, the grape is picked early in north-eastern Italy to produce crisp grigio, while in France’s Alsace region they pick their grapes later and riper to produce the more textural gris.
However, there’s a huge swing between crisp and textural and a lot of grey areas in between.
“The market is confused. There’s no way you can categorise gris/grigio as a style, nothing hard and fast, so we had to create a new language,” says Kevin McCarthy, who has been working with scientists at the Australian Wine Research Institute to develop the Pinot G scale. This categorises wines on a 10-point scale from crisp to luscious and is starting to appear on more back labels.
“The idea with the Pinot G scale is to empower the consumer so they don’t have to guess.”
Polperro Pinot Gris 2011
From a vineyard on Main Ridge that was planted
with pinot gris 20 years ago, this wine is pressed straight into oak barrels for fermentation and maturation. Complex and bright aromas of pear, spice, citrus blossom and smoky oak are replicated on a vibrant, zippy palate. The structure is great, with a smooth texture and a line of mineral-flavoured acid that fans out as it crosses the tongue. There’s good intensity and length to the finish of fresh-cut pear and lemon juice.
Food match \ Roast pork belly
Ocean Eight Pinot Gris 2011
I remember being impressed with this when I tasted it from a barrel in the winery last year, and the finished wine has certainly fulfilled its potential. Pear and white peach dominate the pretty aromas, which include citrus blossom, smoke and complex yeast. There’s more pear and stonefruit driving the flavours, along with citrus and a stony minerality, while the smooth palate has some zesty acidity to keep things fresh through to the finish.
Food match \ Grilled quail
T’Gallant Tribute Pinot Gris 2010
A tribute to the wines of Alsace, this is a hedonistic wine, for sure, and full of character, but not one that’s over the top. With bold aromas of pear, peach, spice, almond meal, orange blossom, on the palate there’s rich and complex stonefruit, spice and yeast flavours, with bitter citrus pith (a characteristic I really enjoy) and herb notes that pull it into balance. Highly textural, the wine is bright and balanced with lengthy pear, stonefruit and herb flavours.
Food match \ Bratwurst with mustard and sautéed onions.
Baillieu Pinot Gris 2011
Kathleen Quealy makes the Baillieu wines along with those of her own Quealy label (the Quealy 2011 pinot gris is sold out but the ’12 will be released soon) and you can taste both ranges at the excellent Merricks General Store. It’s a wine of character with aromas of blossom, pear, spice and yeasty lees notes. Flavours are rich, with ripe stone fruit, lemon pith, smoke and a minerality. It’s nice in the mouth, too, with a smooth texture and bright acid, and there’s a slight grip before the flavours flood back.
Food match \ Thai fish cakes
Ten Minutes By Tractor 10X
Pinot Gris 2010 (Mornington)
Just 252 dozen of this were made and it was a stand-out at a recent tasting. It’s fermented with wild yeast in old oak barrels and there’s real character to this. Aromas of fresh-cut pear, white peach, spice and smoky oak are replicated with some plush intensity on the palate. Drinkability is the key to this wine – I found myself going back for more time and again. With a silky-smooth texture, there’s a bright line of mineral-laced acidity that drives the flavours on to a lengthy finish.
Food match \ Peking duck with all the trimmings