The Hunter Valley lies about 75 miles north of Sydney. The easiest way to begin a vineyard tour is to take a 30-minute flight by floatplane from Sydney’s Rose Bay. The wineries are exceptionally friendly and hospitable to visitors. This is Australia, not France!
The valley is divided into Upper and Lower regions, with the Lower Hunter producing more red wine from Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. Hunter Shirazes have the potential to take on Rhône-like qualities as they age. Producers have experimented with Pinot Noir, but the results have been unsuccessful because of the hot, humid climate and abundant rainfall. The Hunter Valley is noted for its unique bottle-aged Semillons, which typically have a buttercup-yellow color and burnt toast or honey characteristics. The area’s Chardonnays are distinguished by their soft texture and peach flavors.
There are more than 150 wineries in the valley. Here are three that I would not miss: Brokenwood Wines has gained a following for its reds, but it seems to me that the Chardonnays are the real standouts here; Tyrrell’s Wines hails to 1858 — always under the direction of the same family — and I especially like the Semillon and the Shiraz; Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has one of the most appealing settings of any winery in the valley, and the Chardonnay and Semillon, as well as the Gewürztraminer, are notable.
In preparing for a trip to a wine region, I always try to find a trusted guide. In Australia, I rely on two. The “Good Wine Guide” is companion to the “Good Food Guide,” my preferred reference work for Australian restaurants. Experience has shown the wine guide to be just as reliable. My other dependable source is the “James Halliday Australian Wine Companion,” a wonderful compendium by a writer whose informed judgment has never let me down.