When restrictions in NSW finally eased in June last year and people started travelling again, the Hunter faced a more familiar challenge: the surprising indifference of many Sydneysiders to the world-class wine region on their doorstep. Many bypassed it in favour of what are perceived as the cooler wine destinations such as Orange and Mudgee.
Perhaps it’s the region’s proximity to Sydney (two hours on a good day) that encourages this sense of familiarity. Or maybe it’s the blurry memories of hooey bus tours in our youth.
Whatever the reason, it’s easy to overlook the Hunter’s impressive credentials. These include the fact that not only is it Australia’s oldest wine region (the first vines were planted in the early 1820s) but it also has the highest number of cellar doors (more than 150) compared with other wine regions around the country.
Despite producing less then 0.5 of a per cent of the country’s wine, its flagship varietals are world-renowned. British wine writer Jancis Robinson famously described Hunter semillon as “Australia’s unique gift to the wine world”.
Bright and citrusy when first picked, it ages graciously in the bottle, developing mellow honey and brioche characteristics. Hunter shiraz also has a trademark style, medium bodied with a fruity sweetness. And let’s not forget chardonnay, the region’s most ubiquitous varietal, which comes in a range of styles, from clean, crisp peachy numbers to rich, buttery and oak-infused.
One area in which the Hunter has consistently over-delivered is as a culinary destination. Restaurants such as Muse, Bistro Molines, Margan and Restaurant Botanica are worth the drive from Sydney alone. AU four are enthusiastic supporters of regional produce and three were awarded 2020 Good Food Guide hats.
While food and wine are the Hunter’s most championed drawcards, the region also boasts distilleries, breweries, health retreats, family attractions and activities from horse-riding and hot air ballooning to bushwalking and golf. It is a reminder not only of the destination’s broad appeal, but also that it is one that is constantly evolving.
So, if you feel you have “been there, done that” when it comes to the Hunter Valley, here are a selection of innovative offerings (and not all confined to wine), recently tried and tasted by Traveller that may well entice you back.
THE HATTED RESTAURANT
TELL ME MORE Located in the tranquil, less-visited sub region of Broke Fordwich, Margan is an elegant European-style winery and award-winning fine-dining restaurant.
WHY WE LOVE IT Lisa and Andrew Margan are credited with pioneering “agri-dining” in the Hunter. Ninety per cent of the produce used in Margan’s hatted restaurant comes from its one-hectare organic kitchen garden and the winery showcases drought-resistant Mediterranean varietals such as barbera, tempranillo and albarino.
DON’T MISS The Twilight dining experience, which starts with a guided tour of the garden and vineyards before moving into the winery for a tasting straight from the vats. Finish with a sumptuous five course tasting menu with matching Margan wines in the property’s swish onsite restaurant.