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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

HUNTER VALLEY: Places to Visit

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Planning a trip to the Hunter Valley? Because it is Sydney's closest major wine region, it certainly gets more than its fair share of local weekenders and international visitors, but it is probably one of Australia's most misunderstood regions, specialising in medium bodied reds and elegant whites. Here are a few wineries which will really give you an understanding of the region.


THE BIG GUNS

Mount Pleasant

Fun fact: Mount Pleasant was held up to be the greatest winery in Australia until the 1960s when Penfolds began to gain traction. They did go through a bit of a lacklustre period, but a change in winemakers and strategy in 2013 have improved drastically and they were awarded Best Winery in Australia in 2016. There is great variety here, and a large range in style and price to keep most punters happy.

Tyrrell's Wines

Never have I ever had a bad experience at Tyrrell's Wines

This is a family owned and operated winery, and recently celebrated 160 years of winemaking. In my own humble opinion, I think Tyrrell's are one of the few 'big names' in Aussie wine which deserve it. The cellar door staff are all well trained and the wines all err on the side of restraint and elegance. Keep your eyes open for the HVD Old Vines Chardonnay – this comes from vines planted in 1906 and, unless there is a hidden vineyard somewhere, means that this wine made from the oldest surviving Chardonnay vines on the planet.

Lake's Folly

Widely called Australia's first boutique and the cellar door, compared to others, is tiny. So is their vineyard. They only make (generally) two wines – a richer Chardonnay and a Cabernet blend, and the latter just happens to be the fourth most collected wine in Australia (not bad, given that the top three are all Penfolds' wines). Lake's Folly always sell out quickly, and once they do the cellar door closes until the next vintage release. It is best to call ahead here and make sure that they are open.


HIDDEN GEMS

Thomas Wines

Andrew Thomas is often called the guru of Semillon, and year after year he defends that title vigorously. This is very modern cellar door, with really only Semillon and Shiraz on offer. The whites always win a slew of awards, particularly his Braemore vineyard, and his Shiraz is generally a lot more dense and powerful than most things coming from the Hunter Valley. There are always back vintages on offer too, a good way to get to know how Semillon ages.

Hart and Hunter

These are, perhaps, some of the purest wines made in the Valley. The Semillon always has so much clarity of flavour, and their 26 Rows Chardonnay is reliably good year after year. The Shiraz is simply breath taking and harks back to the days of 'Hunter River Burgundy,' with an

Winmark - a tiny range done right!

uncompromising dedication to aromatics. The cellar door has a lovely front veranda for those sunny days, and retro vinyls get played from inside. Also – magnum bottles are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Definitely a situation where bigger is better.

Winmark

This might be a little bit out of the way, but it is well worth the visit. It is just outside Broke, which is an easy fifteen minute drive from Cessnock, and it one of the newest cellar doors in town. The mentality here is to focus on a few things and to do them well - the vineyard is planted only to Chardonnay and only two wines are made. Make sure you take a moment to wander around the ground too. When I first visited, they were only open Friday through to Sunday but are now ready for visits any day of the week.


FEELING ADVENTUROUS?

Harkham

This is a place which is booming with younger drinkers on the weekend. Richie Harkham makes some of the only 'natural' wines in the Hunter, with a range made from Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz. They do tend to be on the more rustic side, so go in with the knowledge that things will be different here. This is also the only certified kosher wine made in Australia, and a Mexican cantina is attached (be sure to check the opening hours). Definitely aimed at the more 'hipster' crowd but the wines definitely are interesting.

Vinden Estate

Angus Vinden is a second generation winemaker and the range is split into the more traditional Vinden Estate wines and the quirkier Vinden Headcase, which focuses on pushing traditional varieties a bit further and experimenting with other grapes. The wines are all approachable and fresh, and Angus has fast made Vinden a winery to watch. It's a great intimate setup too, with the friendly family dogs coming and going as they please.

Whistling Brook

Again, found in Broke, and it is in a serene little corner with a great view of their vineyards and the Broke Mountains. While there are plenty of wines here that you'd expect from the Hunter, what sets this a grape called Touriga Nacional. While there are one or two other wineries with this grape, it is normally blended and Whistling Brook are the only people to do this as a straight varietal. It is a great showcase on just how this Portuguese red grape thrives in the hot Hunter Valley and is delicious when young, but mid term cellaring is greatly rewarded.


This site provides fruit to Thomas and Hart and Hunter - some of the best Semillon on offer.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Okay - there is a lot more to the Hunter than these wineries, obviously. The following are great visits for lots of reasons which I can't in good faith fail to mention.

Usher Tinkler

The cellar door is a converted church, and the wines are lovely and approachable. The food, though, cinches the deal. Generous food platters of cheese and charcuterie are on offer to have along with your tasting. Make sure you're hungry.

First Creek

After a day of tasting nothing but Hunter Valley you might be looking for some variety. First Creek is a mid sized winery who do plenty of Hunter wines but also source fruit from Orange and the Hilltops regions, just to mix it up.

Margan

I am fairly sure that this one of only two Broke wineries which are open 7 days a week. Along with the classics, they also grow some alternative varietals like Albarino, Tempranillo and Barbera. There is also a restaurant on site and a deliciously astringent vermouth to try.

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