This is the first part of a four-part series on visiting the Hunter Valley. The other three blog posts which will be introduced over the next month, include:
- Places to stay in Hunter Valley
- Places to eat in Hunter Valley
- Hunter Valley events and activities
But visiting The Hunter Valley is first and foremost about wine, so we will start there. With over 150 wineries in The Hunter Valley, there is bound to be some differences of opinion, so let me start off by saying that my recommendations do not mean I am recommending the very best wines in The Hunter Valley, even though that is a large component of my ratings. I often get asked what are the best wineries to visit, often with the qualification of wanting to find a secret or lesser known one off the beaten path, and not just be directed to the ‘big boys.’ But it would be a discredit to some of the big boys to leave them off the list. I am offering my opinions based on (1) wine quality, (2) landscape and ambiance, and (3) any other unique or interesting features to consider.
#1 overall winery in The Hunter Valley: Tyrrell’s Wines
From my point of view, the clear winner as the best winery in The Hunter Valley is Tyrrell’s Wines. They are located on Broke Road in Pokolbin. This is the safest stop of any winery as they have the best wines from whites to reds and in every price range. Everyone can find a wine here they enjoy. The prices are very reasonable. Tyrrell’s is also an Australian First Families of Wine and is one of the oldest multi-generational winemaking families in Australia. They have beautiful views, are host to the annual Jazz in the Vines jazz day and concerts and provide interesting tours of the vineyards and winery.
Tyrrell’s is known for their iconic and numerously awarded Vat 1 Semillon and Vat 9 Shiraz among many great wines. The 1999 Tyrrels’ Vat 1 is listed as one of the 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die. The 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 received so many Gold medals they have to overlap them to fit them all on the bottle! They also offer a very nice loyalty program. If I do not know who the audience is who asking where to visit, I will state Tyrrell’s is a must stop. Many of the very best Australian winemakers got their start at Tyrrell’s.
#2 overall winery in The Hunter Valley: Meerea Park
Similar to Tyrrell’s, Meerea Park has excellent wines, both white and red in all price ranges. The winemaker, Rhys Eather, is one of the annointed six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley. He makes truly outstanding wines. Their top-end Alexander Munro series museum wines will last a quarter century or longer. The biggest, best Shiraz I have ever had is the 1998 Meerea Park Alexander Munro and it is still tight at 15 years of age! On the other end is their XYZ series of wines, which are outstanding wines and great value for the money. Meerea Park just moved into the Tempus Two complex at the corner of MacDonalds and Broke Roads in Pokolbin. They also are a small family-owned business with Rhys making the wine and Garth selling it. I have learned a lot about wine just chatting with Garth who is open and friendly.
McWilliams Mount Pleasant is another winery with great selection of whites and reds in all price brackets. They have excellent Semillons and Shiraz and a very nice Muscato from Evans & Tate. They have magnificent facilities in terms of cellar door, tasting rooms, a nice restaurant, and also have some of the most beautiful vistas in The Hunter Valley. McWilliams is often a starting point of breakfast followed by a mid- or late-morning tasting before heading off elsewhere. If you are into the facilities and scenery, you would place McWilliams as #1 or #2 winery in your list of Hunter Valley wineries. One of my very favorite wines is the 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz which Campbell Mattinson awarded as the best Australian Shiraz for that year. McWilliams is also in the elite Australian First Families of Wine group.
Best red winemaker in The Hunter Valley: De Iuliis Wines
In my book, De Iuliis Wines under the ownership of Mike De Iuliis makes the best reds available. De Iuliis, year-in, year-out makes some of the best Shiraz in The Hunter Valley. He also now controls arguably the best Shiraz vineyard (Steven vineyard) in The Hunter Valley. Michael is also one of the six Next Generation Winemakers in the Hunter Valley. Visiting the cellar door at De Iuliis is a great experience. The produce great white wines also, but I focus on buying my reds from DeIuliis. They also have a nice restaurant and craft shop. De Iuliis is located on Broke Road just down past Tyrrell’s. The thing I love about De Iuliis is that you often find Michael behind the counter or just around the corner and their cellar door manager is among the most knowledgeable around. You always get great service and tastings at De Iuliis.
Best white winemaker in The Hunter Valley: Scarborough Wines
There is a lot of great Semillon and Chadonnay wine produced in the Hunter Valley and based on vintage, a number of wineries could qualify for this award. But overall, year-in, year-out, one of the best tasting experiences of white wines comes at Scarborough. They have two locations in the Hunter Valley and I still like the original location on Gillards Road as the best in terms of scenery and ambiance. Their newer location is on Hermitage Road. They make three quite different style Chardonnays and I personally like the White Label the best. Their tastings are one of the best run I have been involved in and it is always a privilege to bring people to Scarborough for a tasting.
View from Audrey Wilkinson winery
Best all-around visit, landscape and architecture: Audrey Wilkinson
Audrey Wilkinson’s is perched up DeBeyers Road in Pokolbin. It has beautiful vistas and the architecture and buildings are among the most beautiful of any winery in The Hunter Valley. But they would not make the list unless they had great wines also. They have some excellent whites and reds in all price ranges. Their Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon is among the best I have had. This is a great place to visit, taste and take pictures.
Best new-found winery (by me anyway!): McLeish Estates
I had heard of McLeish Estate for some time, but with so many other great Hunter Valley wineries I was already familiar with, I never made it by to try their wines. But when I read that their 2007 Reserve Semillon took global honors, I knew I had to stop by and try them out. And so glad that I did! They have an excellent lineup of wines, with the Reserve Chardonnay and Semillon really being outstanding. They also have an excellent Rose which got me drinking Rose again after 30 years and I am glad I did!
McLeish Estates is on the other side of DeBeyers Road (from Audrey Wilkinson) and behind Lake Folly’s so you know they have some excellent parcels of land for growing grapes. What I love about McLeish is that it is a true family run business. If daughter Jessica is not behind the counter, then parents Bob and Maryanne are. Bob tends the vines when not serving and Maryanne the accounts when not serving. This is a great place to visit and show your visitors you know The Hunter Valley and all of its special spots! And Andrew Thomas is the Chief winemaker, another one of the six Next Generation Hunter Valley Winemakers.
Other wineries of note and worth a visit
I have picked out 7 of the 150 or so wineries in The Hunter Valley and each deserves a visit. The other great thing about these wineries is that they are within kilometers of each other and it is possible to do all 7 in one day or over a weekend. But there are so many other good wineries to try including Lindemans, Brokenwood (both in the heart of Pokolbin), Margans (past Tyrrell’s and De Iuliis) for tasting and food, Two Rivers in the Upper Hunter Valley (about 75 minutes away), Waverley Estates for some of the best aged white wines you can find, De Bertoli for stickies, Tamburlaine for organic wines, Tintilla Estate for Sangiovese and Shiraz, and so on.
Another one I am going to try is 201 in Rothbury. They make wines out of secondary grapes such as Durif, Chambourcin, and Barbera in addition to Semillon. I have heard good things about this winery and it being another family-run labor of love. I am going to check it out next time I am in The Hunter Valley.
These are the wineries I take my visitors to first and make for a great day or weekend out. But, of course, one has to eat when drinking wine all day, so my next post on The Hunter Valley will focus on where to eat. Until them happy drinking!
Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013. Steve Shipley
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