Monday, January 16, 2006

Stonier Wines (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia)
The good thing about finding Merricks General Store and a welcome cup of coffee was that we were on time for the opening of Stonier Wines. The emails between me and the people at Stonier had been a little confusing and so I wasn’t too sure what the welcome would be. But I had finally emailed them that we would arrive at 11am. Once Miranda started talking the young lady behind the tasting counter asked if we were the “American visitors”? Well yes I had sent some emails some time back, so I guess we are. She poured us a little bubbly and went to get the weekend manager, Noella Thornton. Have I said how helpful Australian wine folk are? Not rude, not pushy, not trying to force their idea of their wines down your throat. Noella let us taste through the line-up and then, with a glass of what we preferred in hand, she showed us the winery and barrel room and provided a great amount of information. Much more than I could note down, but here is some of it.

Described (in their own advertising) as “Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Specialists” Stonier was established in 1978 by the Stonier Family. History has it that Brian Stonier purchased acreage at Merricks because he wanted to plant Champagne vines to make wine for his daughter’s wedding. A rather inauspicious start for the winery considered by James Halliday to be “the pre-eminent winery in the Mornington Peninsula”.

A working winery was opened in 1991 and the barrel room was built in 2000. During those years Stonier was sold to Petaluma, and then adsorbed into the Lion Nathan Group in 2001. Stonier currently makes 30,000 cases of wine with about 15% being exported. The biggest overseas market is the UK; the wines are not distributed in the USA. The current winemaker is Geraldine McFaul who began working full time in 1997. The grapes come from between 150-200 acres of vineyards of the Mornington Peninsula as well the vineyards at Stonier.

Unfortunately we did not get to taste any of the single vineyard Pinots but the wines we did taste were impressive although a little restrained. This probably hints more at the influence of Burgundy on the winemaker. The 2004 Chardonnay (French Oak) (Screwcap) $23AUD, was light straw yellow in color with herbal/fruity notes and nice clean bright acidity. Well structured with the soft roundness of malolactic fermentation. 2, 2, 3.8, 10.2 = 18.0/20, 90/100. 13.5% alcohol. (80% barrel fermented, 20% stainless steel). The 2003 Reserve Chardonnay (Cork) (French Oak, 30% new) $39AUD, was another light straw yellow wine but had more buttery and yeasty flavors over smokey oak. On the palate is was again more aromatic with notes of citrus and peach. It has nice clean, bright acidity, and is well structured. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.1 = 18.2/20, 91/100. 14% alcohol. (100% barrel fermented). The top of the line 2003 KBS Chardonnay (Cork) (French Oak) $55AUD, is a single vineyard wine. Light straw yellow in color it gave muted notes of lemon and nuts. There is nice bright acidity and toasted oak, but the wine is still a little too tight and will need some time to open. 2, 2, 3.8, 10.2 = 18.0/20, 90/100. 14% alcohol. Fruit was whole bunch pressed, and fermented in 75% new Vosges oak.

The entry level 2004 Pinot Noir (Screwcap) (French oak) $24AUD, was light cherry in color with a pink edge. Very spicy with dusty oak. Light to medium bodied with a soft, silky entry and excellent carry of flavors onto the palate. The acidity is a little sharp. Austere is a good description for this wine. 2, 2, 4.1, 9.6, = 17.7/20, 89/100. 13.5% alcohol. Malolactic fermentation allowed in barrel. Next was the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir (Screwcap) (French oak - 30% new oak, rest 1-2 year old.) $45AUD. Light cherry in color with a lighter edge. This wine has pure Pinot Noir character, with notes of smoky oak. It is marred by a slight bitterness. Light to medium bodied, it has a soft and appealing mouthfeel, nice length and balance with nicely handled oak. Another austere wine. 2, 2, 3.9, 9.8 = 17.7/20, 89/100. 13.5% alcohol. Malolactic fermentation allowed in barrel. The last wine we tasted was the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (Cork) (French Oak) $19AUD. This is the last vintage of Cabernet made by Stonier. Light in color with notes of menthol, cedar and anise it is medium bodied with good mouthfeel, and firm tannins. The flavors carry well onto the palate, but the structure is not impressive. 2, 2, 3.6, 9.5 = 17.1/20, 85/100. 13% alcohol.

Having never tasted anything from Stonier before I came away quite impressed with their wines. In general they are a little too high in acidity for my palate. But they certainly represent a more austere style that is a good counterpoint to the fruit laden, high alcohol wines from warmer regions of Australia.

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