Small Wine Producers: The Best of Australia’s Hunter Valley

 

The Hunter Valley wine region is an easy drive from Sydney, so after a few days in the city, we headed out for our first visit to some “cellar doors” (the Australian term for a winery).  The Hunter is a beautiful area with gently rolling hills flanked by mountains to the North and West.  It is hot and dry but cools off significantly at night (much like Napa Valley).

Many different varietals are grown in the Hunter Valley, but the region is probably best known for its Shiraz and Semillon.  My husband is a big fan of Shiraz and I was very curious about Semillon, which is widely regarded as the most interesting and unique wine in the world.  Equally as important as the varietal, we wanted to taste wines that truly represented the terroir of the region.  Terroir is a French word meaning the qualities of climate and soil that come through in the flavors of products (wine, coffee, tea, etc.) from a particular region.  Big wine producers usually mix grapes from different regions in an attempt to create wines that are reliable and predictable for mass market consumption; small producers often stick to what is grown on their estates, which allows terroir to be fully expressed in the wine.  Fortunately, most of the vineyards in the Hunter are family owned and many produce a very limited number of cases each year, so it wasn’t hard to find what we were looking for.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Marsh Estate wines.  Marsh is a very small producer (6000 to 8000 cases per year).  Artificial irrigation is not used at Marsh, which is shocking when you think about how dry the Hunter Valley can be.  100% of the grapes used in Marsh wines come from their very small estate, and everything is made, matured and bottled on-site.  I was particularly fond of the 2013 Poppy’s Maverick Semillon, the 2011 Sinclair Shiraz and the 2013 Jaques Path (a Semillon in the Reisling style).

Calais Estates, another small winery, produces a unique blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (2010), a reserve Shiraz (2009) with a nice hint of blackberry, and slightly fruity Verdhelo (an unusual grape varietal from the Hunter Valley) which pairs nicely with seafood.  The Verdhelo reminded me very much of a blended wine made by Chrysalis vineyard in my home state of Virginia (USA).  If you want to buy a bottle of Calais, you’ll have to visit the Hunter Valley.  They sell directly from the vineyard and to local/regional stores only.

Other “cellar doors” (wineries) not to miss in the Hunter:

I loved many things about the Hunter Valley.  First, the architecture here is very modern and sleek, which is not what I normally think of when I picture vineyards.  The most common type of lodging is the wine estate, which is set in and around the many vineyards in the area, so you really feel as though you are staying on winery grounds.

The food is wonderful.  For cheese that is to-die-for, stop in at any Smelly Cheese Shop (the main one has a Fromagerie –  a cheese cellar) although most of the wineries also sell samplers.  Local blues are particularly tasty and I could not get enough of the truffled cheddars.  Gourmet dining is easy to find (I didn’t count but easily 30 + restaurants) although the prices are a little outlandish.  Best of all, chocolate is everywhere and can be paired with wines for tasting at many of the wineries.

If you visit Sydney, a day trip (or longer) out to the Hunter Valley is well worth the trip.

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  1. […] Hunter Valley:  Within a week of arriving in Oz, we headed out for our first winery crawl in the idyllic Hunter Valley, where we tasted some fabulous wine, sampled far more of the gourmet chefs than we should have and […]

  2. […] Hunter Valley:  Within a week of arriving in Oz, we headed out for our first winery crawl in the idyllic Hunter Valley, where we tasted some fabulous wine, sampled far more of the gourmet chefs than we should have and […]

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