Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and also one of the most revered. It is now into it’s fifth generation of winemaking families and there are also some, what they call, up and coming ‘young gun’ winemakers.
We spent three days in the country – a day on a guided tour, a day driving out to Port Stephens, and another exploring and visiting the cellar doors on our own.
Just like our last visit, we booked ourselves a wine tour and this time, made sure to confirm we’ll be visiting a different batch of wineries (since we were going with the same tour operator).
The best thing about spending nights in the country was not having to worry about driving back into the city on a drunken high if we had too much wine!
Rise and shine in Hunter Valley and waiting for our bus
Hunter Semillon and Shiraz is something not replicated in any other wine region
— Anthony Gismondi
Hunter Valley Semillon is Australia’s unique gift to the wine world
— Jancis Robinson MW
Hunter Valley is known for its Semillon and Shiraz (which I can’t appreciate cos I’m not a fan of reds). Even though we did discover some gems and tasted some not-so-good wines, I will not attempt to critic or review them because I’m most certainly not a wine connoisseur. Plus, all of them are very passionate about their trade and work very hard.
Through our visits to the cellar doors and wine-tasting experiences, I learnt a lot about the winemaking process, the skills and labour involved, and was very amazed by how the geography of a vineyard can affect the quality of wine it produces.
Here are some of the cellar doors and producers we visited during the guided tour:
Ivanhoe Wines – We’ve been here on our last visit but didn’t mind the re-visit because they do really good wines.
Blessed with owning one of the best soils in the Hunter, Ivanhoe is known for their cirsp Semillon, tropical Verdelho, soft oak Chardonnay, soft and smooth Chambourcin (this is one red I can take) and full bodied Shiraz.
They also do personalised wine bottles so it’ll definitely make a very special gift to a wine lover. I’m not sure about the timeline so if you’re planning to personalise a bottle, do visit their website and call in advance.
From the cellar door, you get a mesmeric view of their 25 hectares of 30-year-old vines.
We bought a bottle of Chambourcin because, like I said, it’s the only red I can take.
Blueberry Hill – This is a small boutique winery in the Pokolbin area. They grow six varieties of grapes: Chardonnay, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
They have a very simple cellar door which felt more like someone’s home. Our sampling host was this happy, chirpy lady who shared quite a bit with the group as she filled our glasses. She moved into the country because the pace in the city was too hectic and it made her easily frustrated. And I agree. How nice would it be to be able to take things slower.
I wouldn’t be able to survive the lack of internet connection and round-the-clock food stalls though. Heh.
Tintilla Estate – When we hopped off the bus, I was awed by the enticing cellar door, perched on the hilly grass, surrounded by flowers and trees. It is probably what my home would look like if I owned a place in the countryside. Hee. To complete the picture, there was even a dog sitting right where we alighted :)
Tintilla pioneered an Italian varietal, Sangiovese, which we tried and liked.
We also observed that a lot of winemakers like to name their creations after their children/grandchildren.
Bluetongue Brewery – This is not so much a winery but a brewery specialising in premium Australian beer.
Breaking for lunch
We had lunch at the casual restaurant beside the brewery. You could do beer tasting if you’d like (I’m pretty sure they do some good and smooth lager) but since L and myself are no fan of beers, we gave the beer tasting a miss and just had lunch.
Within the day tour group, there was a couple from Canberra who runs a restaurant business – i.e. they’re real foodies – and they were planning to visit Singapore so we gave them some tips on what to see, do and eat. We met some really nice people on this tour :)
Adina – Our first stop after lunch.
Located in Lovedale, Adina doesn’t only do great wines. They also grow local produce like olives and olive oils and offer accommodation.
Our tasting session was conducted by the owner and he spent a great deal of time educating us on the processes, the differences between French and Australian wines, pure wines and mixed varieties, etc. It was a very informative session.
He had a variety of wine made for his grandson’s 21st birthday and named it after the boy. How cool is this granddad?!
So these were all the wineries we visited. The guided tour also included visiting the locally produced chocolate and cheese factories so we needed some time for that.
Hunter Valley Chocolate Company – This was no Willy Wonka’s factory but it was just as delightful with its wide selection of choco goodness. I couldn’t resist and bought some strawberry fondue as I browsed, and we left with a pack of chilli chocolate. (Yes, it’s spicy chocolate!)
I’m not a sweet-tooth kinda girl but it still took a lot of self-restraint to not get everything because they were all packaged so nicely. I’m a sucker for pretty packaging.
Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop – The cheese shop had a vast array of local and international cheeses, condiments and delicacies.
It was our first cheese-tasting session and we reeked of cheese after the visit. Bought a bottle of fetta and lemony olive oil to share with the people back home.
The guided tour ended at about 5. We were dropped off at our apartment and managed to get in a nap before driving out in pitch dark (again) to the nearby Hermitage Lodge for dinner at their award-winning Italian restaurant, Il Cacciatore.
Gnocchi for L and linguine for me
L thought the food was bad but I liked mine. Methinks he ordered the wrong dish.
One thing we both agree though, is that the service was appalling. Our server was this fierce-looking lady who looked like she was chewing gum and ready to beat us to a pulp. She gave the widest, fakest smile whenever she was at our table which disappeared the moment she left. And it wasn’t just with us, she did this with every other table she served.
It was quite amusing so we just mimicked her fake smile and laughed it off but I can imagine other customers getting really pissed.
It was a really cold night so we bundled back into the car and whizzed back to our apartment.
Ahhh, nice and warm, watching the local cable in front of the fireplace
Read the rest of my Sydney travelogue:
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Days 9 & 10