There’s something magical about wine country. Maybe it’s because I’ve just discovered I’m a greedy, gluttonous wine monster. It’s also probable it’s because wine land is beautiful (in a rural way), a celebration of the good life and a break from the fast lane. The Hunter Valley is no exception.
Now that I’m a Sydney gal, I figured it was time to introduce myself properly to my local wine region.
When I booked this weekend away, it was before Jude, thy husband, broke his leg in three places (that will teach him for playing duck, duck, goose). Our Hunter Valley trip was the first weekend he was allowed to start walking again, after six weeks in a cast and moon boot. And, after being a nurse (albeit a terrible one) for six weeks, naturally, I made him drive (in my defence, he has a history of being an excellent wine chauffer). I also, naturally, made him go wherever I wanted.
This is what our Hunter Valley itinerary entailed (and it’s epic):
Winery #1: Tinklers Wines
After Jude tried to tell me you can’t drink before midday, I made him drive us to Tinklers Wines, to show him that you can, and when in the Hunter Valley you do. Amateur.
With 150+ wineries in the Hunter Valley, this boutique winery is as good a place as any to start your pre-12pm wine tasting. The Tinkler name is synonymous with the Hunter Valley – the family has resided here for the past 100 years. Which means this cellar door deserves attention, as does their single vineyard, small-batch wines; and the seasonal produce grown on-site. Overall, Tinklers is cute with its hardwood cellar door, relaxed vibe and backdrop of the Pokolbin Mountains.
Tinklers Wines | 53 Pokolbin Mountains Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4998 7435
High tea at Restaurant Eighty Eight
The last high tea we did was at The Ritz in London and it was awfully good. To be honest, I doubt any high tea can live up to those lofty heights set in London.
But, the high tea at Restaurant Eighty Eight gave it a red hot run for its money. Located within the beautiful and old worldy The Convent, the setting asserts a tone of decadence, with French provincial styling, crisp white linen and a view out onto a wisteria-clad courtyard. To top it off, a tower of fresh sandwiches, scones, berries and little sweets is placed in front of you, accompanied by your choice of tea or coffee.
If you want to dial up the decadence even further, you can add a glass of sparkling ($60pp), make that champagne ($65pp), or just stick to tea and coffee ($48pp) and head next door to PepperTree Wines’s cellar door once you’re done.
Note: Restaurant Eighty Eight only serves high tea on the weekend.
Restaurant Eighty Eight | 88 Halls Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4998 4999
Winery #2: Gundog Estate
“Do you like Semillon?” This was the question I was asked all weekend, and rightfully so when it’s the Hunter Valley’s hero grape varietal. Even though the dry white and I aren’t the best of friends, I couldn’t say “no”. Especially when the staff at Gundog Estate are so eager to show off their four different Semillons, which indeed showed range and playfulness in its winemaking.
Despite my strained Semillon relationship, I’m a big fan of Gundog Estate. It has a fun vibe, it wins awards like they’re scratch and smell stickers, and it serves cheese! I totally would have insisted on a cheese and charcuterie plate to go with our wine tasting, if we hadn’t just eaten our weight in scones and Chantilly cream. There’s also a little gourmet pantry shop on-site, which sells the world’s best chilli mayo.
Gundog Estate | 101 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 6236 8276
Winery #3: Usher Tinkler Wines
Right next door to Gundog Estate is this very hip cellar door that’s housed in the old Pokolbin church. It’s also the creation of third-generation Tinkler, Usher.
I absolutely heart this place, with its party beats, experimental wines and chesterfield lounges where you can relax post-wine tasting, with a board of salumi and cheese. It’s unlike anything else in the Hunter Valley.
The only downside is that we were sent to Usher Tinkler with strict instructions from a friend to buy a wagon of Mr T’s Fortified verdelho, which has been barrel-aged for 15 years. To our horror, it was sold out. SOLD OUT! Now we have to drive all the way back to Pokolbin.
