Just a couple hours north of Sydney lies The Hunter Valley – Australia’s oldest wine region. Small and lesser-known (at least in the U.S.), this wine region offers wonderful wines from small producers in a comfortable, relaxed, and scenic setting. An added bonus to visiting this area is the large population of kangaroos! Below are some highlights from our experience in ‘the Hunter,’ as it’s called.
Where to Stay?
There are several boutique hotels as well as B&Bs for lodging in the area. We aren’t in the practice of writing hotel reviews, but we want to highlight our accommodations in the area because we strongly feel they were a central part of our experience.
We opted for a small hotel in Belford called Block Eight. It consists of just four villas and one guest house for larger groups. While not “in the middle of it all,” we were only a short drive from the wineries and, more importantly, felt like we were truly out in the country – and could relax.
In short, we loved our experience at Block Eight. Perhaps our favorite part of staying there were the numerous kangaroos. We walked around the property at both dusk and dawn taking pictures and observing the kangaroos – we even saw a mom with her joey in tow! As this was our first time in Australia, we were beyond excited and grateful to observe these cute and unique creatures. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay where you can see kangaroos in their natural habitat, this is the place!
Besides the plethora of kangaroos, Block Eight provided a generous assortment of complimentary food that lasted for the duration of our stay. We had fresh eggs, milk, bacon, orange juice, cereal, English muffins, and more for breakfast. Cheese and crackers were also provided for our arrival the first night. In addition, two bottles of wine (one Semillon and one Shiraz Rose) from the Block Eight winery were waiting in the fridge.
The villa was very well-decorated and comfortable. While we saw cars parked at the other villas, we never saw any other guests. We truly felt like we had the place to ourselves. If you are headed to the Hunter, we recommend choosing Block Eight so you can watch some kangaroos, go visit the chickens and Wentworth (their friendly goat), and really get away from it all.
One tip for the Hunter: The weekends are much more expensive than the week. You can save quite a bit of money by visiting Sunday-Wednesday. The only drawback is that many of the top restaurants are also closed one or more of these days, so it depends on your priorities for the trip. While we were a little disappointed to miss out on some top restaurants, we really enjoyed cooking dinner in our villa and simply relaxing. The cellar doors were also fairly quiet, and we had mostly private tastings.
Which Cellar Doors to Visit?
Now for the wine – arguably the main attraction in the area. The Hunter Valley is world-renowned for its Semillon. Semillon is an unoaked white wine that can be aged for several years. As we’ve mentioned in prior posts, we aren’t huge white wine people, but of course we would try the prized wine while visiting its home. We found that we weren’t too fond of the younger Semillon wines, but we really liked the older ones (around 8+ years old). Semillon isn’t the only varietal at the wineries here, though. Most cellar doors we visited had several different wines to taste, including Shiraz, Chardonnay (‘Chardy’), and a new-found favorite – Verdelho. Also, if you see it, be sure to try the sparkling Shiraz (weird, but fun)!
Tastings were almost always free, but the most we spent on a tasting was $15 AUD for a higher-end tasting at both Audrey Wilkinson and Brokenwood. No appointments are needed (unless visiting in a large group), and tastings oftentimes consist of as many wines as you want (or are able) to try! We only had two full days to visit wineries, but we tried to make the most of our time, visiting nine cellar doors and tasting some great wine!
Below were our favorite cellar doors (in no particular order):
Gundog Estate: A very small producer, this cellar door is located in an old schoolhouse, with an on-site pantry of local gourmet products. Several great wines, but to our surprise, our favorite was one their Burton McMahon wines, the Yarra Valley D’Aloisio Chardonnay, of which we bought two bottles.
First Creek: A larger and more well-known producer in the region. Almost every wine was good. Relaxed and comfortable, with a wide range of wines to taste.
Tyrrell’s: Probably the most well-known winery from the Hunter, we really enjoyed their older Semillons. This was our first cellar door, and our tasting gave us a quick education of the wines in the region. We actually bought a bottle of 2006 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon for dinner later in our trip at Quay Restaurant in Sydney.
Audrey Wilkinson: Boasted as having the best view in the Hunter, we can’t really disagree. Located up on a hill (after a short, scenic drive) overlooking the valley, this winery has a beautiful vista. We opted for the Premium Tasting, which we split between the two of us since it consisted of several wines. We enjoyed the opportunity to try a bunch of different wines and thought most of the wines were very good. We could definitely go back and enjoy a glass on their porch.
Piggs Peake: This winery was recommended to us by the lady who assisted us in our tasting at Hungerford Hill. We asked what her favorite wine was in the region, and she said Piggs Peake. We had just enough time to visit on our last day in the Hunter. This is a small and fun cellar door – all of their wines are pig-themed! We had our tasting back in the warehouse with a very friendly lady and were offered numerous wines to try. We ended up purchasing a bottle of their House of Bricks Shiraz.
Something to note if you’re planning to visit Lake’s Folly: We made a stop at Lake’s Folly, as the “sold out” sign was not up yet. Excited to have a chance to try their highly-acclaimed wines (which quickly sell out after release), we walked in and asked if we could do a tasting. To our delight, the wine was still available. We spent a considerable amount of time chatting with the friendly gentleman and tasting their two wines. However, we weren’t that impressed with the wines and were let down by the hype surrounding them.
Driving from cellar door to cellar door is very easy (provided you are comfortable driving on the left!). Most of the popular ones are within about a ten-minute drive of each other, and most of them are well-marked and easy to find. Parking seemed to be ample, granted we were visiting during the week and during low season. It is very easy to get around the region and visit several cellar doors a day.
We had a great time in The Hunter Valley, and if you are on the fence about whether it is worth the relatively short drive from Sydney, we would say absolutely. It is easy to get around once you are there, the people are very friendly, and you can enjoy great accommodations, kangaroos, world-class wine, and beautiful countryside all in one place!
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