A Foodies Guide to the Hunter Valley

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Hunter Valley, the only place where it’s not only socially acceptable to drink wine at 10am, it’s encouraged!

Just under two hours drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is often a weekend getaway destination for Sydneysiders. With over 150 wineries to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Spend less time Googling and more time drinking with this foodies guide to the Hunter Valley.

Where to Eat

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EXP

EXP is my new favourite restaurant in the Hunter Valley. Walk past the restaurant garden and into a small and intimate dining room that is minimal in design with beautiful hand crafted local furniture. Perch yourself at the bar and watch Chef Frank Fawkner and his team in action. Don’t mess around, do the chef’s tasting menu and buckle up for the adventure. It’s a wonderfully interactive and entertaining dining experience. You never know what might come across the pass with interesting dishes including an emu rueben with kimchi, quail served on miso porridge, sweet potato and mandarin sorbet served with native thyme. Fawkner’s take on the Magnum Ego made with rich layers of wattleseed, chocolate and caramel is as delicious to eat as it is fun. Add the matching wines or for something different try the non-alcoholic beverage pairing instead, each drink has been thoughtfully curated to match each dish.  If you’re planning a trip to the Hunter EXP is a must.

EXP 1596 Broke Road, Pokolbin 2320 NSW

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Muse Dining

Located at the entrance to Pokolbin in the iconic Hungerford Hill Winery, Muse Restaurant is the creation of husband and wife team Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown. This fine dining restaurant delivers beautiful, local produce in a refined way and is perfect for a special occasion. For something more casual try sister restaurant Muse Kitchen at Keith Tulloch winery.

Muse Dining Hungerford Hill Winery, Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320

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Cafe Enzo 

There aren’t many places to eat breakfast in the Hunter Valley but if you’re looking for somewhere to line the stomach before a day of wine tasting Cafe Enzo draws a crowd on any given weekend. Take a seat outside in the beautiful courtyard or cosy up inside by one of the fireplaces. The food is simple but consistent. You can’t go past the vegetarian breakfast with poached eggs and a good cuppa.

Cafe Enzo Peppers Creek, 1946 Broke Rd, Pokolbin 2320 NSW

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Cocoa Nib 

In between all the eating and drinking take a breather at Cocoa Nib situated at the stunning Keith Tulloch Winery. Cocoa Nib is the life long dream of pastry chef Aymee Slaviero. Her chocolates are to-die-for and the cakes are pretty memorable too. A pot of T2 tea and a little rest, you’ll be ready to drink again in no time.

Cocoa Nib 989 Hermitage Rd (Cnr of Deasys Rd), Pokolbin, NSW 2320

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Circa 1876 Restaurant

Circa 1876 is one of the Hunter Valley’s most iconic restaurants, located in a historic cottage on the picturesque grounds of Roscrea Estate. Circa 1876 showcases some great Hunter Valley wines in an award-winning wine list. Or you can experience the eclectic charm of the Champagne Lounge, with its open fire. The restaurant offers two-course, three-course, and a five-course chef’s tasting menu options.

Circa 1876 64 Halls Road, Pokolbin NSW 02 4998 4998

Where to Drink

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Usher Tinkler

This boutique winery is located in the original Pokolbin Church, that was built in 1905. Winemaker Usher Tinkler and his wife bought and renovated this beautiful space turning it into a must-visit cellar door in the Hunter Valley. Their wines are more of an avant-garde style but the grapes come from their own family estate in Pokolbin. The wine labels are fun and edgy compared to some of the stuffier wineries in the Hunter. Definitely try their Mr T’s fortified wine, it’s incredible as are their cheese and salumi boards. They have a premium cured meats selection which could easily pass for lunch.

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Hungerford Hill

If you’re a wine loving foodie you have the try the ‘Epic Tasting Experience’ at Hungerford Hill. It’s a mini-degustation of eight Hungerford Hill wines matched with six bite-sized dishes prepared by award winning Muse Restaurant (which is located next door) for $60. You’ll be seated in the indoor terrace or outdoor sculpture courtyard while one of their knowledgeable staff guide you through the tasting. You can choose from a menu of premium, limited release and museum Hungerford Hill wines. Once you’ve had all of the wines explained sit back and try them all with each dish at your leisure. It’s quite substaintial too so could be lunch if you can’t get a booking next door.

Hungerford Hill 2450 Broke Rd Pokolbin NSW 2320 Australia

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Mistletoe Wines

The romance is in the air at Mistletoe Winery, owned by loving couple Ken and Gwen since it’s creation in 1989. A humble abode, where family photos hang on the wall, and their personal knick knacks are on display. Mistletoe have a great selection of wines, ranging from their 2014 Reserve Semillion, to their Hunter Verdelho, to their 2014 Shiraz and Merlot. They also have a range of dessert wines including their popular “Turkish Delight in a Bottle” called the Noble Viognier, (rhymes with Good on Ya.) We recommend the Petillant “Sparkling” Rose 2014 for a nice, bubbly surprise. Described as one of their many “Verandah Wines” named after the best place to drink it. It may be a bit of a drive from the main part of the town, but it certainly is worth the trip.

