The Hunter Valley lies about 100 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. 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 also 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 Sémillons, which typically have a buttercup-yellow color and burnt-toast or honey characteristics. The area’s Chardonnays are distinguished by their soft texture and stone-fruit flavors.
Of the more than 150 wineries in the valley, there are three that I would not miss. Brokenwood Wines (401-427 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin; Tel.  2-4998-7559) has gained a following for its reds, but I have developed great regard for its Sémillon as well. Tyrrell’s Wines (1838 Broke Road Pokolbin; Tel.  2-4993-7028) dates to 1858 — always under the direction of the same family — and I especially like the Sémillon and the Shiraz. And Audrey Wilkinson (De Beyers Road, Pokolbin; Tel.  2-4998-1866 has one of the most appealing settings of any winery in the valley, along with notable Chardonnay, Sémillon and, oddly enough, Gewürztraminer.
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.