Wine, Cheese and Indulgence

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Hunter Valley

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Sunday, October 30, 2011

What do I know about wine? Little to nothing. What does Kate know about wine? Probably not much more than me. What are we doing going on a Wine tour - finding out more!

Booked through the YHA for a bit of a discount we were touring the Hunter Valley for a day visiting a few of the vineyards on offer. The company Tex Tours is a bit of a one man operation ran by 'Tex', local to Newcastle.

We arrived at 7.30am in Newcastle, had a shower in the hostel and then dumped our bags in day storage. Slightly freshened up after the overnighter we were ready for our day of indulgence. The hostel had a slightly more cosy country feel than we have been used to, being carpeted throughout and with some big fireplaces, and so once again the YHA had delivered. Starting at 8am sunny and shining we walked down to the beach where surfers were already getting into their stride and falling over consistently. We thought it wise to try and see a little of Newcastle being as we were very much popping in and then popping out the next day. The place is a quietish little town with a coal based history, and that is probably the only link it has to the northern Geordie Necastle. The town is beautiful, friendly and lacks in underdressed females knocking back ale. It appears pretty new, but I think that is mainly through regeneration and has a long sandy and rocky coastline heading southwards. For those interested, Newcastle has in the past exported sand to Hawaii and it has more Artists per capita than anywhere else in Australia. Now you know.
Sadly as soon as we stepped onto the front a big fog cloud rolled in and covered everything in an icy chill. Very typical for us. A lady later said to me that it was very unusual for the area, a lot like 4 seasons in a day - I wonder where else in the world gets that sort of weather.

Tex picked us up with a couple of Canadian girls from the hostel and the giant of the man that he is seemed warm and friendly from the start. We took to his chilled manner easily and he got us talking though we were very tired. A further pickup slightly further south of 3 girls from the Gold Coast (on a short break) and we were on our way to the valley.

Without going into too many details as drinking copius amounts of wine may be a bit dull to read about; the group of us consisted of 3 girls who knew their wine, the two of us that drank wine, and the two Canadians that barely touched the stuff. We visited a Vineyard called Temple Two, Tex gave us a lowdown of what to expect and then put us in front of an empty glass and a helpful lady who then set about introducing a series of wines.
Whites to Reds, Drys to Sweets, Sparkling first, Dessert wines and Ports at the end. First place a new vineyard that cost $12 million to build, hosts concerts (Elton John and alike) and produces some fine looking wines as well as a few fine tasting ones helped me realise quickly that I clearly do not buy good wines. These were good. She introduced some of the etiquette but the feel of the place was a little bit cold and rehearsed. Both me and Kate enjoyed a Pink Moscato which was on offer and so bought it for some later tastings.
The second Vineyard, 'McGuigans' was a much older Vineyard and the lady was excellent. Much more passion about her wines and her interest got me a little hooked in on what she was saying. I had always found Wine connoiseurs a bit pompous but she was far from it, being clear about what she enjoyed but at the same time being honest in saying that everyone has different tastes. We enjoyed a few wines including the Dessert wines and a couple of wines that Tex had rightly recommended, but me and Kate both enjoyed a Semillon Sauvignon blend which took our fancy for it's peppery taste and smoothness. The region is known for it's Semillon and Shiraz of which most of the tastings tended to revolve around. At McGuigans we also had the opportunity to taste some cheeses and chutneys, my favourite being an Irish cheddar. On inspection a small roll of which (which would normally last 4 sandwiches for me) costs anywhere between $50-60. Proper indulgence.

Lunch took us to a bunch of cafes and shops in the middle of the region where chocolate tastings were available. We sniffed around, had a big expensive burger and Kate became a little dazed by a sweetshop. Lovely place.

Our post lunch tasting occured at a very small vineyard named Lambloch. We were the only guests on entry and we were greeted with amazing views over the fields of vines directly beneath the Architecturally tasteful tasting chalet. Being led into a nice comfortable little room, the host was excellent in describing the wines, answering questions and giving an insight into running a vineyard. He gave us plenty of time to enjoy the wines and let us sample a highly recommended $75 Shiraz. Too expensive for our meagre tastes though and everything else was a little below par. It was a shame because the experience of the tasting was by far the best. One wine, named the Flipside Semillon showed that any wine can taste completely different from what you would think. It's sweetness was not expected and very much enjoyed. The sweetness, gained from s shorter fermentation however came at a cost - a lower alcohol content. We would not be buying.

Our last official tasting was at a family vineyard that slips my mind in name which is only sold from the 'cellar door' on site. Feeling more like we were propped up at a bar, the host whisked us through twice as many wines as the previous vineyards in probably half the time. A phenomenal effort that left me and Kate exhausted. Kate refused a tasting for the first time in the day, and we both were wobbling a little. The white port introduced at the end of the tasting was not to be missed though and was a great experience. It had a nice friendly feel to the place which was heightened by a massive St Bernard loping around looking all fluffy.

Finally, not on an arranged tasting (as all the others had been) Tex took us to the champagne stop on a push from the Gold coast girls. Advised that we would have to blag our way to get a tasting the girls took it upon themselves as a challenge. Looking out of our depth a little, Kate and I wandered around and then the next thing we know we were pulled in amongst the group as the lively trio and the now sozzled Canadians had blagged some sparkling for a try. The barman was very interested in pleasing the ladies but gave Kate and I little note being a married couple amongst his show of sales patter. Champagne is clearly made for the female market, but it was nice to try a few things out.

Somewhat concerned we had made a mistake bypassing Byron Bay in favour of a day on the wine prior to the tour, by the end of the day I was so pleased we hadn't stopped at Hippy central. This tour was good value ($60 each for the transport and the tastings) giving us a chance to sample somewhere in the region of 35-40 different wines at 5 different Vineyards. Tex's knowledge of where to go was outstanding and he gave us a great selection of experiences, both for us newbies and for the girls who had done it all before.

We were shattered having gone over 36 hours without sleep and now we were sauced up. Pretty much everyone fell asleep on the way back to Newcastle after an initial bout of giddiness on leaving the region. I chatted with Tex briefly and found his enthusiasm infectious leaving me with a wanting to try more wines and learn more. He does something he loves and it shows.

Trying to make the most of the DVD player in our room I borrowed a couple of films, firstly 'Snatch' which Kate has never seen (and still hasn't) and then after a noodle dinner (because we didn't need much after our day of food and drink), The Expendables.
I feel ashamed to have ended such a cultured day in such a disgrace of cinema.

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