New Series on Hunter Valley Hide-aways

I am constantly asked for opinions concerning the Hunter Valley.  I feel comfortable offering advice as we have a place up there, frequent it a lot, and will retire there; 60 percent of the wine I drink is from the Hunter Valley.  I get asked often to recommend off-beaten wineries from local friends and any advice on how to spend a few enjoyable days for those visiting the area.  These requests are occurring more frequently, so I thought I would take the time to record and share the information with, regardless if you ask or not!

This will be a four-part series as follows:

  1. Hunter Valley wineries
  2. Places to stay in Hunter Valley
  3. Places to eat in Hunter Valley
  4. Hunter Valley events and activities

Recognize that these recommendations represent my opinion and may not be suitable for everyone.  Also know that I do not have any commercial relationship with these places nor have I asked their input or permission prior to writing these posts.  This series represents the opinions I have been sharing privately with friends, and I am now making them public.  I am certain there are great wineries, restaurants and places to stay that I will not be mentioning.  But in the end, I can only write what I know.

View from Bistro Molines

Overview of Hunter Valley wine region:

The Hunter Valley is two hours north of Sydney, Australia by car.  It was one of the first areas in which vines were planted in Australia.  James Busby, acclaimed father of the Australian wines industry, brought vine stock from France and Spain and planted them in the 1820s in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter Valley produces only about 2% of Australian wines, but is internationally known for their excellent Shiraz and Semillon wines.  Few regions around the world grow these grapes better than they do in the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter also produce many excellent Chardonnay wines.  The Hunter Valley houses three (McWilliams, Tyrrell’s, and DeBertoli) of the twelve First Families of Wine, which are multi-generational privately held wineries.  This is testament to how seriously the Hunter Valley takes its wine and ensuring they continue to focus on quality.

You can find out more and keep up to date with upcoming events by following the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association.

Since a trip to the Hunter Valley features wine above all, the next post will be on some of my favorite Hunter Valley wineries.  Stay tuned!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

How cooking improves your wine tasting abilities

Through tasting more and learning more about tasting wine, I have continued to improve my wine tasting abilities and experiences.  Yet, I was always surprised how many of my chef friends seemed to have a better palate than mine.  I assumed it was because they were super tasters (people with significantly more taste buds and lower sensitivity to certain tastes) than me.  I attributed their skills to their in-born capabilities.  My wife was taking cooking lessons several years ago and I was highly supportive because I was benefiting from eating better at home.  We ate better, more healthily and far less expensively now at home than when eating out (except for a few known restaurants that are among our favorites).

I decided to follow my wife’s lead and took about 10 cooking lessons myself, including a 6-part beginners course for ‘blokes,’ a knife skills lesson, a pasta making lesson, and a Christmas dinner banquet lesson (including ham and turkey).  But it was really practicing making meals from beginning to end at home that opened my nose and palate to being able to smell and taste many more flavors and with greater sensitivity.  What became apparent to me was importance of sauces, spices, and all the ingredients necessary to alter or enhance the flavors of the primary ingredients be they meat, fish or vegetables.  Noticing what a teaspoon of paprika (or smoked paprika), saffron, chili flakes (or freshly cut chilies) or nutmeg could do to enhance flavors became noticeable.  Understanding why chopped basil worked better than mint or parsley (or Spanish onions better than spring onions) in certain circumstances also became apparent.

Cooking spices 2

By learning to understand and appreciate various flavors, I was able to more immediately determine when to drink a softer, more versatile wine such as a Verdelho over a Pinot Gris (or vice versus) with the meal, or a sharper, edgier wine such as a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc worked better.  What I really noticed though was that instead of being able to match up broad categories of wines with food, I was now able to much more easily ‘micro-match’ a wine style with a particular meal.  I was able to determine which  sub-category (young or aged Semillon, for example) and sub-style (Hunter Valley versus Barossa Valley Shiraz) and determine which wine more uniquely was a better match with food, even to the level of individual wine makers (a young Andrew Thomas Semillon versus a Tyrrell’s Johnno Semillon) and vintages.

Most people believe they are limited in their ability to taste and appreciate good wine (and often as a result, buy wine based on price, thinking a higher price is better quality), but this is simply not true.  There are rare exceptions of people who were born or through a severe illness, have lost the ability to smell.   However, for the most part and within usable tolerances, almost every one of us is able to with a high degree of accuracy be able to smell and taste wine.  Through practice and learning, any one of us can influence our abilities to taste and enjoy wine more so than through our natural abilities.  And by learning some basics of cooking and what ingredients are used to make meals, you can learn much more quickly.

