The Rollins take on Hunter Valley

Mostly these are notes for when we return to Hunter Valley, or maybe a list for someone else thinking about going.

Hunter Valley is the main wine region of New South Wales (the Australian state in which Sydney is located).  It’s about a 2.5 hour drive North of Sydney.  Well worth the drive.

First and foremost, the most important detail is that Wine Tours with Jason is the way to see the Hunter Valley.   I can’t say enough great things about Jason, the wineries he selects, and how he goes the extra mile to give you a unique and special experience.  Jason himself is an entertainer, and every winery you visit loves him so you get a special take on what you’re experiencing.  He cares a great deal about what you experience.

The other people on the tour were fantastic: two Canucks from Winnepeg (Rob and Dani), three Spaniards (Ramon, Alalla, and Narella), and two from New Castle (Mitch and Dominiqa).

But let’s rewind to Saturday.  We drove up to Hunter Valley and visited a few wineries before checking into the timeshare we were staying at (thanks to a co-worker who hooked us up with the place).  We visited Tallevera Grove, which has a beautiful view but we just didn’t like the wines.  We drove down Mount View road, with amazing views of the vineyards.  We stopped at a small family winery called Wollombi Wines, where the owner talked to us about the property and showed us some kangaroos!  Our first wild kangaroo sightings!   The owner mentioned they could use some help in bringing in the harvest if we were interested, and who knows – if we don’t help our friend Neil that could be fun!  Finally we stopped at Krinklewood, which we liked mostly because we parked near the vineyard and could look down the long rows of the vines, and there were also a couple of pigs happily digging for roots and grubs.  Dinner that night at Aloi Thai was simply great – possibly one of the top five thai meals of all time.  My shortlist of ‘top five thai’ is quickly being dominated by Aussie restaurants.  The honey and ginger tea may be the best cup of tea (outside of India) that I’ve ever had.

Sunday we returned to Tallevera Grove, but again we couldn’t get excited about the wines.  We did learn a lot about proper wine tasting from James, though I think a lot of people were put off by his demands that we taste and spit out excess wine instead of just pouring it out.   We visited Mount View vines where Glen, an incredibly relaxing and friendly winemaker, taught us more about the different varieties grown there.   Ernest Hill was the highlight of the day, as Neville pulled out surprise after surprise and gave us more of the stories behind the wines made there, including how when a family member dies, a wine is named after them.  We finished the day with flair at the Ballabourneen Wine Company, where Pip entertained us and kept up laughing while learning even more.  And, to top the entire day off, Jason found a huge mob of kangaroos!  We watched them watch us and then bound off in the distance.  After the tour and a 90 minute power nap, we grabbed dinner with Mitch and Dominiqua at Il Cacciatorre (only three stars in my book).

Monday we visited two larger wineries just to see what it was like in contrast to the small family wineries.  We only lasted 6 minutes in McWilliams, and the tour at McGuigan’s left a lot to be deserved – every question that I asked could not be answered by the guide.

My recommendations would be: Wollombi Wines, Mount View, Ernest Hill, and Ballabourneen.  But don’t go without Wine Tours with Jason.

While I can’t attribute everything I learned to the proper teacher, here are my key takeaways of things I didn’t know before:

  • Chardonnay should not be served chilled, since it is often stored in barrels and warmth can bring out more flavors. It should also be served in large glasses like red wine because it responds to air.
  • While Semillion is a small portion of Australia’s wine production, it is often the best in the world in its class.  It also improves with ago (after four to five years).   Often lemony and goes well with seafood.
  • Verdelho is great with spicy food.  I had never heard of Verdelho before coming to the Hunter Valley.
  • To look like you know what you’re doing with wine, tilt the glass sideways holding it by the stem to examine the color on the edge, then smell the wine deeply, then take a sip and chew the wine, while sucking air into your mouth.  Then spit it out and clean your palate.  To look like you’re enjoying the wine, do none of the above.
  • Don’t swirl anything with bubbles.  That kills the bubbles.
  • Rose is not just for old women.  It is also for middle-aged women.
  • I really don’t like Merlot.
  • The labels on Australian wines need to be 85% correct.  I love that fact.
  • Sweet wine grapes (dessert wines) are picked later in the season, because leaving the grapes on the vine allows more sugar to develop in the grape.  I think I got that right.
  • The small family wineries around Hunter Valley produce about 5000 cases in total each year.  On Monday we saw a single vat that held 6,000 cases of wine.  Yowza.
  • A group of kangaroos is called a mob of kangaroos.  That’s really cool.
  • Newer barrels impart more flavor.  But many wines (mostly whites aren’t barreled except Chardonnay) Old barrels are used for things like fortified wines (port).
  • Stone fruit means peaches, apricots – anything with a large seed in the middle.
  • Okay, I’m having to stop because I realized this list could go on forever.  But you get the point and hopefully I’ll remember some of this.

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