Friday, July 3, 2009

Wine Tasting in the Hunter Valley

25 June 2009
Driving from Singleton, New South Wales (NSW), towards the town of Pokolbin, the winter sun warms me in the passenger seat. Rohan and I plan to spend the day in the Hunter Valley, sampling some of the wines on offer there. As Australia’s oldest wine producing region – the first vineyard opened its doors in 1828 – and one of the most scenic, we're looking forward to a day of sampling some of the famous Shiraz and Semillon the area is so well known for.

The first few vineyards we pass show no sign of life. I suppose this must be the time of the year when the growers go on holidays, though I can’t imagine they’re aching to get away from such a beautiful place. As we pass a few more that are shut, we wonder if the day is going to be a bust.

Luckily we chance upon IronBark Hill Vineyard. We pull in and travel down the long driveway that is surrounded on both sides by barren grape vines that are backed up by mighty gum trees. We enter the tasting room – an airy, softly lit, earthy colored room – and are greeted with a friendly ‘hello’ from the unpretentious looking brunette woman behind the counter. The wine starts flowing.

First up is a delightfully tangy Semillon, the wine that the Hunter is best known for. We learn that Semillon is best drunk within the first few years or if your plan is to age it, ensure it’s left for six or more years because from about three to six years old, Semillon goes through a flat period. After that, it is more mature and loses it youthful zest, but is beautiful to drink. If only wine ever hung around our house long enough. . .

We hopped across the road from IronBark to Piggs Peake. Here the greeting wasn’t nearly as friendly. We'd clearly interrupted the man who serves wine, but we stick around anyway and try a Marsanne (mmmm), Verdelho, Shiraz and Vintage Port. Not many places make Vintage Port anymore the owner explains, but here they use an aged brandy and Shiraz grapes. I'm not mad about the port, but perhaps in a few years it'll be good drinking.

At Tempus Two, we enjoyed the view across green hills, billabongs, grape vines and gum trees, complemented by the gurgling fountains and bright sunshine. We sampled some unique wines here: a sparkling blush; light Tempranillo; and a rich Shiraz were my favorites.

At this point in the day, I wouldn't call myself sober. We'd been wine tasting for a couple of hours and I'm more than a few glasses in. Luckily the wineries offer water along with the wine, so that's keeping me from falling over. I know you can swish the wine around your mouth and spit it out, but that seems just plain wasteful.

Our next stop is Drayton Family Wines. Here there are a lot of wines on offer, but the only one worth mentioning is the 1999 Joseph Shiraz made up of hand-picked grapes (as opposed to machine picked) from 60 or 70 year old vines. What a nice drop! Of course at $70 a bottle, it would want to be!

We decided to walk to the next vineyard. Rohan was kind enough to offer to drive (he grudgingly accepts his role as the responsible one), but even he was feeling a bit tipsy, so the hope was that a walk would sober us both up. About a kilometre and a half away we came upon the Mount Pleasant Estate, where we had a few samples of wine and bought a beautiful bottle of Chardonnay.
The sun was sinking low, so we made our way back to our friend's house at Singleton. Such a lovely day though, if you're ever in the area, go have a look and a taste of the Hunter Valley!


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