I 've been to Burgundy once, and I have to say, I wasn't impressed. Granted, I was only 20 and knew little about wine. But shouldn't a place known for producing some of the world's greatest bottles be grand, with sweeping vistas and magnificent châteaus? Instead, the sand-colored buildings in the town of Beaune were extra-drab, under thick gray skies that obscured the vineyard views. After a quick browse of some uninspiring tourist shops, my friend and I hopped an early train back to Paris.
Ten years later, my wine-geek fiancé, Phil, and I are in Australia's gorgeous Mornington Peninsula, where the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay evoke comparisons to the Burgundy wines I've grown to love. Mornington Peninsula is a 30-mile-long finger of land an hour south of Melbourne. Water on three sides keeps the region cool, especially for Australia, making it ideal for Pinot Noir and leaner styles of Chardonnay (the two main grapes in Burgundy). Few of its wines come to the U.S., but that may change soon: Mornington Peninsula's profile is rising fast. Already there are 200-plus vineyards, most planted since the 1970s. I'm totally taken by the craggy, mossy cliffs jutting up against a pristine, azure sea. Could such a stunning place possibly make wines that approach Burgundy's great heights?
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I consider that question over dinner. Phil and I are at a winery called Ten Minutes by Tractor, so named because its vineyards are 10 minutes apart by (yes) tractor. At its restaurant, I tuck into chef Stuart Bell's French-inflected fooda wonderful mustard-brushed tuna with an eggplant relish reminiscent of ratatouillewhile Phil starts vigorously swirling the two Chardonnays in front of us. Then he starts sniffing in earnest. He takes a sip, slurping and gurgling as wine pros do, and swallows. He looks at me surprised and says, "In a blind tasting, I'd guess these were white Burgundy."