After realising we weren’t going to get in to Newcastle till 10pm and knowing the following day we wanted to see Hunter Valley, I rang the hostel and booked up the trip they offered. No research, no idea of the company or what we would get for the day – it just sounded good at $55 each. Was it what I hoped? And did we really get to indulge for the day?
In short, yes! But let me explain why we enjoyed the day so much. Rus, our tour guide, picked us up from the hostel just before 9.30 am. He explained the days format and all seven of us in the mini bus set off for Hunter Valley which was an hour away. We hadn’t eaten breakfast so Rus made a quick stop to allow us to get some food otherwise we would have been drunk by midday.
Our first winery of the day was Mcguigan where we got to sample eight different wines. The lady presenting the wines did an excellent job of explaining about each one from where the berries grew to what you should eat with the wine. Most of the wines we tasted were only available in the Hunter Valley. We also got to visit the cheese house while we were there and taste some of the cheeses, as well as see in to the rooms where the cheese was being made.
Next we visited Tempus Two, a relatively new place in the Hunter which was very apparent from the modern building. Again we sampled eight different wines – three whites, three reds, a dessert wine and a Moscato rose. The talking of the wines wasn’t as informative here. Part of the building complex was the Smelly Cheese shop where we had a soft cheese sampling as well as trying the other cheeses, oils, dukkah and olives. The cheeses were sensational but very much outside of a backpacker’s budget.
By now it was lunch time but several others had already eaten and we weren’t that hungry after so much cheese! So we skipped lunch, meaning we missed the Hunter Valley Gardens Village, however we got an extra wine tasting. This was at Lindeman’s, a brand whose label I recognised, where we tried eight different wines again. Donna, our wine tasting expert, explained about each wine in good detail and informed us of the special lines they were running at the Hunter Valley to celebrate 20 years of wine making in Hunter.
Our next stop was on top of a hill with amazing views all across the valley – you could see the mountains one side and the rows and rows of grapes the other. The wine house was not one on our tour schedule but we still managed to get a few tastes of their wine by doing some sweet talking. Because we were not booked in we didn’t get any information on their wines but the list we tasted from had some good explanations.
The chocolate and champagne house was our next stop – now I don’t like milk or dark chocolate so I didn’t really do much tasting but everyone else seemed to like it. I didn’t, however, miss out on the champagne tasting (or should I say sparkling wine – they are not allowed to call it champagne as it’s not from France). Again we had eight different wines to taste and the girl presenting our tasting was one of the most informative yet – explaining about the different gases they put in to preserve the wine and how this is the part which gives you a headache.
We were lucky enough to fit in one last winery and this was my favourite one. A really sweet family run business in an old rustic building, not like some of these other very fancy wineries we had seen earlier in the day. All of the wines were produced in Hunter Valley and we were given the freedom to choose any wine from the list to sample – we had a total of six. The lady was very informative and helpful with the questions we had – after five wineries we had got quite inquisitive.
By now it was 4pm so we left Hunter Valley and headed back to Newcastle, feeling a little worse for wear from all the wine. I found the day to be very informative about the wines, their taste, how they are made and what you should drink with each one. We were lucky to get people who really knew what they were talking about presenting the tastings. At nearly every winery we encountered friendly and talkative staff which made it a lot more enjoyable. The tour guide from Gone Walkabout Safari was laid back and happy to fit the day to the group he had.
I learnt that I do like red wine, you just have to drink the right kind and not the really cheap supermarket bottles! Any light coloured soft and sweet reds I found enjoyable to drink. Most of all I enjoyed sampling the dessert wines – these are sweet and meant as an after meal drink in small amounts. It reminded me of the Ice Wine I tried last year when I visited Niagara Falls. I also came across a wine I had never heard of before called Tawny, or Port as it was known until this year when the Portuguese banned them from calling it Port. It’s a very syrupy liquid described as “Christmas in a bottle” and it certainly is! My utter most favourite wine of the day was a white Moscato, lightly sparkling from Tempus Two.
The day lived up to the hype and I would highly recommend taking a trip out for the day to see what all the fuss is about. You can reach it by hiring a car but with the amount you can drink I would advise booking a trip as the best option. We used www.toursrus.com.au who run daily departures.