There are two things I like a lot: drinking copious amounts of wine and exploring new places. So a couple of weekends ago, the English Muffin and I decided to do both, and booked ourselves a weekend away in the wine region known as Hunter Valley.
Hunter Valley is likely one of the more popular Aussie wine regions due in large part to its proximity Sydney (about a 2 hour drive). They are famous mostly for their Shiraz and Semillon varietals, which I had known absolutely nothing about until I took a wine class with coworker friends a couple a months ago. I had initially signed up to have an excuse to get tipsy on a Tuesday night, but actually learned something. Go me! Anyway…
We booked one of those GroupOn Deals, which has never really worked out for me in the past but I still foolishly purchase them from time to time. We ended up at the Hunter Valley Retreat, which wasn’t too bad of a spot and was staffed by the nicest people in Australia. It was a little out of the way of Pokolbin, the area where most wineries are and the spot likely most convenient to stay, but we were only there for two days and had a wine day tour as part of the package so we weren’t too fussed.
On Saturday we were scheduled in to Andrew Grubb’s “Wine and Grubb Tastebud Adventures” (clever), which took us to several boutique wineries that I had never ever heard of before – which I like because it gives me ammo to be a prick at a fancy work dinner and name drop some obscure winery. It would have been a great tour save for one thing: three incredibly loud, classless Western Sydney women and their two terribly-behaved children lining the back of the vehicle, shouting inane conversation in a mix of English and another language, and frequently dropping the F-bomb in front of the 8-year-old kids. And we were sitting directly in front of them. Yay! We proceeded to drink as much as possible (“Oh, is that a Sauv Blanc? Interesting, may I try that as well?”) while doing our best to avoid our friends from the van when in the wineries, and testing the strength of our resolve every time the seat was kicked or a cackle sounded in our ears.
We stopped at a winery called Tallavera Grove, which I have to recommend as it had the most incredible view of any winery we saw all weekend. AND it had a restaurant called Bistro Molines with a menu that looked ridiculously delicious. I would have gone back for dinner but there was a two month waitlist for a reservation. I will plan another trip around this reservation, when I make it.
Also visited that day:
– Ivanhoe Winery – had a good Shiraz as a daily drinker but cost too much to be a daily drinker. Pretty winery and very knowledgeable staff.
– Pokolbin Estates – by this point we were desperate to drown out the shouting so I think we tasted 9 wines here. I can’t remember what I liked.
– Tempus Two – I don’t recommend this one – it’s like the Disneyland of wine. Weird.
– James Estate – it was a very nice spot and the wine was an amazing value. Unfortunately they didn’t take cards, and we were out of cash by the end of the day. Turns out it’s because the winemaker had run the business into the ground and wasn’t supposed to be trading! But had a great Verdelho that had a very distinct red bell pepper aftertaste. I was in love. And they had a horse.
The next day I had scheduled a surprise for the Muffin Man, and we were picked up for breakfast by a HELICOPTER! I had never been in one before so it was as much a gift for me as for him, but I’ll let him think I’m awesome. We landed at Peterson’s Champagne House for a champers breakfast, then off to Tempus Two to get picked up for yet another afternoon wine tour. We were prepared for the worst, but when our guide Tony pulled up the van was empty – everyone had canceled and we got a private bus tour of more amazing wineries! The only drawback? I had to stop drinking so I could drive us back to Sydney that evening.
Wineries we visited on day two:
– McWilliams Wine – had a great time chatting with the staff here, a really nice guy who poured very generously.
– Drayton’s Family Wines – a pretty big operation, wine was relatively forgettable, but they specialize in Port anyway (which isn’t my fave). We ended up picking up a bottle of spicy moonshine of some sort to dare each other with later.
– GunDog Estate – these guys only focus on making the wine, not growing it. And they do an amazing job – we picked up a Reserve Shiraz that was incredible, and a Wild Semillon that tasted unlike any white wine I’ve ever had. We also were able to chat with the winemaker himself – he was about our age, really nice, and pretty handsome (sorry ladies, he’s married). Buy a case!
– Audrey Wilkinson Winery – another one with a killer view. At this point I had started spitting instead of swallowing (I know, I know) so I don’t remember this one too much because I was focusing on the tragic waste of wine. They receive high marks from the pros but I remember not being wildly impressed.
– Brokenwood Wines – Another must-taste if you go to the Hunter; they have a few wines that are unreal (we coincidentally spent the most money at this vineyard as well, because they’re priced accordingly). Mistress Block, Wade Block II, and Indigo Shiraz and Pinot Noir were all awesome.
OK, that’s a really long one but if you want to ignore all the wine mumbo-jumbo it’s summed up here: We had a really nice weekend and drank a lot of delicious wine, and I’m a little bit of a wine wanker. The pictures will tell you the rest: