Wednesday 20: Yesterday a CountryLink coach transferred me from Byron Bay to join their XPT service at Cassino and this morning I arrive at Maitland station in the cold early dawn with plenty of time to catch the first local bus to Cessnock village in Hunter Valley. The Valley is nearly all about vineyards and after two breakfasts I sign up for the YHA's 11:00am purple bus tour of the wineries. The Hunter Valley is best known for it's heavy shiraz reds, semillon whites and desert wines or 'stickys' as the Aussies call them, but before we set off a bunch of teenagers are drinking heavily - they're French and are "drinking the best stuff first" (French wine), perhaps I've made a mistake going on this tour?
First we call at the large Rosemount estate where their budget allows experimentation, so we try their three light (8.5%) sauvignon blanc botanical range first, each infused with aromas such as blood orange and rosewater, sweet but great for a summers day. Then we progress through their other whites, a light dry 2010 pinot grigio, a 2003 chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills and a sweeter ripe riesling, before hitting their show reserve reds. The 2006 Mudgee shiraz is plummy, vanilla and a little spicy and the 2006 GSM is more fruity with a spicy finish. We finish with their 2009 ruby "O" (over ice) a carbonated blush pink shiraz (think fruit juice) and finally their sweet and nutty fortified aleatico rare Italian muscat liqueur, sickly.
Back in the bus it's north to Constable Estate Vineyards with it's pretty gardens made dull by the rain. Here I join two English couples and first meet Sam, a dusky beauty from Surrey who works in Wimbledon. Again we run through the wineries range from semillon blanc to their full-bodied shiraz red. Sam and I really hit it off and after lunch she suggests we slip away from the others who are cheese tasting and sample the wines at Tempus Two next door. I fail to pick up on the reference and we rejoin the others.
The bus now heads south to Draytons Family Wines for another structured tasting then east to Savannah Estate with very good shiraz reds and a botrytis semilon chardonnay that smells like old socks but tastes delicious. In the evening over dinner I'm enchanted by Sam - thirty somethings don't usually come on to me like this. . .
Thursday 21: This morning I say goodbye to Sam but I can't get her alone to ask for her contact details, story of my life. I take a photograph of the group before they leave and am delighted by Sam's body language, if only I could reach her.
Today, instead of structured tastings, I'm off on my hired bicycle to cherry pick the wineries, so it's a day lush reds and tasty desert wines. But my first stop is Petersons Champagne House for a breakfast of sparkling wine. Their crisp and fruity cuvee is followed by the dry 2007 semillon pinot noir then their sweet and refreshing pink blush rose. Across the road is Hungerford Hill where I go through some of their range: a 2009 Tumberumba pinot noir, a fishcage cabernet, a merlot, a fishcage shiraz, a Tumbarumba shiraz, a lovely 2008 heavy metal hilltops shiraz, a very good botrytis semillon and a toffee flavoured liqueur shiraz, this is a great way to spend a day.
A bit of a hill climb then I turn south and at the end of Halls Road is Pepper Tree Wines where I try four of their wines. I like the three reds, a 2009 shiraz, a shiraz viognier and a cabernet sauvignon, all complex and powerfully peppery, and their botrytis semillon is delightful too. Next up is Tempus Two Winery and their great heavy 2005 sparkling shiraz followed by a mellow 2005 bortytis semillon and an oak honey 2007 botrytis semillon, great. Here I'm surprised to bump into Sam's party again. Final goodbyes but I still can't get her on her own, damn.
Over the road is McGuigan Cellars with more full-bodied wines: a spicy merlot, two shiraz reds, a late-picked traminer with a lovely bouquet and a 2008 botrytis semillon.
Following lunch and after a long hilly cycle ride I find myself at pretty Tyrrell's Vineyards for four more shiraz reds and then on to Oakvale for three reds and a liqueur muscat. Now it's a long ride back to Brokenwood and four more reds followed by two rather wonderful desert wines: huge pineapple flavours in their umpire's vineyard sauvignon blanc/semillon blend and mouthfuls of raisin in their 2008/09 sticky wicket semillon, both the best of the day.
At the end of a gravel track with fine views over the valley is Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard and three more wines: a sparkling moscato desert wine, a dessert semillon and a vin de vie fortified with brandy spirit. I'm tired now but last on my list is Robin Drayton Wines with their hard to beat, best named wine of the day, "Foreplay" botrytis semillon, not to be drunk alone! I buy a couple of bottles and head home.
Friday 22: I decide to walk to the Hunter Beer Brewery for an extra treat, a tasting paddle of four beers: a pale ale, a creamy light wheat beer, a delicious chocolate porter and a sweet oyster stout. The chili porter is not for me.
The wines and beers are wonderful memories to take away from the valley but the most endearing memory is that of bewitching Sam, will I ever see her again, who knows?
Hunter Valley photos.