Wine tasting has long been one of my favourite things to do, and since moving to Sydney we’ve been able to visit some simply outstanding vineyards. I used to be a red wine only girl (hence my obsession with Piggs Peake), but I’ve developed a newfound respect for a chilled glass of good quality white wine. It’s got to be the heat. We’ve visited vineyards in and around Hobart, the Hilltops Regions, the Southern Highlands, Shoalhaven, Mudgee and of course, we’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Hunter Valley several times.
The most recent visit to the Hunter Valley was with my parents to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday where we were looked after beautifully by the hilarious guides at Two Fat Blokes. There are many options for wine tours in the Hunter, but I highly recommend the Two Fat Blokes wine tour; they really know their stuff. The Hunter Valley is known as Australia’s original wine country, with grapes being introduced to the region in early 1820s. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive from Sydney (traffic depending) and is bursting with boutique wineries and cellar doors, making it perfect for a weekend getaway. Most towns, villages and wineries are located in what’s known as Lower Hunter, including Pokolbin, Cessnock and Lovedale. If you’re planning a trip to the Hunter Valley and need some guidance on which cellar door or winery to visit, I’ve listed out, in my opinion, 5 of the best wineries in the Hunter Valley.
Plan your visit to the Hunter and other Australian & New Zealand wineries with Lonely Planet Food’s excellent guidebook below;
Wine Trails – Australia & New Zealand
01. Piggs Peake Winery
If you like big, powerful reds, and want to try a famed Hunter Valley Shiraz, then Piggs Peake is the place for you. Piggs Peake is an informal, creative winery, easily one of the top Hunter Valley wineries, where experimenting and twisting the rules of winemaking is the norm. We were given a tasting by one of their enthusiastic and entertaining staff at the cellar door, who introduced us to raw, developing wines with tastes straight from the barrel.
Some of their varietals are more expensive than other vineyards on this list, but they are indeed something special. We purchased bottle of the 2016 House of Bricks at $55, and can’t wait to open it. They have a cheaper table wine, a blend of whatever’s left, called ‘Swill’ that you can pick up, it’s delicious and a bargain. We ate at the Yellow Billy restaurant, where good quality meat and a custom-made fire pit takes centre stage. I highly recommend a visit to Piggs Peake, we’ll certainly be going back.
02. Scarborough on Hermitage
This was the first winery that Will and I ever visited in the Hunter. It’s still, in my view, one of the best wineries in the Hunter Valley. Scarborough on Hermitage is a second cellar door belonging to the Scarborough Wine Company. It’s a beautifully appointed, bright tasting area with stunning views. We enjoyed the “Classic Flight” tasting option; 10 glasses of red, white and dessert wines from both their Classic and Offshoot ranges with a complimentary, and delicious, cheese platter. It’s $5 per person, but this is refundable on purchase.
We loved their bold, spicy Shiraz varietals, one of the chief grapes of the Hunter. We’re personally not Chardonnay fans, but Scarborough on Hermitage did their best to sway us with some great Hunter Valley Chardonnay, letting us taste options that weren’t too heavily oaked. The staff were incredibly helpful and welcoming, locating a limited edition 2011 Shiraz for us when we told them our preferences that wasn’t usually available for tasting.
03. Mistletoe Winery
When we first visited Mistletoe Winery, we didn’t think much of their wines. We had walked there through the vines on a 35 degree day, an arduous journey that took us nearly 40 minutes. Arriving at Mistletoe, we were hot, sweaty and a little tipsy, and I don’t think we appreciated the fine craftmanship of this boutique family-owned winery. I’m so glad we returned to this vineyard in 2018 on the Two Fat Blokes wine tour.
Mistletoe Winery was taken over by the current owners in 1989, and is now in its 30th year of wine production. We met Gwen, one of the founders, and her daughter Cassandra as well as granddaughters Jessica and Natane, who were all knowledgeable and friendly, treating you as one of their extended family. I loved their their reds, in particular the 2017 Cabernet Merlot which is smooth and perfect for easy drinking; we enjoyed our bottle watching the sunset at Morning Bay.
04. Thomas Allen Wines
We visited Thomas Allen Wines at the advice of one of our friends, who had given me a shopping list of bottles to pick on their behalf. As soon as we arrived at the Thomas Allen cellar door, which is perched on a hill with a 360 degree view of the countryside and vineyards, we were greeted by John Earl, who has been part of the journey alongside owners Craig and Steve since the winery’s inception. He was sarcastic, hilarious and knew how to tailor the wine tasting experience perfectly.
The Thomas Allen Winery was the first winery we took my parents to, and dad and John hit it off immediately. We all enjoyed both their whites and reds, purchasing the 2018 ‘Rulebreaker’ Chardonnay Sauv Blanc blend, as well as the fruity 2018 ‘Free Run’ Verdelho and 2016 ‘Encore’ Shiraz, a delicious take on a Hunter Valley Shiraz.
If you’re exploring South Australia and interested in some day trips from Adelaide, including the Barossa wine region, check out these recommendations.
05. Mcleish Estate
We were taken to Mcleish Estate during our Two Fat Blokes wine tour, and had a relaxing picnic lunch outside in their charming grounds. We had a group tasting of their vineyard range of varietals, which was informative and entertaining. Their Semillon has received global acclaim; their 2007 was named world best at the London International Wine Challenge, and has won more than 75 medals in Australian and international competitions.
Bob and Maryanne have a daughter, Jessica, who is now acting Operational Manager of the winery and committed to encouraging as many people as possible to try Semillon. We purchased a bottle of their Dwyer Rose, which is a lovely pale rose unlike many overly sweet Australian brands, as well as a bottle of their Jessica’s Botrytis Semillon dessert wine, which we’re saving for a special occasion.