We have been on a mission lately. A mission to visit the best wine regions in Australia. It all started last year, when a few friends invited us to spend a long weekend in Barossa Valley in South Australia. We had never been wine tasting before, but after just a few days in Barossa, we learned a ton about wine and fell in love with some amazing new wine varieties. And we got hooked.
We discovered that spending time in a wine region is so much more than just drinking wine. It often comes with an opportunity to sample local produce, get lost in the beautiful Australian countryside, relax, unwind, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Last October we celebrated my birthday in another famous wine region in Australia – the Yarra Valley, and this past February we finally made it to Hunter Valley. At first glance, Hunter Valley didn’t strike me as any different than Yarra Valley or Barossa Valley. Same beautiful vineyard views, rolling green hills, and no shortage of wineries to explore (140 to be more precise), but by the end of our time there, Hunter Valley earned the title of my favourite wine region in Australia
Hunter Valley Wasn’t Pretentious
We picked up a certain “wine snob” vibe in other wine regions we visited. You know, that look they give you when you confess that you don’t know what a tannin is or that you really can’t tell the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot?
“Sorry. We’re still learning”, we would say, trying to reason with a staff member who just rolled her eyes at one of my newbie questions.
Maybe Barossa Valley and Yarra Valley attract the wine connoisseurs, rather than enthusiasts, or maybe we just got unlucky with a few cranky cellar door staff. What we know for sure is that our experience at Hunter Valley wineries was much more pleasant than anywhere else! We felt welcomed at every cellar door, greeted, and politely guided through our tastings. The staff made wine terminology easy to understand and helped us discover fantastic new wine varieties and blends.
We left Hunter Valley with over 20 bottles of wine, buying something in almost every single winery we visited. But we didn’t buy because we felt like we had to, we bought because we loved the experience and most importantly the wine itself!
Wine Tasting in Hunter Valley was Easy on the Wallet
It is pretty common for cellar doors to charge a $5-10 fee per person for wine tastings in Barossa and Yarra Valley. We didn’t have to pay the fee at every cellar door, but it’s a common practice nevertheless. The fee is always waived if you buy anything after the tasting, but if you don’t, it could add up to as much as $50-100/day in wine tasting expenses.
The good news is that wine tastings in Hunter Valley were absolutely free. Maybe it’s because the wineries in this region are smaller, more boutique, meaning they don’t have a massive brand to stand behind. Or maybe they really do see the value of sampling their wines for free. Either way, it makes it easy and cheap to try as many wines as you would like and find the varieties you love the most.
Hunter Valley had Great Dining Options
Unlike the somewhat limited dining options in Yarra Valley and Barossa, the restaurant choices in Hunter Valley were limitless and they went far beyond the overpriced set course meals offered at other wineries. We enjoyed some fantastic meals at the Goldfish Bar and Kitchen (great cocktails and appetizers), Cellar Restaurant (the lamb shoulder is to die for), Tuk Tuk Burger Company (best burger I’ve had in Australia), and the Hunter Valley Cheese Company (they have cheese, enough said).
For afternoon delights, our choice was the Lambloch Dessert Bar and their mouth-watering selection of desserts!
Lots of Entertainment Options
Carrying on with the night in Hunter Valley was easy! There were a number of pubs in Polkolbin, including the Harrigan’s Irish Pub, Brokenback Bar, and many other local watering holes in Cessnok, like the Peden’s Hotel, Cessnok Hotel.
We opted for something a bit quieter with some drinks at the Goldfish Bar in Tempus Two complex.
Hunter Valley Was Easy to Get to
Coming from Brisbane, Hunter Valley was really easy to get to. The region is located just an hour away from Newcastle and 2 hours away from Sydney. We hired a car to get to Pokolbin/Cessnok and used it to get around the entire weekend.
We loved the flexibility of taking whatever route we wanted, stopping for as many photos as we wanted, and not worrying about following a tour or someone else’s schedule. The only downside of having a car is the designated driver requirement. Max was nice enough to drive while I sampled wine for both of us!
Hunter Valley Produces my Favourite Wine
At the end of the day my love for Hunter Valley boiled down to the wine itself. Turned out Hunter is a region with some fantastic offerings of the sweeter white wine varieties, like the Semillon and Verdelho. Between these and some delicious Moscato varieties, I stocked up on a lot of new discoveries, and plenty of old favourites.
Here are just a few of the wineries that I recommend you visit and why:
- Lamblock: Their Late Harvest Wine range is like nothing else we’ve ever tried before!
- Tyrell’s: It’s one of the biggest and most well known wineries in Hunter Valley and their Seven Harvest Shiraz was the best Shiraz I’ve ever had!
- Audrey Wilkinson: the wine itself didn’t impress us, but the views were some of the best in the Hunter Valley
- Peterson’s House: you just can’t go wrong with a little bit of bubbly!
Hunter Valley surprised me. Despite being one of the biggest wine regions in Australia it managed to retain its charm and a small town feel. It’s no wonder that its larger than life personality, big wine producers, and a gourmet food scene, make it one of the most visited regions in Australia.
Essential Travel Info
Getting there: Hunter Valley region is located about 2 hours North East of Sydney and an hour East of Newcastle. The region itself comprises of a number of smaller towns, Pokolbin (the heart of Hunter Valley), Cessnok, Lovedale, and Broke. The easiest way to get to Hunter Valley and get around while you are there is by hiring a car. Alternatively, a number of day tours operate from Sydney and Newscastle, or you can also get to Hunter Valley by train departing from Maitland, Newcastle, or Morisset
Where to Stay: Accommodation options are scattered around Pokolbin and Cessnock. There are a number of hostels and cheap accommodation options available in Cessnock, while the majority of resorts, large hotel chains, and small B&B accommodations will be located in Pokolbin
What to do: Planning your activities in Hunter Valley can be rather overwhelming, so my best advice is to always start your trip with a visit to the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre. Tell them what you like, what you don’t like, and what you are after and they will be more than happy to help you organize your stay in the region.