Wine tasting in THE Hunter Valley

It’s no wonder everyone raises their eyebrows at the mention of Hunter Valley.  Hunter Valley—the wine region about 2.5 hours north of Sydney—is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited.  Its rolling green hills and big sprawling Pepper trees are incredibly relaxing and a nice change of scenery from the urban sprawl.

We visited 5 wineries and each one was on beautiful property, had great wine, and had very friendly service.  One thing that is great about Hunter Valley wine tours is that all the tastings are free.  As a result, we bought bottles at each place we visited as a “thanks” for the gracious service.  

Hunter Valley is best known for its Semillon variety, a white wine that is crisp, acidic, and almost sour.  I really enjoyed it.  Almost every winery we visited had a tasting menu that included Semillon, Chardonay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Cabernet.  Most of the wines we tasted were in the $20 range; the top end wines topped out at $50-$60 dollars.  Twenty dollars is a great price for good wine and when you consider that most of the wines you buy from wineries aren’t available in restaurants or bottle shops, it adds to the value.

We opted to skip the tour bus (about $60pp) and instead hire a limo sedan for $350 (which works out to $87pp for 4 people).  Most of the boutique wineries that came recommended to us often turn tour busses away.  And since we had a short list of places we wanted to go to, we were able to set our own itinerary.  The people at Wine Country Limousine know everyone in town and took care of all of our winery appointments for us. 

Pepper Tree
This was the first winery of the day.  The man who poured told us all about how people have been growing wine in The Hunter for 190 years (that’s over twice as long as they’ve been growing in Napa).

Pepper’s is a quaint little winery with lots of character and really great wine.  I highly recommend it as a stop.  I buy their cabernet all the time in bottle shops so I was very excited to be able to pick up an estate reserved bottle.

Scarborough
What’s unique about Scarborough is that patrons sit outside at a table under a white tent rather than standing at the bar.  They have the look and feel of a proper boutique winery.

Their chilled wine was very good.  In fact, we purchased a bottle of their rose.  Their reds, however, were disappointing.  I think we got the bad luck of being poured a recently opened bottle.  Had the wine been properly oxygenated, it probably would have been a lot better—which is a shame because I have heard that Scarborough has great wine.  I’ll definitely give this place the benefit of the doubt and try their wine again the next time I come across one.

Audrey Wilkenson
After a much needed lunch stop at Cafe Enzo, we made our way to Audrey Wilkenson.  Wilkenson’s is located at the top of a hill and have a remarkable 360 degree view.  This was the best view of the day and was only topped by the view at Bistro Molines.

The view is not the only thing they have going on at the winery—the wine itself is packed with flavour.  We skipped a lot of the whites and moved right into the reds.  They poured us a lot of wine that was off the tasting menu, including an incredibly intense merlot which stood out as one of the best wines I tasted the entire day.

The people who work their have the swagger of great wine makers.  They were joking around with us and telling stories the whole time.  We really enjoyed our time there.  Between the view and the wine, this was definitely the best winery of the day.

Poole’s Rock
The cellar at Poole’s Rock is very small and dimly lit, which was a little disappointing because it was such a bright, sunny day.  I giggled like a 13 year-old at their main label, “Cockfighter’s Ghost.”  But then the bubbly 20 year-old who works their told us the wine is named after a horse, named Cockfighter, who drowned in quicksand and was never found.

It was the best-named wine of the day, but certainly not the best tasting.  Although to be fair, their wines are more in the $15 range so pound-for-pound, that wine is actually punching above its weight.

Brokenwood
Brokenwood was crowded and loud.  However, it was the last winery of the day and open until 5:30; most other wineries were closing at 4pm that day.  Brokenwood had definitely collected the buzzed crowd who were tacking on a 5th winery of the day.  It would be unfair for me to judge that crowd considering we were every bit as buzzed as the rest.  We were ready for a nap by this point.  Five wineries is a lot.

Others
We had heard that Tinkler’s and Tulloch were great too.  Although we did not get a chance to visit.

We went to Margan for dinner.  It was amazing and look for a separate post on that visit.  We had a merlot and a “museum” cabernet (vintage 2000) that were outstanding.  We wanted to buy the cabernet for $50 but unfortunately they’re too low on inventory to sell it anymore.  However, they did bring us up to the bar to taste their current cabernet vintage which we bought for $22.

We were told to AVOID Irongate, Drayton’s, Tempus Two, Rosemount, and Lindeman’s.  We actually stopped at the Tempus property on our way out of town to check out the Smelly Cheese Shop.  I can confirm that this is definitely a place that definitely more commercial and set up for tourists to buy.