NSW Trip: Day 5: The Hunter Valley

29 10 2009

It was winery day today! Hunter Valley is famous for its reds, especially Shiraz. And guess what our favourite wine variety is? Shiraz! Heaven.

Overall impressions

  • Geographic size: The Hunter Valley is physically quite small, which I found surprising. There are a lot of wineries there, but the size of the region wouldn’t come close to the square kilometres of the Margaret River wine region. The plus of that is that everything is in easy reach, so when a winery was recommended that we’d passed earlier, going back was not an issue.
  • Spitting: I’ve always tasted wine by smelling, swilling, and swallowing (why waste good wine by spitting it out, hey?). And as I’ve invariably been the driver, I’ve always had to limit my number of tastings. So today I decided to spit for the first time as I’d be doing all the driving. I wanted to taste as many wines as possible while staying well under the alcohol limit for driving. You know what? It was a great experience and one I’d happily repeat! With spitting you get the full flavour of the wine – the smell, the swilling in the mouth (or whatever it’s called), the ‘mouthfeel’. The only thing you don’t get is any lingering after taste on the back palate as you don’t swallow. By the end of the day, I was alert, fresh, clear-headed, focused and stone cold sober! My husband on the other hand…
  • Freight charges: We found an amazing difference in what wineries would charge to ship a case of wine to us in regional Western Australia. Most said they were quoting the Australia Post price; some even said that no freight companies would deliver cases to regional WA. So, if they were all quoting the Australia Post price for a case of wine (which would weigh pretty much the same no matter which winery it came from), how come we were quoted shipping charges from zero (with our choice of Australia Post or a freight company) through to $35? Sounds like someone is ripping off the consumer…

Wineries we visited and wines we tasted

Wyndham Estate (http://www.wyndhamestate.com), an old well-established winery at the top end of the Lower Hunter region:

  • Bin 555 Shiraz ($16): Very peppery; drink now
  • George Wyndham Range 2005 Shiraz ($21.50): Softer pepper; cellar up to 10 years
  • Regional Selection 2000 Hunter Valley Shiraz ($30): Barnyard smell — very off-putting; cellar a few more years
  • Black Cluster 2005 Single Vineyard Hunter Shiraz ($65): BEAUTIFUL! Cellar up to 15 years

Tyrrell’s Vineyard (http://www.tyrrells.com.au), another old, well-established winery. Overall, Tyrrell’s was very disappointing. We tried three shirazes, but as the old blokes behind the counter were just going through the motions of ‘customer service’, we got no information about the wines. It’s as though they didn’t care.


View from Tyrrell's carpark

Brokenwood (http://www.brokenwood.com.au) had a young girl behind the counter who had heaps of personality but I got the impression she didn’t know a lot about wine.

  • 2007 Cricket Pitch (cabernet/merlot/shiraz blend; $19): A quaffer; peppery
  • 2006 Shiraz (Barossa/McClaren Vale blend from South Australia; $30): Another quaffer, pepper; has some length
  • 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz ($40): Earthy, soft but finished dry; longest on the palate of the four we tasted
  • 2005 Wade Block 2 Vineyard Shiraz ($45): initially astringent, then soft; second longest on the palate of those we tried

Pepper Tree Wines (http://www.peppertreewines.com.au) had the very personable and knowledgeable Craig behind the counter. He knew his stuff and he also recommended a couple of other wineries to try as well as a place for lunch (Bistro Molines). The current Hunter Valley tourist guide book said Pepper Tree made Zinfandel, but Craig said they stopped making it a couple of years ago — he referred us to Piggs Peake for Zinfandel, and to McWilliams Mt Pleasant for some other good shirazes. Thanks Craig!

  • 2007 Limited Release Hunter Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25): Our second favourite of the range we tasted
  • 2004 Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ($30; another South Australian wine!): Out top pick
  • 2008 Shiraz ($18): Had a touch of Viognier; our fourth choice
  • 2004 Grand Reserve Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon ($55): Our third choice

After Pepper Tree, we followed Craig’s lunch recommendation and went to Bistro Molines (http://www.bistromolines.com.au), which is located off the beaten track at Tallavera Grove Winery (http://www.tallaveragrove.com.au). I expected ‘bistro’ to mean decent food at a decent price, nothing too fancy. Bistro Molines is very far removed from all of those things. It’s very fancy (we felt a little out of place in our jeans and T-shirts…), very expensive (lunch main courses were around $40 each, and entrees were $25 and up; wines by the glass started at $8), and while the food was delicious, it was a dining experience best suited for the evening. My husband had the twice-roasted duckling, and I had most excellent fig, gorgonzola and proscuitto entree. But it was an expensive lunch and we felt a little out of place among the other diners in their designer clothes and cars!

View from Bistro Molines

View from Bistro Molines

Piggs Peake Winery (http://www.piggspeake.com) was next on the list. We had to backtrack a bit to get to it, but it was worth it! The wines were expensive, but they were all magnificent. These guys were the only ones who don’t charge for freight anywhere in Australia. We ordered a mixed case (and got an extra bottle of Zin thrown in) and it arrived home a week after we ordered it, with all bottles individually wrapped in bubble wrap.

  • 2008 House of Bricks Shiraz ($55)
  • 2008 House of Bricks Cabernet ($55)
  • 2008 Wolfie Zinfandel ($55)

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant (http://www.mountpleasantwines.com.au) was our last stop. They are another old winery, with a HUGE tasting room. No-one was serving when we got there, but the maintenance guy spotted us and came and served us! That was nice! He knew something about the wines too, even though he had some beers in his hands to take out to his workers at the end of the day. Later on the guy who’s normally behind the counter came in and took over from him. Lots of light-hearted banter!

  • 2005 Mt Pleasant Old Paddock and Old Hill Shiraz ($38.50): Our top pick of the wines we tasted here
  • 2004/2005 Mt Pleasant Rosehill Shiraz ($32): Our second pick
  • 2005/2006 Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz ($60.50): Our third pick
  • 2007 Mt Pleasant Philip Shiraz ($18.00): Our fourth pick

And after all those wines, it was time to call it a day!

On the way back into Cessnock, we called into Potters Brewery (http://www.pottersbrewery.com.au/) — after all that wine, my husband said he felt like a beer! He had a tasting plate of their boutique beers, while I had a Diet Coke in keeping with my alcohol-free day.


Dinner that night was at the Cessnock SSS BBQ Barn (http://www.sssbbq.com.au), where we had the same as we’d had two nights ago in Dubbo — a large rack of ribs for him and a small rack for me. He must’ve had more than usual to drink as he also ordered a Chocolate Mud Pudding for dessert — and he never has dessert!