“Learning to cook has improved my ability to taste wine more than any other activity over the last several years!”

My book Wine Sense helps you understand how to train and use all of your senses to improve your wine tasting experiences.  But on its own, learning to cook (even a little as in my case) has greatly improved my ability to smell and taste.  I am able to much more quickly identify flavors and nuances and determine why I like one wine over another with a particular meal, whereas before I would have thought they tasted pretty much the same.  Do not limit your ability to enjoy wine far more than you currently do, and make learning to cook an important part of that training.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub


Wine writing update

First and foremost, SAZ in the Cellar is a wine resource site.  It is my intent to blog about wine, share ideas on enjoying and appreciating wine, and provide links to other resources on wine.  I believe my upcoming book, Wine Sense(s), fits into that concept.  Therefore, I will be providing the occasional update on the status of Wine Senses(s) and post on other wine writing.  I will also provide reviews and links to other wine blogs and books that I find useful and expect you will enjoy to broaden your wine reading.  Over time, the Resources page and sub-pages on this website will provide references to other wine blogs and books, and wine-related products and services that hopefully will be of interest.

But the focus of my blog posts will continue to be on wine tasting and enjoyment.  We will review wines, match wines with food and also provide useful tips for buying wine, storing wine and most importantly, drinking wine.  These ideas are being consolidated into the book and should provide you with a great read in the coming months.  I have found that in blogging about wine and then researching and writing a book on wine that I learned a great deal – much more Continue reading

Gustatory Travel Experiences!

I am about 90% complete in writing the initial draft of my wine book entitled Wine Sense(s), and am excited to start sharing some extracts with you.  Today I am featuring how to indulge in culinary excursions to further your wine education.  One reason for featuring this topic is that it provides a fun way to learn more about food and wine.  Another is that the proprietor, On the Road Culinary Adventures, is offering an upcoming 10-day Mediterranean culinary cruise which looks fantastic, so if you are looking to get away for a few weeks this September, you should check this out.

This section is extracted from Chapter 20:  Further Wine Education, under the section Guided Gustatory Tours.  (Please note that this is draft material and may contain grammatical and other errors.)

Guided Gustatory Tours

Continued reading and research using the resources described above provides an ongoing improvement in our cognitive wine knowledge which is critical to improving wine drinking enjoyment and appreciation.  But that on its own is not pleasurable unless you actually do some wine drinking along the way!

Earlier in the book, we discussed a number of different methods to gain wine drinking experience as part of our everyday existence.  But there exist some other avenues for concentrated and intensive wine education which comprises eating and drinking great wines in great locations.  More and more food and wine tours are being organized to provide ‘extreme’ gustatory experiences embodied as vacations.  These can be in duration from several days to several weeks or longer.  They usually involve traveling to a place relevant to the food and wine that will be discussed and consumed.  Many occur in exotic places such as Tuscany or Provence or take place on cruise ships featuring ‘intensive’ cooking or wine tasting courses that are great fun and great education.
While you can select your own destinations and visit different wineries and partake in different tasting experiences, having an expert aware of the region, its food and wine styles, and with access to the best venues and instructors can be a real help; both in terms of what you learn and how enjoyable it is.  You can query online or visit a travel agent find out more about these types of wine educational tours and vacations to start to search for and plan available options.
I am not going to provide links or names as I am more familiar with the growth of this concept for ‘extreme gustatory vacations’ than I am knowledgeable with the increasing number of providers in this space.  You can easily find out more by looking online or talking with a travel agent.  However, I will use one provider I am familiar with and can recommend to illustrate the services and options available.  On the Road Culinary Adventures ( combines a love of food and wine with a love of travel to provide culinary travel adventures.  These include several-day events hosted in the US and longer overseas trips, including cruises.
On the Road Culinary Adventures combine a relaxing vacation experience which focuses on teaching you more about food and wine through providing a tremendous culinary experience complimented by increasing your cognitive knowledge through lectures, instruction by guest chefs, and a hands-on teaching experience where you are preparing the food and the meals under the tutelage of culinary experts.  I know the owners from having worked together with them in the corporate world, and know they have exquisite taste and knowledge when it comes to food and wine and a passion to share that with others.
Gustatory vacations can provide intense and in-depth experiences in a relaxing environment.  You should come back from this type of experience with deeper knowledge and increased abilities to recreate similar events at home and share with friends.  A gustatory vacation also increases your visibility of what is possible and heightens your expectations of how to be involved and even host similar events in the future.
Visit the fish market with the Executive Chef of the Quest in Kusadasi, Turkey followed by a cooking demo with lunch


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
SAZ in the Cellar on Facebook
Wine Pinterest Boards
Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub