14
Feb
10

Hunter Valley

We finally had a free Sunday, and the road called to us. Although the forecast was for scattered rain we decided to drive a couple of hours north of Sydney to the Hunter Valley wine region.

It was gorgeous. We took off early, and although it was cloudy most of the day the rain held off until we’d returned home. The drive up and back was smooth.

The Hunter Valley itself – or at least the wine region – is much smaller than I expected. You can easily drive around the whole area in a day or two. This was our first trip, but it’s so close that we know we’ll be back so didn’t push to see to much.

It reminded me very much of France. Obviously the fields of grapes and all the wineries are a big part of that, but also the rolling green hills, the tree-lined roads, the places selling cheese and paté. It’s a place where the land and the farming is special. I felt the same thing in the Napa Valley.

Photo from krossbow via Creative Commons license

Our first stop (after the excellent visitor information centre) was boutique producer Littles Wines. We thought their new Semillon and Semillon Sauv Blancs were okay, and they were really friendly and helpful at the cellar door. But we wanted to sample more because dropping too much cash and only bought some of their tawny port.

Next was Moorebank Vineyard, a very nicely-presented estate. I stuck to their range of condiments and home-made lemonade, as I’d sampled eights wines at the first place, and someone had to drive. The reports on the wine here were good, but the prices were steep. We left with some onion relish. As we walked to the car we faced down a huge kangaroo lounging in the shade of a tree right in the middle of the yard.

We decided that more food tasting would be the wise thing to do if we wanted a glass of wine at lunch. Next was the Hunter Olive Centre which had dozens of oils and chutneys; we got a tub of Kalamatas and a jar of spicy lime pickle. We didn’t buy anything at the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory down the road; we sure sampled lots, though I was disappointed they had no blue cheeses. Lucky for me they had three blues at the Smelly Cheese Shop across the highway. We didn’t try any of the wines at the last few places: they were all of the big-business variety, with streams of touring coaches belching crowds of people into their large car parks.

Somehow all this nibbling had not killed our appetite, so we drove across the valley for our lunch reservation at Majors Lane Restaurant. We sat outside, a field of grass in front of us, the warm breeze bringing us the smell of something flowering nearby. Lunch was tops. We only had a bit of bread for a starter (since we’d been grazing) but enjoyed a glass of their Semillon (her) and Chardonnay (me; very vanilla-y) to start. Our mains – lamb loin fillet, shepherds croquette, braised baby peas and lettuce with a tarragon mustard hollandaise for her, and glaze-roasted duck breast, confit duck and potato galette, caramelised witlof, plum and rocket for me – required glasses of their chambourcin and shiraz (nicely peppery). It was a really well put-together meal. We took our time.

We tried just one more cellar door in the afternoon: Piggs Peake, another boutique place. We picked it because of some good TripAdvisor reviews, and I’m glad we did. It was a small, quiet, and friendly operation. We tasted everything they gave us (but again, because I was driving, I made good use of the bucket). Despite an overuse of funny pig-themed names we liked a couple enough to buy a few of each: their 2008 Super Tusker Sangiovese and their 2009 Sows Ear Semillon.

Photo from derekmswanson via Creative Commons license

An ice cream on the way home was more than enough to finish us off.

Given that we expected long drives between vineyards and rain all day, today was brilliant. It’s definitely a star location, especially being so easy for us to get to from north Sydney. The plan next time: go for a weekend, rent bikes, and cycle from vineyard to vineyard.

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