Savouring a drop and taking in the views on an Australia trip to the country’s oldest wine region.
When it comes to Australian wine, South Australia’s Barossa Valley has captured the imaginations of wine lovers across the globe. It’s particularly famous for its Shiraz, produced by dozens of fine wineries located within a few hours’ drive of Adelaide. That’s great for the reputation of Australian wine, but if you want to try the world’s best Shiraz, you’ll need to head to the Hunter Valley, just north of Sydney.
Don’t tell the South Australians.
Located inland from Newcastle, Australia’s second-largest non-capital city, the Hunter Valley’s wine history dates back to the 1820s, when James Busby purchased what would become the first dedicated vineyard land in the Hunter. In the 1830s, he brought cuttings from over 500 vineyards to the region, and by the 1850s, Hunter Valley wines were being praised everywhere from high society Sydney, right up to judges’ table at the Paris Exhibition. One Hunter Valley sparkling even bettered France’s finest Champagnes, and was served to Napoleon III at the exhibition’s closing ceremony.
Located a two hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter is an easy day trip, though it is a long one, departing in the early morning. There’s good reason for this though, particularly if you’re part of Goway’s Private Diamond Full Day Tour. Leaving the city behind, the trip takes you over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and through the suburbs of the city’s north shore, meeting up with the highway bound for the Hunter.
Excited, if under caffeinated, we leave the city behind, enjoying the views of Sydney’s northern waterways until we reach our first destination. The Australia Reptile Park might seem a strange place to begin a winery tour, but it offers coffee, as well as the chance to pet a baby koala (and an all too often underappreciated alligator – it’s not just Australian native animals at the park), and meet some friendly kangaroos and wallabies before going on to our first winery, Mount View Estate.
One of the Hunter Valley‘s top rated estates, Mount View dates back to the 1860s and is today operated by sixth generation winemakers. While it produces a wide variety of whites and reds, it excels at one variety for which the Hunter is particularly known, Semillon. A taste of Mount View’s standard Semillon proves their appreciation and skill when it comes to fine flavours. But it’s the Reserve Semillon that has earned Mount View its gold medal. The Reserve Chardonnay is similarly fantastic, winning over this normally reluctant Chardonnay drinker with its strong vanilla flavour and its hint of sweetness.
Of course, one could argue over whether we’re lingering for the broad range of wines, or the view. Or both.
If Mount View wows with its whites, some of the Hunter Valley’s most esteemed reds are produced at our next stop, Leogate Estate. With its expansive function space and even more expansive vineyards (Leogate is the second largest winery in the Hunter), the estate feels a little intimidating at first, but the friendly, relaxed attitude of our hosts puts us immediately at ease and ready for more tastings.
Like Mount View, Leogate offers an impressive Semillon and Chardonnay, but it’s the Shiraz that has earned itself the title of the world’s best. We’ll just say that again. Leogate’s Reserve Shiraz was named Best New Wine of the World, winning the coveted Rogers trophy in London. Leogate tries not to rub this victory in to its colleagues in South Australia. Anyone flying a Qantas First or Business Class flight however, can taste a gentle reminder, as the winery is now the official supplier to Australia’s national airline.
Shiraz makes up just over half of Leogate’s vineyard, with the remainder comprised mostly of Chardonnay, with a healthy planting of Semillon, Verdelho, and Tempranillo, the latter two of which are relatively new to Brokenback Vineyard. It’s here that we’re offered a brief look at the winemaking process, and a chance to meet the winemakers themselves. Leogate is also a top spot for lunch, included in the Black Diamond Hunter trip. With a glass of our favourite wine from the tasting, we enjoy a selection of the Leogate restaurant’s best creations. The world’s best Shiraz may not be on offer (sorry!) but a glass of the winery’s stellar Tempranillo soothes that sting nicely.
Our last stop of the day is at Hunter Village. Though undeniably geared toward tourists, the “village” does contain some interesting specialty shops perfect for rounding out the tasting day. We head for the chocolate and fudge shop, relaxing with a coffee – though the hand-crafted chocolate and caramel fudge will have to wait until later (aside: it was delicious), as Leogate has done everything in their power to ensure we don’t leave hungry. Some of the group opt for ice-cream or souvenir shopping instead. There’s even a shop selling a variety of local wines and flavoured vodkas, all available for tasting, for anyone who hasn’t had their fill.
This brings me to one inescapable fact about taking an organized wine tour, and the itinerary for this trip in particular. While the group is small – around 15 or so – the logistics of a mini-bus tour like this one aren’t ideal for visiting a wide array of wineries. Two wine stops may not sound like a “wine tour of the Hunter” and no, it doesn’t come close to showing off the variety of wines and flavours available here. But the wineries visited on Black Diamond’s tour rank among the best in the region. Mount View offers an intimate cellar door experience, while Leogate still offers a highly personalized and friendly visit despite its vast size. This is another huge advantage of touring with an organized, small group – you will have the tasting host’s undivided attention.
To anyone hesitant about booking a wine region trip that visits only two wineries, I’d point out that both wineries offered us such a variety of tastings, it was hard to imagine fitting in a third. If you are embarking on this day trip, think of it as a visit to the Hunter Valley that includes two tasting stops, as it manages to be broader than a “wine tour,” without ever skimping on the wine.
Of course, if you want to linger and experience more of the Hunter’s wineries on your Australia trip, by all means, book a night or two and taste to your heart’s content.
Suggested Day Tour:
Sydney: Hunter Valley Private Diamond Full Day Tour