Archive for the ‘Hunter Valley’ Category

Wines, Cheeses, and Chocolates

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

One of the last remaining things to do on my Sydney “To Do” list, was to go on a Hunter Valley wine tour. Hunter Valley is one of the largest river valleys in New South Wales, and is most commonly known for its wineries and coal industry. Pokolbin is the centre of the wine country, and it is located about three hours northwest of Sydney. Much of the rolling countryside around Pokolbin is under vine with the traditional Australian grape varieties of shiraz and Semillon as well as extensive plantings of Chardonnay, Cabernet, Savignon, and small quantities of Pinot Noir. Most of the valley is comprised of vineyards, restaurants, shops, golf courses and country guesthouses.

Doing a tour out there was a somewhat pricey thing to do on my own, but I figured with my mom here, and my dad and my sister not yet here, it would be a perfect thing for us to do. A bunch of my friends had done them and given me recommendations as to which tour company to go with, so mom and I booked a tour with bus pickup from Sydney and met the bus at 7 am on Tuesday morning out of Central Station. Our bus driver, Michael, was very a amiable and talkative old fellow, and since Mom and I were the only people being picked up from Sydney, we got to drive with him by ourselves all the way up to the valley. Before even getting into the valley we started seeing wild kangaroos. They were just hanging out on the hilltops by the dozen. The bus driver was just casually pointing them out, but as soon as he did mom started to squeal with delight. Kangaroos are a fairly common occurrence in the woods of Australia, so much so that they have become quite a pest, but people still get pretty excited to see them out and hopping about. Once we reached the valley we picked up 13 more passengers from various resorts and hotels in the valley and then our tour began.

The first vineyard we went to was a small family owned one that only produces 5,000 cases of wine each year, and grows all the grapes they use on their property.  Every time a member of the family has passed on they have named a block of grapes after them. We sampled six different wines, three reds and three whites. Two of the whites, both sweet ones and one sparkling, mom and I really liked. We ended up purchasing them both.

First vineyard- Earnest Hill

The two vineyards after that were Savannah- which is the only vineyard in the valley that makes champagne, and First Creek winery. We didn’t like any of the wines at Savannah, but one of the Shiraz reds caught us off guard at First Creek. Generally mom and I aren’t that into reds, but this particular one had very soft talons and a lighter taste than most reds and we liked it so much that we bought two bottles.

wine barrels at First Creek- the third winery we went to

wine tasting at First Creek Winery

With Shiraz wine purchases in hand

After first creek we stopped at a hotel cafe for a light lunch. Mom and I ended up chatting with some of the other people on the tour during lunch. We met this family with a 15 year old son who were native Australians of Italian decent. They were saying how they were trying to plan a family vacation to the US to go to Las Vegas since it was only a 15 hour flight. ONLY?! Mom and I were both shocked that he was able to make 15 hours on a plane seem like a pithy amount of time, but he made the point that flying from Australia to another country many flights can be up to 26 hours, so 15 by comparison isn’t all that bad. After lunch we went to the smallest, but most picturesque vineyard, Blueberry Hill.

Label logo for Blueberry Hill- the fourth vineyard we toured

wine country as seen from Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill Cellar Door

By the time we reached Blueberry Hill we were somewhat wine-d out. There was one more large winery after that, the only one whose product can be bought overseas, but we didn’t taste anything we really loved at either of these places. We spent very little time in the actual winery at the last vineyard, and more time at the cheese shop that was located right next door. This cheese shop makes all of its cheeses on site and you can do a sampling of everything they have there, so naturally mom and I made a B-line for that as soon as we finished our last wine tasting. They also make spreads and jams which are also available for tasting. One of the best cheeses they make there is their signature golden rind, which mom and I both loved, but at 30$ for a fairly small wheel of it, we both kinda decided we could live without it. The last stop on our tour was a chocolate shop where we got to sample the fudges they make there in addition to some of the other candies they make. What a perfect way to top off the day, with a little chocolate. In this shop they also had a number of food oddities, so we wandered around for a few minutes looking.

Chocolate Pasta?

After the chocolate shop we dropped everyone off at their respective hotels and the drive back to Sydney we spent in relative silence as we dozed off, woozy from all our wining and dining. We were dropped off back at Central Station where we took the bus back to Glebe Point Road. It had been a beautiful and mostly temperate day, but it had been very windy in the valley, and once we had returned to Sydney the wind was still blowing quite fiercely and since the sun had gone down it was quite chilly. We weren’t terribly hungry, but we thought a bowl of soup and some bread might be in order. Near our hostel was a place called the Glebe Point Diner, which I had never been to, but we thought since it was a “diner” we could get something cheap and basic there. We were quite wrong. Although it looked modest enough from the street corner, once we were inside we found that it was actually quite swanky. We arrived towards the end of the dinner rush, so we ended up being seated at the bar facing a huge wall of wines that they offered. Several of the wines we recognized as being from the vineyards we had toured, which was cool. Mom really had her heart set on soup, and she perused the menu for such an item but came up with nothing. Everything there was quite high end and complex. When she told the waiter that all she was after was a bowl of soup he recommended the crab soup, which she had overlooked on the menu, but happily ordered.  I ordered a pumpkin and goat cheese tart. As we waited for our food we watched the chefs in the small kitchen work. There were four of them and we were mesmerized by their grace and precision.

Images of the Glebe Point Diner

When we got our food both of us were taken aback at how delicious it was. Given the snooty appearance and steep prices we had mentally prepared for small portions of pretentious food, but what we received instead was a wonderful meal. Once we had finished eating we walked back to our hostel and were able to get to bed at a more normal hour- 10pm.