Usher Tinker Wines | 97 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4998 7069
Dinner at Goldfish Bar & Kitchen
I wanted to close out our first full day in the Hunter Valley with dinner somewhere fun and unpretentious, but delicious. Goldfish Bar & Kitchen was the perfect choice.
Located in the Roche Estate complex, this bar, restaurant and cool cat hang out is slick. There’s a fun sharing menu to choose from, which stars the likes of pizza, kingfish, pork belly and gnocchi. While the San Daniele prosciutto, with burrata, housemade focaccia, barrel-aged balsamic and black figs was absolutely ah-maze! It was like a delicious deconstructed prosciutto pizza.
And, when the staff took 15 minutes to find where they’d hidden Jude’s crutches, it would have been rude not to try one of the delicious cocktails that we kept seeing being made.
Goldfish Bar & Kitchen | Roche Estate, 2144 Broke Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4998 7688
Breakfast at The Deck Café Lovedale
On both days, we found breakfast a challenge. On Saturday, we spent a good hour trawling the valley trying to find a decent bacon and egg roll. Then on Sunday, we headed to Tatler Wines, only to be told that they no longer serve breakfast (despite their website saying different). But they kindly pointed us in the direction of The Deck Café at Gartelmann Wines, and at this stage we were a few breaths off being hangry.
Obviously, we didn’t have a booking, so weren’t allowed to sit on the deck overlooking the dam, but inside was ok. The avocado vego delight of grilled sourdough, smashed avocado, herb roasted field mushrooms, grilled haloumi and heirloom pesto tomatoes was more than ok. But at $25 it’s most definitely on the exxy end – maybe Bernard is onto something.
The learning here is have a breakfast game plan.
The Deck Café Lovedale | 701 Lovedale Road, Rothbury, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4930 9007
Winery #4: Tempus Two Wines
Last time I was at Tempus Two Wines I was treated to a VIP wine tasting, which is (no surprises) an amazing way to taste wine. This time, I was back on earth in the cellar door. Despite not having my own private sommelier, I was again impressed by Tempus Two Wines. The service is bang-on and the wine consistently good. So much so that I left with a wheelbarrow of whites, reds and stickies, and a shipment arriving in a month’s time (eek!).
I’m also now convinced, Tempus Two Wines has to play a starring role in any Hunter Valley wine tour itinerary.
Tempus Two Wines | Roche Estate, 2144 Broke Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4993 3999
Cheese tasting at Hunter Valley Cheese Factory
Right across the road from Tempus Two is the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory, where you can do a cheese tasting for the bargain price of $7.95pp. Five Hunter Valley cheeses, served with matching crackers and tasting notes – it’s the best value cheese experience in the land. My favourite was the pungent blue matched to the charcoal crispbread. The only downside was that Jude finished his tasting in a time that Usain Bolt would aspire to.
Alternatively, you can get your cheese fix (and a burger, wrap or pizza) from the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop, which is only a few doors over from Tempus Two. Late in the day, we also discovered that this unfortunate-named shop serves a mean egg and bacon baguette, which would have solved the breakfast dilemma of earlier.
Hunter Valley Cheese Factory | 447 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4998 7744
Lunch at Lovedale Smokehouse
I love this place. Mostly because smoked is my favourite style of food (right up there with fried). But also because it’s not overly expensive, the food is delicious and you can BYO wine ($10 corkage applies). Plus, there’s a sunny courtyard from which you can perv on vines and a cute little shop that sells all the smoked goods your heart desires.
This artisan smokehouse serves up a range of burgers, salads and starters. But we decided to order one of the six platters on offer, made up of meats, salad, olives, cheeses and ciabatta bread. What arrived was a platter the size of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower.
Lovedale Smokehouse | 64 Majors Lane, Lovedale, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 4930 7832
Now that we’re educated in the ways of the Hunter Valley and 25 kilos heavier, it’s time to hit the Pacific Highway. Heading back to Sydney and reality.