Wine Enthusiast‘s 2013 February issue includes an article called “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2013”. One of them is the Hunter Valley in Australia. John, Trish, Ruth, and I traveled there a few years ago, stopped at its excellent Visitor Centre, and made a list of 6 wineries to check out.
Australia’s oldest wine region, Hunter Valley north of Sydney is where alluvial, limestone soil with high acid content creates the ideal place for making some of the planet’s best dry, citrus flavored Semillon, The Hunter’s signature wine. Our Cellar Door pourer at Pepper Tree called Hunter, “the warmest climate in the world for the growing of Semillon.” Shiraz is second best and, surprisingly, Verdelho, the Portuguese varietal, would probably rank 3rd in a popularity contest. This made sense when I learned that the first Hunter vines, planted in 1824, came from Brazil.
Joe Czerwinski writing for Wine Enthusiast notes, “some terrific wines made in styles found nowhere else on the planet” coming from Hunter Valley where our first stop was Pepper Tree Winery. I learned here that local vintners were currently experimenting with Sangiovese and achieving success. I’ve personally never tasted better.
The Pepper tree property contains a convent built in 1909 that’s highly representative of early 20th century Australian architecture. The entire building from Coonamble, which is about 375 miles west of Hunter, was moved to Peppertree, reassembled, polished to perfection, and opened for overnight guests.
There were about 120 wineries in the Lower and 20 in the Upper Hunter Valley at the time of our visit. Most were small like Capercaillie, which produced only 6,000 cases per year and had deservedly won 329 trophies since 1996.
I seldom see Hunter Valley Wines for sale in the U.S., creating the perfect excuse for returning. Tyrrell’s, in Hunter since 1858 and now a fourth-generation operation, does have limited U.S distribution. Its Reserve Semillon was so impressive that I considered buying a case until I found that it would cost $300 dollars for shipping alone.
Screw caps have become standard in Hunter and in all other Australian wine regions since it was discovered that they eliminate oxidation and that wines age at exactly the right rate when caps are used instead of corks. They’re also a lot less trouble.
The Upper Hunter is quieter and worth visiting for its natural beauty. Perhaps the most famous name in Upper is award-winning Rosemount.
Since Hunter is about 100 miles north of Sydney, wine tours are best booked out of Newcastle, its nearest city, in my opinion. Joe mentions that several companies run tour buses to Hunter direct from downtown Sydney that return same-day. There are limo services too. But due to its size and exceptional scenery, I recommend staying in Hunter a 2nd day. We stayed in Newcastle overnight and dined at Scratchlegs on the Wharf, an excellent, celebratory kind of restaurant that was exactly what the four of us desired after spending a September afternoon in one of the 10 best wine regions in the world.