Ask any international wine buff about Australian wine and you’ll probably see them cringe. Which is usually because when people think of wine and Australia they conjure up images of the cute little “critters” that often find their way onto our bottle stickers.
But there is much more to Australian wine than the cute yellow kangaroo and wombat labels will have you believe, and a visit to Australia’s wine growing regions will open your mind and your taste buds to new adventures.
While Australia’s largest wine regions can be found in South Australia (Barossa Valley) and Victoria (Yarra Valley), if you journey just 2.5 hours North of Sydney you will arrive in the beautiful Hunter Valley.
This region is unique, not only for its hot climate, but can also lay claim to the title of Australia’s oldest wine producing region. Vineyards that were planted in the 1860s still produce wine today with vines as old as 60 years still producing fruit. Put simply, the Hunter Valley is the birthplace of Australian wine.
Visit the Hunter Valley & Discover The Birthplace of Australian Wine
Hot Climate Wines
The Hunter Valley produces a unique style of hot climate wines due to the environmental challenges associated with growing grapes in this region.
Temperatures as high as 120 degrees Farenheit in January (Australia’s Summer) and storms followed by relentless humidity during the picking season (the right storm at the wrong time can smash the grapes off the vines and destroy the entire year’s crop in a few hours!) mean making wine in the Hunter is an art as well as a science for the brave.
Despite the challenges, growers and winemakers have been winning the war against the elements for over 150 years and since the early 1990s the region has become a thriving tourist destination.
With over 100 vineyards, 40 + cellar doors, cheese and gourmet chocolate making, and olive oil and olive production, the Hunter has become one of the biggest gourmet food destinations in the country.
A Popular Trip From Sydney
The Hunter Valley region is one of the most popular among locals from Sydney who see the valley as the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city for a quiet bushland retreat or a romantic weekend getaway.
While Sydney offers both charm and excitement, international visitors often find the picturesque rolling hills with vines that disappear over the horizon far more alluring than Sydney’s nightclubs and skyscrapers.
Accommodation options are diverse. There are large resorts with sweeping golf courses, one of them established by Australia’s famous golfer from the 1980s-90’s Greg Norman, to secluded bushland retreats. Though our personal favorite; country homes that can sleep as many as 10-20 guests (you can get great prices on AirBnB).
With so many options for accommodation, the Hunter is an indulgence that can be done on any budget, and is well worth fitting into your Sydney itinerary.
So What About the Wines?
If you’ve made the journey to the Hunter Valley it’s impossible not to be tempted by some wine tasting. The region’s hot climate enables varieties such as Shiraz, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Semillon to thrive. Sorry Sav Blanc drinkers!
You will find the odd Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet blend in the valley but often the fruit is sourced from nearby colder regions such as Mudgee or Orange. Such varieties just don’t grow well in the hot climate and sandy soil that characterizes the Hunter region.
To opt for these however is to miss out on what the Hunter Valley does best which are complex and fruit driven whites (not sweet …. just fruity with low residual sugar) and light to medium bodied reds.
Shiraz (the Australian word for “Syrah”) is the flagship red variety of the region but a Hunter Valley Shiraz will be pleasantly light and low in tannins (the bitter flavour associated with red wines that comes from the skins and insides of oak barrels).
You will also find delicious smooth Merlots here too, sometimes with the odd reference to the “dam” on the label (such as Ernest Hill wines’ the “Dam Merlot” which is one of my personal favourites).
It’s not a reference to good old Aussie slang (eg. “That damn Merlot!”). Often varieties such as Merlot and Verdelho are planted near a dam on the vineyard in order to protect the vines from the hot temperatures (vines grown around a body of water tend to stay around 5 degrees cooler than those grown in open fields).
If you’re a lover of the lighter bodied European red varieties such as the Italian “Sangiovese”, the Spanish “Tempranillo” or the French invented hybrid variety “Chambourcin” you will be pleasantly surprised to find the Hunter Valley’s version of these scoring a hit with the locals.
While not traditionally associated with Australia, these varieties are surviving the hot Hunter Valley conditions and with the ever present challenge of climate change, they are regarded by many as a big part of the future of wine production in the Hunter Valley.
The ladies usually absolutely love these lighter bodied “hot climate” varietals and often they are amusingly referred to as “red wines for chicks” as the female palate is much more sensitive to the bitter tannin flavours usually found in colder climate reds but not found in these varieties.
Cellar Door Tours
With so many different cellar doors you can visit and so many different wine options to tempt (and confuse) your palate, it is a good idea to explore Hunter Valley wine country with a tour guide.
Cheap Hunter Valley wine tours as well as luxury options are available which give you an overview of the wine, craft beer, cheese and chocolate tastings the Hunter has to offer.
You can go all out and even participate in wine making activities, taste blends directly from the barrel or even have a go at the traditional classic activity of grape stomping (where grapes are crushed with your bare feet inside a quarter size barrel!).
To really get a feel for how large the region is you can enjoy sweeping views of Hunter Valley wine country from the air via helicopter. Or you can really slow down the pace and enjoy a romantic early morning hot air balloon ride (if you can brave getting up at 5am in the morning!).
While this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hunter Valley wines and the amazing experiences you can have when you visit this region, you can see why the Hunter has piqued the curiosity of many US and UK visitors to Australia. What you can see, taste and do here goes way beyond what is suggested when you see a happy yellow kangaroo image on the side of a wine bottle produced in Australia.
That said, you will see plenty of happy kangaroos in the Hunter Valley – just not on wine bottles! Give a kangaroo a friendly wave (and have your camera ready) when you drive into your Hunter Valley accommodation as you’ll see plenty of them roaming freely on many of the properties in the area.
EVERY WINE LOVER NEEDS THESE: CLICK PHOTO↓
SPREAD THE WORD! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