I’m back in Victoria, Australia, having not only largely neglected it for my first few months of writing, but having added insult to injury by having the pin in the map for the Hunter Semillon turn up near Adelaide because that’s where the producer is based. I did try to make sure I wouldn’t get stopped in the airport the next time I fly to Melbourne by covering the Sorrenberg Gamay and today I head south from Melbourne itself to the Mornington Peninsula.
The wine in question is the Point Leo Road Vineyard Lagrein 2006, a new producer for me, but a grape I’ve had in its New World form at least once before. First though, the Mornington Peninsula. Melbourne sits on the Port Phillip Bay, and there are two wine regions that separate the Bay from the sea, Geelong to the west of the inlet, or The Rip as it’s called, and the Mornington Peninsula to the east. It’s known within Australia for being a cool climate, with influences both from the Southern Ocean and the Bay. It is as far from the equator as the very south of Italy or the lower half of Spain, not exactly Europe’s coolest regions, so everything is relative. That said, it actually is fairly cool – summer average temperatures are just under roughly 20C/68F with high humidity and some rain, with lots of rain in the winter and spring. Soils vary widely across the region.
The region as a whole is dominated by Pinot Noir, which makes up nearly half of the plantings, but a much bigger mindshare as the next biggest contender is Chardonnay at only 25%. In terms of region/grape association, Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir ranks up with Barossa Shiraz or Hunter Semillon. And while I’ll certainly write about a Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir at some point, today I’m drinking a Lagrein.
Lagrein is an ancient red grape that survives in its Northern Italian homeland on just a few hundred hectares in Alto Adige. It’s used to make tannic wines on it’s own, as well as a fragrant rosé, It’s also used to add colour and tannins to blends, including Pinot Nero (Noir). Plums are a common aroma/taste associated with the variety, as are more savoury notes of tobacco and chocolate. Before doing some research, I assumed that like many interesting varietals, it arrived in Australia with immigrants from its region of origin. However, it has a much more specific Australian genesis, having been cultivated by Dr Peter May of the University of Melbourne, Burnley Campus, in 1988 as outlined in an article he wrote, available at Vinodiversity. At present, there are just two dozen Australian wineries working with Lagrein, and there are apparently plantings in California as well. I first came into contact with the variety through Domain Day, who produce the Garganega I tasted some months ago.
Point Leo Road Vineyard is a small winery, with the founding family, the
Mays Laws, having started out as contract grape growers in 1996 with plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their range of wines includes reds, whites, rosé and sparkling from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and this Lagrein.
This wine is a very deep colour in the glass – still ruby even at six years old. There was fair amount of accumulated sediment when I decanted the bottle, which had been stood up for a few days. The nose is clean and of medium intensity, showing some development, and notes of black cherry and dark chocolate. On the palate, the acidity is the first thing that hits you – very tart, with the plums that I was looking for but didn’t find on the nose, as well as some tobacco. It has a fairly light body, and while there are some green tannins evident, they’re well integrated. It’s a good wine though the tart fruit is somewhat jarring on the first sip. I can’t say it’s out of balance though, certainly not without having a better idea as to the varietal typicity that comes with more experience. I’ll have to see about tracking down an Italian Lagrein to see how the Old and New compare.
[This post originally listed the family who founded the label as the Mays. In fact it was founded by John and Ruth Law and their family. My apologies for the error. The post has also been updated with an accurate pin in the map for their address.]