Mistletoe Winery 771 Heritage Road, Pokolbin  

De Illius

De Illius Winery

De Illius (pronounced Dee Ule-i-us) is notoriously hard to pronounce, but is very easy to drink. Their cellar door features many robust, full-flavoured wines that pair well with cheese. So much so, that they have devoted hour long sessions to the perfect combo that is Wine & Cheese, at their gourmet cafe and deli. Nine of the best local, national and international cheeses are featured on the menu and all come with wine pairing suggestions. The first two are labne and feta from Binnorie Dairy, down the road, which pairs beautifully with a dry white like their De Iulius 09 Sparkling Chardonnay and a De Iuliis 15 Semillon. The tasting will take you through different cheddars, soft cheeses till it comes to the polarising Southern Creamy Blue Cheese, which they pair with a De Iulius ’13 Late picked Semillion. A truly delicious experience.

De Illius 1616 Broke Rd, Pokolbin

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Photo courtesy of facebook.com/AudreyWilkinsonWines/

Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard

With a view that would have Darryl Kerrigan say “How’s the serenity,” Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard is a must-see in the Hunter. Their cellar door sits on top of a foot hill over Brokenback Mountain ranges, where vineyards stretch far and wide, providing the best photo op in the valley. Established in 1896, the winery has an extensive list of wines, ranging from the party starter Moscato to the cherry noted Tempranillo. I’m all about the sparkling shiraz from this winery. Don’t leave without picking up a bottle or two to take home. There is also a Museum adjacent to the cellar door, which will let you in on the secrets of their winemaking process, and the long history of Audrey Wilkinson.

Audrey Wilkinson 750 De Beyers Rd, Pokolbin 

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Gundog Estate

Littered all over the Gundog Estate are life-sized, brightly coloured statues with a beagle head on a human’s body. This bizarre (and Instagram-famous) decoration shows the humour of this fun little winery, and it’s staff. But no matter how much they like to play around, Gundog Estate are very serious about their wines. The reds are the star here. Their 2015 Estate Shiraz won the Silver medal at the 2015 Wine Awards, and it is easy to see why. Gundog also ofter a dry red called 2015 Smoking Barrel, which is a lighter drink.

Gundog Estate 101 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin 

Tulloch

Tulloch

In 2003, Christina Tulloch became the General Manager of Tulloch Winery, taking over from her father Jay, and the many men that proceeded before him. Every bottle of wine comes with it’s own tale of how it was created, or introduced to the winery. Their Verscato – a combination of Moscato and Verdhello – is an example of this, introduced to the winery by Christina, who noticed the rise of Moscato sales in Australia over recent years. Another innovation at Tulloch is their chocolate and wine pairings.

Tulloch Wines De Beyers Rd, Pokolbin

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Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard and Farm – they have peacocks!

Krinklewood Winery is unlike any you’ve been to before. Located in the Broke-Fordwich subregion of the Hunter Valley, their boutique cellar door and biodynamic winery is set amongst beautiful Provencal style gardens overlooking the vineyards and olive trees. You’ll feel instantly relaxed as chickens and peacocks parade around the entrance to the cellar door. It all makes for a beautiful wine tasting experience. The cellar door is open Fri – Sun from 10am- 4.30pm and offers guests a unique Hunter Valley winery experience with award winning biodynamic organic wines available for tasting. Cheese platters are available if you wish to sit and enjoy the cellar door gardens and at key seasonal times they have homegrown seasonal produce such as honey, olive oil and eggs.

Krinklewood 712 Wollombi Road, Broke, NSW, 2330

Where to Play

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Hot Air Ballooning

One of the most incredible experiences you can do in the Hunter Valley is a hot air balloon flight. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise from 5000 feet in the air while you float above the vineyards. You’ll experience the Hunter Valley in a completely different way seeing the region from a birds-eye view but not without some effort. To catch the sunrise you’ll need to be up and at’em nice and early with a meet time of 5am. Balloons Afloat is who we booked our experience through and they were fantastic. You meet at Peterson’s House before being driven to your nearby take-off destination. The flight goes for around an hour before you make a soft decent. You’ll finish with breakfast back at Peterson’s and of course, a glass of bubbles to kick start your day.

Where to Stay

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Ironbark Villas 

Hunter Valley Stays is a good place to start when booking your accomodation in the Hunter Valley. On my recent visit I stayed in a beautiful self-contained apartment overlooking a relaxing dam. Situated at the foot of the Brokenback range on Peter Drayton’s 40 hectare vineyard, the Ironbark Hill Villas are contemporary and give you privacy but are only a short stroll to the cellar door and restaurant located in the brewery.

To find out more about the Hunter Valley click here.

Cover photo courtesy of www.australia.com