Australian wines are recognized and enjoyed worldwide. Their winelands are spread out throughout the vast country. If you are in Sydney, don’t leave without a side trip to the famed Hunter Valley Wine Country.
Just a 2.5 hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley Wine Country is the oldest and most historic wine region in Australia. It is large in size, and between vineyards you will see expanses of grassland. Look closely as a kangaroo family hops by, listen closely as the sound of the cicadas announce harvest. As it is especially well known for Semillon and Shiraz, you will taste endless varietal blends and expressions of these grapes along with other varietals grown in nearby regions.
There is no better way to get a thorough overview and deep dive into the valley than with a tour from Two Fat Blokes. This tour company started in 2008 with two gents who fit the description. Today they offer a number of gourmet tours for travelers who want a curated taste of the valley. With a maximum of 14 guests, these tours offer an in-depth foray into the personal favorites of local guides who know the territory.
Our guide from Two Fat Blokes, Phil, was an excellent driver who took us to places we would never select as first time visitors. He also identified points of interest that were not on the tour for those of us staying a few more days. We enjoyed tastings at several boutique wineries, and delighted to the gourmet cheese and wine pairings, the picnic lunch on a winery patio overlooking the whole valley, the chocolate and wine tasting and the brewery tour complete with our choice of favorite brews—mine being the ginger beer (not your grandma’s ginger ale!) Short of taking us home for dinner, Phil’s personalized manner and tour gave us an expansive and thoroughly delightful gourmet taste of the Hunter Valley.
Accommodation choices run the gamut, as the Hunter Valley is one of the top tourist destinations in the country. We selected the Hermitage Lodge, an award winning property surrounded by vineyards. This 28 room boutique lodge offers large, comfortable, modern accommodations with all the amenities, including in-room breakfast. The lovely grounds included a salt water pool and proximity to tourist attractions, vineyard cellar tastings and gourmet dining, including its own restaurant, Il Caccciatore. The personalized service make this property feel like a “home away from home.”
The dining scene in the Hunter Valley leaves visitors dizzy for choices. Every establishment strives to serve seasonal local fare that highlights the wines. Here are a few of our favorites that have garnered awards for their outstanding cuisine.
Il Caciatorre is part of the Hermitage Lodge, and stands on its own as a prime dining establishment in the area. Chef Adam explains that almost everything on the menu is a surprise blend of Northern Italian influence with French technique and Australian seasonal produce. We were delighted by the “Duck Pate,” and “Smoked Beef Carpaccio” but most surprised by the nontraditional “Spinach, Ricotta Gnocchi” and the “Spaghetti with Sweet Pork Meatballs.” Ending the meal with “Fresh Made Donuts” and expresso is nothing short of heaven.
Escha Bimbadgen is fittingly located on the top of a hill because it is a top of the line vineyard restaurant. The sleek, modern décor serves to highlight the sweeping vistas and the scrumptious cuisine. Their “Menu Degustation with Wine Pairings” is nothing short of decadent. From the luxurious mouth feel of the “Smoked Salmon” to the unctuous richness of the “Pork Neck” to the soul satisfying goodness of the “Beef,”— this menu rings bells. The wine pairings, all from their Bimbadgen Estate Winery ably highlights and enhances the complex flavor profiles of these thoughtfully prepared dishes.
Restaurant Botanica is a boutique dining establishment that is the very personal expression of the Owners/Chefs Mark and Belinda Stapleton. Surrounded by vineyards, they have managed to reserve prime land for their kitchen garden that supplies most of the produce for their Hunter Valley centric recipes.
Restaurant Botanica’s food exudes elegant simplicity and a refined blending of influences to create artistic expressions that delight all of the senses. From their “Garden Salad” where miniature veggies were all poised standing straight and tall, as if still growing in a bed of hummus to their “Tropical Delight,” an ethereal, impossibly light and airy coconut dessert confection —this was a meal of magical morsels.
Their wait staff were passionate, attentive and well trained to suggest the perfect pairing of wines from their own 4 acre vineyard, as well as a broad selection from the whole of Australia and beyond—to enhance the delicate flavors of a finely crafted dining experience. www.spicersgroup.com.au/restaurant/restaurant-botanica
Don’t miss Bistro Molines where you wind your way up the breathtaking vistas of Mount View Rd. to join the countless foodies in the know who make the trek to meet Robert and Sally and enjoy their quintessential Provencal Cuisine a la Hunter Valley.
Even after 50 years, Robert’s Bistro Molines will charm you with his French accent and his delectable dishes. Start with the “Charcuterie Plate” filled with pates, cornichon, prosciutto and melon, homemade salami, pickled onions, olives…well, you get the picture…enough for a meal for two. You can add to that the wine pairings that come straight from the family vineyard for a feast. Then, talk yourself into one of his homemade pasta dishes and “Cinnamon Donuts” made a la minute for dessert, and you will vow to return to this Hunter Valley culinary hotspot.
If you only have one meal in the Hunter Valley, and you are a food connoisseur, let it be at Muse Restaurant, Located in the Hungerford Hill Winery, this stunning contemporary space mirrors the contemporary, creative Hunter Valley cuisine of Chef/Owners Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown.
Their vision for Muse is to honor the land and people who produce their finest ingredients to create a culinary tour de force with each dish. Troy relates heartfelt stories about the farmers who raise his chickens and milk his cows and pick his corn. According to the Chef, they are the true heroes of a restaurant like Muse, providing Troy with the raw materials that any artist needs to produce masterpieces. And in fact, each of his dishes are works of art as much to be viewed as savored.
Although his menu descriptions include the ingredients, they do not do justice to what is presented on the plate. The seduction starts with the dramatic “Amuse of Taro Chips Dotted with Black and White Garlic Puree, Shitake, Lemongrass and Ginger Tea, and Ras el Hanout Macaron, with Labna.” The Grand Repas continues with “Applewood Smoked Duck Ham and Confit Leg with Blackberry, Radicchio, Almond Cream and Spices” and it crescendos with “70 Hour Slow Cooked Wagyu, Broccollini, Shallot, Red Miso and Katsuobushi Butter.”
The finale of the meal is his signature dish of “Muse Coconut,” including the water, juice and coconut flesh enrobed in Valrohna chocolate and surrounded by shredded air dried and whipped pulp. The artistry continues as Troy has just started the fermenting process of his own miso, scheduled to be ready in 6 months.
Not to be outdone by the Chef, Sommelier Stephane Pommier delights diners with his consummate knowledge and appreciation for the finest Hunter Valley Wines produced. He will introduce you to the “Super Stars of the Valley” and further enhance your dining experience. Plan on Muse Restaurant, if culinary artistry is one of your passions.
As a postscript, on your way to or from the Hunter Valley Wine County schedule a visit to the Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park, which offers up close and personal interaction with kangaroos, koalas, and other indigenous Australian wildlife.