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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1988 Lindeman’s Verdelhao – one of the best white wines I have ever drunk

“Yes”, that’s correct – Lindemans’ spelled “Verdelhao”  that way back in 1988.  Most Verdelhos will not last more than several years in the cellar.  But somehow we got our hands on two bottles of this great wine back in 2006, and had one in 2008 which I remember as being superb.  This Verdelho was definitely built to last!

Our friends, Owen and Lucie, recently got engaged and we have been looking for a time to have a great meal together, which is far too infrequently, and our next meeting for dinner was scheduled for 1 September!  But a class they were scheduled for over the weekend was canceled and we happen to be free which provided the opportunity to get together this last weekend, and we jumped at it.

They wanted to treat us to a meal at their house because we had recently given them a bread maker we were no longer using.  Owen and Lucie are really nice people, great cooks and have a great palate for good wine.  Therefore, it is always a pleasure to share a meal and wine with them and I put ‘extra’ effort into selecting wines we can drink together.

Owen really wanted to provide the wines that evening and we were going to just bring a bottle of the 1998 Pommeray Louise Champagne as a celebration of their recent engagement.  This is one of the world’s best Champagnes and the celebration was worthy of such a fine wine.  And I was glad to have an easy time of it, by selecting a great wine to match the celebration, not the meal – that would be Owen’s job that night!

However, Owen called me in the afternoon, and informed me that we would be having a very slightly seared tuna steak with guacamole and chili (which could be added in for taste) followed by a fried lightly battered flathead fish.  He had some great reds picked out (which I will describe in another post as to how well they went with the tuna and flathead!), but wanted to start with a white for the cheese platter before the meal, and have an option of a white with the fish if we so wanted that choice instead of the reds.

I had to put on my thinking hat and see what I could come up with.  It would have been very easy to pick out a good Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend, but there is nothing special in either of those choices.

Fortunately, I came across my last bottle of the 1988 Lindemans Hunter Valley Verdelhao.  I knew this would be a magnificent treat regardless of what food we matched it up with, assuming the bottle was still good.  I had been keeping it stored for the last four years between 2 – 6 degrees Celsius and ready for drink instead of the normal 14 degree Celsius of my cellar.  I believe this helped ‘save’ the wine as it maturation process would have slowed to a trickle.  Also, knowing the cork was almost 25 years old, I found a back-up bottle (1999 Moss Wood Semillon) if needed, and brought along my Ah So cork screw.  The Ah So cork screw is about the only way to get old cork out of an old bottle.  It is designed to be able to get old and soggy corks out of the bottle, but you still need to be careful and use only a small amount of pressure when putting the Ah So around the cork.  I have had several incidents where the cork has been pushed into the bottle when not careful.

As delicate as I tried to be, the cork broke half-way through.  Fortunately the cork did not appear compromised, just weak and soggy.  Then I had the issue of not being able to secure the bottom half of the cork without pushing it into the bottle.  It was not my intent to filter or aerate the wine since the structure of a 25-year-old wine is fragile at best.  However, at this point, we decided to do that with a slightly larger mesh which was able to remove any cork from the wine without causing too much damage to the little remaining structure.  To stop the cork in the bottle from catching in the neck and slowing or stopping the flow of the wine when pouring, I used a chopstick to hold the cork away from the neck, a method that works really well if you ever find yourself in that situation.

I was certainly excited to find when pouring the wine into the decanter that it had a rich, golden hue to it, without any indication of a brownish or other “off” color which means the wine is past its best drinking period.  And once I brought the decanter to my nose, I knew we had struck “liquid gold!”

Starting off the evening with this bottle of wine set the stage for everything that followed – it was a magnificent evening and meal overall.  The wine was huge and robust with great flavors of mandarin and tangerine, and a texture which seemed to float over the tongue.  Just holding the wine in my mouth was a thrill, experiencing everything the wine had to offer.

I have drunk a lot of wine in my time, but this would have to be in my Top 3 white wines ever along with the 1971 Chateau D’Yquem and the 1991 Lindemans Sauvignon Blanc.